Boracay business owners explain how they are coping with the pandemic beast, and the burden of running a business dead in the water.
By FREIDA DARIO-SANTIAGO
Like a fairytale plagued with monsters and twists and turns of fate, the raving beauty of Boracay Island has been battling its fiercest foe-the coronavirus pandemic that has brought her to her knees, lockdown after lock down, with every quarantine status declared and leisure travel ban. Malay Municipal Mayor Floribar Bautista said Boracay lost PhP57 billion in 2020 due to the pandemic and lockdowns . "Boracay has no other industry except tourism. Please come, we need your money in order for the people on this island to survive," he appealed.
More than a year later, things appear to be looking up for the popular tourist destination, what with the easing of quarantine restrictions and the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination rollout. Still, many of the island's businesses have yet to recoup their losses. Six personalities in Boracay's service and leisure industry reflect on the challenges they faced during the pandemic and their plans moving forward.
ERWIN Z. LOPEZ
Hotel manager, Discovery Shores Boracay
This pandemic definitely posed many challenges for the property and our people. When you are down and faced with all these, the only way to go is up.
We rose to the challenges and did what we could to help the business pick up, to help our people, and help the community. We are proud of our people, who are our key strength; their tenacity and resilience are admirable. It takes a lot of preparations to re-open. Our team at Discovery Shores Boracay is inspired by the same "team spirit ," and we eagerly await the return of our guests.
The Malay local government unit has been proactive. We are grateful for their support , as we strictly adhere to their protocols. We remain committed to working closely with the local authorities to ensure that Boracay Island remains as the top of mind safe destination in the country. We are open to new policies that could: 1) improve the tourist experience and 2) keep everyone on the island (guests and workers) safe . Having a unified tracing app is one thing that can be improved.
WESLEY VAN DER VOORT
General manager, Villa Caemilla Beach Boutique Hotel and Under The Stars Luxury Apartments
Villa Caemilla has stayed open throughout the pandem ic. We have good days and a lot of bad days, but are trying the best that we can for the business to survive. A very big part of this was our loyal staff.
We wanted them to still have income through out the pandemic. Most of them stayed with us for almost a year now and we couldn't be more thankful. I also feel communities have become very strong throughout this pandemic and we are all trying to help each other out in the best way that we can.
I hope for the very near future there will be a Philippine Red Cross lab opening on the mainland , which should make it more conve nient to get a Saliva Test with quick and fast results even within the island . Most important of all are health and safety systems and protocols to be in place and followed . Hopefully we will continue to be making steps forward that will benefit stakeholders.
Managing consultant, Epic Boracay
Epic Boracay had to stop operations when lockdown was announced in March 2020. We reopened last November. Foot traffic was low in the beginning but it continues to improve. One of the biggest challenges is that people from Metro Manila and other parts of the country were hesitant to travel probably be cause of fear. We did our part and implement ed the safety protocols to ensure the safety of our staff and guests at Ep ic, hence the #EpicSafeZone. Our goal was to break even and employ as many as we could .
The whole island was in solidarity. Every one was supportive of each other. We were all hoping that things would get back to normal, which they actually did. We noticed an increase in tourist arrivals, which was good news for everyone. However, Metro Manila’s second lockdown was a bigger blow to most business establishments.
We all know that travelers are eager to come to Boracay Island. With the safeguards in place that no one enters without a negative RT-PCR test result, it follows that some of the restrictions are no longer needed, and can therefore be eased, so that open-air activities such as dining and entertainment and other Boracay attractions can once again be fully enjoyed by the tourists and locals alike, from day to night. Allow beachfront dining set-up for the time being, given that all establishments have limited seating on the island, and al fresco dining is encouraged due to natural ventilation.
Manager, True Home Hotel and Bistro Member of the family-owned-and-run Aria Cucina Italiana
For small businesses like True Home Hotel and Bistro (that has not been operating since the closure of 2018), these times are particularly challenging because we do not have the financial base nor reputation from previous years to survive off. When all a business knows is this anything-but-ordinary pandemic, planning for the future is very difficult.
Many staff members returned to their home provinces at the beginning of the lockdown and have not been able to return.
Maintaining a stock of food items is another challenge, due to limited transport between provinces, and even countries. Because many of our ingredients are imported from Italy, we had to look for local alternatives. So, we turned to our organic farm, while still maintaining the original flavors of Aria’s staple dishes. A large portion of our current clientele are Boracay locals, so we found it important to keep our menu as it is, instead of limiting it, so guests don’t feel like they have to have repetitive meals. Particularly during peak season, Aria is one of the busiest restaurants on the island, so wait and kitchen staff are trained for large crowds. It is difficult to keep staff motivated when Christmas and Easter are not half as busy as they used to be.
Boracay locals are largely responsible for keeping the faith of many business owners on the island. The mutual support is remarkable and truly a testament to the close-knit community of the island. Residents have come up with a schedule that promotes a different business each day of the week, True Home Bistro’s weekly event being “Gin & Tonic Fridays.” Appreciation for the locals is shown as many businesses are implementing a local’s discount when dining at bars and restaurants.
As Boracay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, where people are constantly coming in and going out, it would make sense for workers in the tourism sector to be among the first to be vaccinated, to fix economic damage that has been done to businesses and workers in Boracay. After its second closure, Boracay deserves to be prioritized.
Owner, DiniView Villa Resort and DiniBeach Bar & Restaurant
It’s important to remember that on Christmas Day of 2019, Boracay was hit by a typhoon that caused a lot of damage, and we had then just recovered from the 2018 island closure. So, at the moment, like many small businesses on the island, we are running at a loss, and continue to operate, just to provide jobs for our work teams, and a means for them to survive—never mind that we, the owners, have had no income for a year now. From a business point of view, we barely make ends meet and are just trying to make enough to pay rent and salaries, but we won’t survive much longer like this. Only very few can still afford to offer much-needed donations to the community, as most have no more money left.
One could hope for more government help and support for the work force. For instance, government agencies as SSS, PhilHealth, and Peso could alleviate a lot of suffering by freezing loan payments for employees that are mostly working with reduced hours, until things get back to normal. It would likewise ease the burden on the employer if the government would show more consideration in terms of yearly permit renewals.
With no income, it’s hard to pay all the dues and make things work. If only the government could be more sensitive to our plight, we would not be seeing businesses throwing in the towel on a daily basis.
Part owner, Lemoni Café & Restaurant Boracay
The Holy Week lockdown in Manila and subsequent ban on domestic travel to Boracay really hit us hard. We didn’t see it coming and everyone on the Island was very excited about the upcoming busy period. We actually brought back staff and stocked up on goods already because on Boracay, if you wait to purchase on the holiday week itself, the prices skyrocket.
Lemoni Cafe has never closed this past year, even when no tourist was allowed on the Island, but we have run at a loss, all to pay our staff and keep them employed. If we don’t get this virus under control and the vaccine out across the country, I honestly don’t know how much longer we or anybody else can last. This virus has just decimated the hospitality and tourism industry. We all just want to see alight at the end of the tunnel.
We are at least lucky enough to have a Department of Tourism that cares and is trying to be proactive. I guess for now we will just keep strong and carry on!