AKLAN, Philippines – Businesses in Boracay have slashed prices by as much as 50%, just to stay open and attract local tourists as the novel coronavirus spooks the foreign market.
One can now enjoy a sumptuous buffet under P300. Some luxury hotels offer rooms for as low as P3,800 a night (before taxes) from the normal rate of P8,000 to P10,000.
Boracay is now hoping for a surge in local tourists to offset losses from the decline in foreign visitors.
Total tourists in January dwindled by 40% from 172,695 visitors to just 103,834, according to the Malay Municipal Tourism Office.
Bulk of the tourists that visit Boracay are from China. With the travel ban in place, businesses relying mostly on the Chinese market have shut down.
Domestic tourists increased by 6% to 117,359 in the first two months of 2020. However, this rate is still not enough to keep businesses open.
While prices have gone down, businesses are relying on volume just to break even. So far, the strategy has not worked.
"It's probably the most empty I've seen in almost 20 years of coming to the island," said Nowie Potenciano, a local business owner.
He has already closed one restaurant and moved the staff there to his 5 other shops that are struggling to remain open.
"We've heard businesses ask their staff to go on leave for a large amount of time. And when they come back, they don't have long duty days either," Potenciano said.
"We're lucky that we haven't reached that point yet. But at the rate that it has been going down, the situation is not looking good," he added.
I’m here in beautiful Boracay on a Friday night. But where are the people? Stores close around 10pm, travel bans due to the novel coronavirus really affecting local tourism here. @Rapplerdotcom pic.twitter.com/tOuM9iqeyy — Ralf Rivas (@RalfRivas) March 6, 2020
The Department of Tourism is set to spend over P800 million to promote tourist destinations to countries which do not have reported cases of the novel coronavirus.
But the Department of Health (DOH) is advising the public not to go to crowded places.
What should the public really do?
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III clarified on Monday, March 9, that prior to the Philippines declaring local transmission of the virus, it was alright to visit crowded places like malls and hotels, as long as precautionary measures are in place.
He said establishments should have sufficient disinfectants and thermal machines at entry points.
However, government agencies will have to further refine their messaging and protocols now, as local transmission has been confirmed.