DOT chief warns Aklan of Christmas tourist surge


TOURIST arrivals on Boracay Island, the acknowledged crown jewel of Philippine tourism, surged to 187,583 from January to November 20, 2021.

Data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) showed, however, this was still some 41 percent off the arrivals in the same period in 2020, eclipsed by the 270,904 arrivals in the first two months of said year, before Covid-19 forced lockdowns in March.

The DOT also reported 37,900 tourists arrived in Boracay from November 1 to 20, 2021, of which, 53.4 percent were from the National Capital Region. Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat told the BusinessMirror “there could have been more,” if it were not for the problems encountered in the issuance by Aklan of tourists’ QR codes. The Aklan local government no longer requires RT-PCR testing for vaccinated tourists, thus the increase in QR code requests. (See, “Boracay-bound tourists frustrated with QR code delay,” in the BusinessMirror, November 18, 2021.)

But she expressed hope, with new measures put in place, the problems experienced by travelers to Boracay Island would soon be eased. Based on the DOT’s meeting on November 17 with Aklan Gov. Florencio Miraflores, she said, “The province has updated its system; they now prioritize the issuance of the QR code based on the scheduled date of arrival of the tourist. They also procured additional computers and four mobile phones to augment their ICT equipment requirement. In addition, the province hired more manpower support.”

The DOT chief added, the Aklan province has also agreed that “accommodation establishments will assist their guests in ensuring the completeness of requirements in securing a QR code.”

‘Simplify, simplify, simplify’

The DOT was flooded by complaints from travelers to Boracay starting the weekend of November 13, saying they had not received Aklan’s QR code, leading to missed flights to Caticlan.

“These are improvements, yes, but they have to step up more. They need to simplify the process. This is nothing compared to the Christmas season, when more tourists are expected to spend their holiday in Boracay,” said Romulo Puyat. She added, the Aklan local government should also be preparing for the “eventual reopening of the country to international travelers.”

Prior to the pandemic, Chinese and Korean tourists accounted for the largest chunk of foreign travelers in Boracay. China is on the Green List of countries, from which quarantine is no longer required of vaccinated tourists. The Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases is expected to approve guidelines for the entry of vaccinated tourists from Green List countries, which also includes Japan and India—which are among the Philippines top 12  inbound tourism markets. (See, “Green-list leisure tourists green-lit ‘before Dec,’” in the BusinessMirror, November 22, 2021.)

On the arrival of vaccinated leisure tourists from Green List countries, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Civilian Security and Consular Affairs Brigido Dulay separately said, “The guidelines are still being finalized. There are still a number of administrative issues that need to be fixed, aligned and reconciled.”

As for the Aklan QR code system, DOT Assistant Secretary Christopher Morales said in a Viber message,       “From the usual 2,500 daily request, it shot up to 5,000 plus daily on November 15 and 16. Then we were told they [local government unit] lost 10 staff before November 15 and then some went AWOL.”

He added, if Aklan insists on using their QR code system, “They should strictly implement it in all establishments [on Boracay], otherwise, it’s useless.” The Aklan QR code, which appears on the online health declaration card issued to Boracay visitors after having submitted complete documentary requirements, is scanned upon arrival and departure at the Caticlan airport for contact-tracing purposes. But no establishment on the island actually scans it for said purpose.

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