Tourist arrivals in Boracay up amid threat of closure

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 27) — Tourist arrivals to Boracay island are still up amid a looming threat of closure.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) pegged arrivals in January 2018 at 186,893, up 10 percent from the same period last year. It also listed 189,100 tourists in February, up by 9 percent in 2017.

The Provincial Tourism Extension Office counted arrivals from March 1 to 26 this year at 140,659, up by two percent during the same period last year.

These figures are not yet inclusive of the arrivals expected during Holy Week, when tourist arrivals begin to peak. In 2017, the Lenten season ended in April.

The influx of tourists comes despite an anticipated six-month shutdown of Boracay starting April 26.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo surmised the boost in arrivals was linked to the closure.

"I was thinking probably people were saying we have to go to Boracay now because we want to see the island," she told CNN Philippines' The Source. "Or pag inopen na ito, mas mataas na ang rate [if it reopens, the rates are higher] or they would like to compare the Boracay before and Boracay now."

In February, President Rodrigo Duterte called the island destination "a cesspool," and threatened to shut it down permanently if pollution was not fixed.

Interior Assistant Secretary for Plans and Programs Epimaco Densing III on Monday estimated the temporary closure could result in ₱18 to ₱20 billion in losses.

The proposal has sparked concerns over the the loss of livelihoods and income of locals. The government assured affected workers that the Departments Labor and Employment, Social Welfare and Development, Trade and Industry have all been tapped to provide assistance.

Teo added they were hoping to finish the necessary clean-up faster than the six-month time frame.

"If we do it fast, mas mabilis pa [it will be faster]... The President says six months so we'll stick to (that), but kung kaya naman ng [if it can be done in] three months or two months, the better," she said.

All islands up for rehab?

Teo also said she wanted all island tourist destinations in the Philippines to be rehabilitated. She said Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has visited Panglao in Bohol and El Nido and Coron in Palawan.

"Nakita niya 'yung may mga problema. This early, dapat i-address na natin iyan para hindi tayo maging parang Boracay," said Teo.

[Translation:He saw there are problems. We should already address problems this early so these areas don't become like Boracay."]

Watch the full interview with Teo here.