Airlines cut back flights as Philippine holiday hotspot prepares for closure

"It is a temporary setback but we will recover the glory days of Boracay".

Boracay drew 2 million tourists in 2017.

Cebu Pacific, the dominant domestic carrier, said it cancelled 14 daily round-trip flights to Caticlan and Kalibo, Boracay's two main gateways, from April 26 to October 25, while Philippine Airlines said it would scale down services to the airports and add flights to other destinations.

Tourism Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre said the losses would be a "bitter pill to swallow" but were necessary if the country wanted to sustain and protect the once-pristine island.

Boracay, located about 200 miles south of Manila, is regarded one of the region's top vacation destinations. "In the long-term, a safe and revitalized Boracay will benefit all stakeholders in the travel and tourism sectors, and the Filipino people as a whole".

In its advisory, Cebu Pacific said that despite its cancellation, which will also start on April 26, the budget airline would continue to operate flights for Kalibo and Caticlan to serve local residents.

"It's good for us because it means a better Boracay aftersix months", said Monica Salomon, president of Global Estate, a subsidiary of Megaworld Corp, which is behind the140-hectare Boracay Newcoast project.

Philippine Airlines said it will scale down its services to Caticlan and Kalibo airports, the gateways to Boracay, for six months from April following the government's decision.

"The tour guides have already complained that they have no more guests".

Officials said a "soft opening" of the island may be possible in three to four months.

Government officials in the coming months will inspect establishments for environmental compliance and upgrade of sewage and drainage systems.

"Boracay is a national treasure", PAL President Jaime J. Bautista said in a statement.

Ejercito also urged the government to provide alternative livelihood for workers who will be displaced by the Boracay closure.

Ang stressed all concerned sectors, including government, businesses, developers, and its residents, must also look beyond the island and move to disperse tourism to nearby municipalities such as Caticlan and Nabas.

"I fully support the decision of the President to close Boracay for six months in order to allow the world famous tourist destination to recuperate from the environmental stress it has suffered over the years".

The bridge, he said, would reduce the need for tourists and tourism workers to stay in the island.

Boracay is a top destination for local and foreign tourists and attracted almost two million visitors and over a billion dollars in revenue in 2017, Reuters reported.

In closing the island to visitors, Duterte, known for his no-nonsense style, was responding to numerous government inspections following his criticism in February of sanitary conditions on the island.

  • Joey Payne