Photos by: Dorothy Bulan
The year 2020 was supposed to be a period of sustained recovery for the island of Boracay. After a painful but necessary shutdown in 2018 to restore its pristine beauty, many locals and businesses in the island looked forward to a more robust tourism. Sadly, even with its gradual reopening, life was never the same for many – some of whom had to suffer from loss of livelihood due to necessary restrictions. When 2020 came, the odds grew worse against their favor.
Like many other residents of Boracay, Rolly Gomez has been affected by the dwindling number of visitors due to the pandemic. A paddle board and water sports instructor, Gomez took a hard trip down memory lane when asked how life has been for him in the midst of the pandemic.
“The impact was enormous. First, we lost our jobs. We had to resort to fishing and selling so we’d have something to support our everyday needs. I also joined some construction and demolition projects to survive,” said Rolly in the vernacular.
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, tourist arrivals in Boracay plunged by more than 80% year-on-year, or around 1,000 arrivals from the 5,600-average arrival per day in 2019. When the island reopened to tourists in October last year, many had hoped that it would build momentum for the resurgence of domestic tourism. However, the additional health requirements needed from visitors – especially the real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result that costs an arm and a leg – tend to discourage tourists from going to the island.
Two months later, the Department of Tourism (DOT) announced that it is subsidizing the RT-PCR tests for Boracay-bound visitors.
One of the tourists who recently visited Boracay, Dorothy Bulan, basked in the bright news. “Unfortunately, I learned the news too late and had to pay for the regular price. Nonetheless, welcoming 2021 in an island where I will earn back my peace of mind and motivation was truly worth it. Who wouldn’t want to go to Boracay for some sanity break, right?” she said.
According to Bulan, the overall system was impressive enough to allay fears of contracting the virus from other tourists. The local government is very strict with the social distancing and face mask/shield protocols, and contactless assistance is provided every step of the way. Once cleared for travel to the island, a unique personal QR code will be given for monitoring.
Many business owners like Renz Padilla who owns a seafood restaurant, however, are still struggling and have been clamoring for government support to save the jobs of many Aklanons whose primary source of living depends on the arrival of travelers. But despite the difficulties, Padilla still manages to smile, saying that their income depends on having visitors, which is why they are happy whenever they see people visiting the island.
Despite the pandemic, Boracay continued to earn international awards and recognitions by various travel and tourism bodies: 14th in the Top 25 Islands in the World according to New York-based Travel + Leisure magazine; 6th best island in Asia according to Condé Nast Traveler’s (CNT) 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards; and 18th in Big 7 Travel’s List of 50 Most Beautiful Places in the World. Hopefully, all these awards and accolades will give the tourist destination the traction it needs to revive tourism.
The start of new beginnings?
While tourists are expected to return to their respective hometowns stress-free and ready to face the new year with positivity and confidence, the likes of Rolly Gomez and Renz Padilla are yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When asked whether 2021 could be the start of new beginnings for him, Rolly said, “When 2021 started, the number of guests arriving has been okay. We are slowly recovering. But sometimes there would be no customers. It might take longer for us to really recover.”
Meanwhile, Renz, who also sidelines as a tricycle driver for tourists, reminisced about the old Boracay. The island was once filled with the energy of party-goers, but now he has come to painfully accept that 2021 may still not be the best of times for business-owners like him. “International tourists, whom we rely on for our living, are not allowed again because of the country bans. Local visitors are allowed. Boracay used to be filled with visitors. Now, there are really none from outside.”
There is still much uncertainty in the future of many residents in Boracay. But one thing is for certain – its unmatched beauty will never cease to amaze. Spending time in the island is the therapy and break everyone deserves after the chaos of 2020; for there is something about the whispering waves, brushing breeze and soothing sunset that gives one a revived vitality.
As 2021 rolls on, may the Rolly Gomezes and Renz Padillas of Boracay also find hope and new beginnings this year.
About the Writer
Samantha S. Ching
Samantha S. Ching is a graduate student of Master of Arts in Development Policy under the Political Science Department of De La Salle University. Concurrently, she is a Senior Associate for Public Affairs at WSP, Inc. – a Filipino-owned communications company. Her current engagements are in the areas of public relations, public policy, and international affairs. Samantha obtained her Bachelor’s degree in International Studies major in European Studies, with distinction, from the same university.
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