THE Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) has lifted the moratorium on charter flights to Kalibo and Caticlan, both gateways to the Philippines’s so-called crown jewel of tourism, Boracay Island.
The lifting comes after local tourism stakeholders pressed the Department of Tourism (DOT), whose secretary sits as CAB vice chairman, to undo the moratorium, counting billions of pesos in losses from booking cancellations in hotels in Boracay.
In a news statement sent to the BusinessMirror by CAB Executive Director Carmelo L. Arcilla, the agency also allowed carriers with scheduled flights to Kalibo and Caticlan to maintain their schedules for the rest of the Iata (International Air Transport Association) Summer Season, “but are restricted, however, from mounting additional flights.”
Also, all air operators to these two cities “will not be allowed to use aircraft with more than a 200-seat capacity.” The CAB resolution lifting the moratorium, effective immediately, was signed after a special board meeting on July 15, 2019.
Christine Ann U. Ibarreta, president of the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association Inc., welcomed CAB’s decision lifting the moratorium: “We thank the DOT and CAB for listening to our side. Due to our constant dialogues, they came to appreciate our position and intention to grow the tourism industry. We hope for a more open and consultative process with relevant government agencies in the future.”
Asked if the hotels would be able to get back their guests, she said, “we hope that our business partners [wholesalers] are still willing to gamble and rebook their guests.”
Ibarreta earlier disclosed hotels and resorts in Boracay were projected to lose at least P2.21 billion from the sudden cancellation of bookings brought on by the CAB suspension of new and additional charter flights to Kalibo and Caticlan issued on June 19. The losses covered three months from July to September, considered the lean season on the island.(See, “Charter flights halt costs Boracay resorts P2 billion,” in the BusinessMirror, June 27, 2019.)
Local stakeholders have yet to recover from the six-month closure of Boracay last year. About P30 billion in visitor receipts were estimated to have been lost from the closure.
Meanwhile, the CAB instructed carriers intending to mount new and additional charter flights to the Kalibo and Caticlan airports, to file their charter applications “at least 30 days before the intended date of operation, and the scheduling of operations on less congested days of the week as determined by the CAB.”
The board stressed that it will continue to monitor the impact of the commercial air operations in these two airports on the carrying capacity of Boracay, to be able to review and adjust its guidelines as needed.
Last year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources determined that the popular resort island of Boracay can only accommodate 19,215 tourists a day, at any given time, or 6,405 arrivals a day based on an average three-day stay.
Previous instances when tourist arrivals in Boracay exceeded 6,405 a day were not considered a violation by the DOT, as officials explained, the departures on the island on those days kept the carrying capacity within the 19,215 level. (See, “Boracay stakeholders fret over ‘breaching’ of daily arrivals cap,” in the BusinessMirror, December 17, 2018.)
The CAB noted that an average of more than 7,000 tourists arrived on Boracay a day in April and May, and took to mean that breached the island’s daily carrying capacity. This was the reason it suspended new and additional charter flights to Kalibo and Boracay, and ordered scheduled carriers to review their flight numbers for a possible scaleback.
“But in view of June arrivals data and trends in past years, the CAB has determined that there is no reason to maintain the current flight restrictions,” the board stressed in its news statement.
According to data from the Malay Tourism Office cited by the CAB, tourists in Boracay dropped to 189,444 in June 2019, from 222,330 in April and 221,138 in May. This translates to an average of 6,314 daily arrivals.
“The annual trend in 2015-2017 suggests that this number may still go down, bottoming out in September, consistently the month with least visitor numbers [an average of 44 percent from April peaks]. This year, that can mean only around 4,200 tourists per day, irrespective of the mode of transportation taken. The tourist arrivals then recover until December, but only top off at 76 percent of the April average.”