Carriers Adjust Domestic Services in Light of Boracay Closure

Most carriers have decided to drastically reduce service to Caticlan and Kalibo after the government ordered a six-month shutdown of the tourist island of Boracay effective April 26.

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The shutdown was ordered after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte expressed fury toward the proliferation of unlicensed developments on Boracay island.  The government has found 948 illegal structures, of which they aim to dismantle half over the course of the shutdown.

In order to continue serving local residents and maintain links to the Boracay and Aklan, Cebu Pacific continues to fly at least one daily flight each between Manila and Kalibo.  Philppine Airlines (PAL) via subsidiary PAL Express will operate nine weekly flights between Manila and Kalibo.  Philippines AirAsia will also retain one flight each to Kalibo and Caticlan from Manila.  Flights to Caticlan will resume once the island reopens.  

In general, passengers who booked flights to Boracay for travel during the six-month closure are entitled to a full refund, rebooking to a future date, or rerouting to a different destination.  As a result, carriers are expecting losses of up to US$5 million (£3.5 million, €4.15 million) whilst the island is closed to tourists. 

Amidst concerns from carriers and local businesses operating on the island about the financial impact  the closure will have on them, some carriers have nonetheless publicly expressed the decision of the government to close the island.   For example, PAL President Jaime Bautista in a statement described Boracay as a 'national treasure'.  

He further added that “We fully support the government's intention to make Boracay fully safe and environmentally friendly. Sustainable development is of critical concern, and we are one with the laudable goal to revert the island to a balanced eco-tourism paradise. We seek the understanding of our passengers as your flag carrier and the aviation industry cooperate in this multi-sectoral endeavor. 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.”

Although carriers are bracing for massive losses from the Boracay's closure, they are at the same time using it as an opportunity to promote other domestic tourist destinations in their networks.  PAL (via subsidiary PAL Express), Cebu Pacific, and Philippines AirAsia have, for instance, increased their flights to their other domestic destinations. 

Since April 20, PAL has added one flight each between Manila and Cebu, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa, and Bacolod.  It has also added flights between Manila and Dumaguete and Cagayan de Oro effective May 1.  Flights from Cebu to certain cities have also been increased.

For a limited period, Cebu Pacific has added or will add flights between Manila and Bacolod, Cebu, Iloilo, Legazpi, Puerto Princesa, and Tacloban.  It has also added or will add flights between Cebu and Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Puerto Princesa, and Zamboanga.  There are also flights between Iloilo and Puerto Princesa, and between Zamboanga and Tawi-Tawi.    

Meanwhile, Philippines AirAsia plans to develop hubs in Puerto Princesa and Panglao, which are among the country's top destinations.

To also support this endeavour, carriers are giving most passengers with existing bookings to Caticlan or Kalibo the option to reroute their journey towards other destinations and apply the full value of their ticket towards that.  Carriers will have slightly different rules on how to go about this. 

Sources: Channel NewsAsia, Rappler, Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines

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