Airlines cut back flights as Boracay prepares for closure

A decision by the Philippines to close the holiday hotspot of Boracay, which President Rodrigo Duterte has called a "cesspool", prompted airlines to cut back flights to the island yesterday, while business groups called for the decision to be reconsidered.

The abrupt presidential order to close Boracay to tourism for six months from April 26, aimed at rescuing the once idyllic island from ruin, was issued on Wednesday.

Cebu Pacific, the dominant domestic carrier, said it cancelled 14 daily round-trip flights to Caticlan and Kalibo, Boracay's two main gateways, from April 26 to Oct 25, while Philippine Airlines said it would scale down services to the airports and add flights to other destinations.

Discovery World Corp, which operates an 88-room resort in Boracay, said yesterday that the closure would have a significant impact on its financial health, citing the resort's large contribution to revenue. The company's shares dropped 7.5 per cent yesterday.

Philippine tourism minister Wanda Teo said yesterday that businesses and visitors to the crowded 10 sq km island would have to make a sacrifice.

"If you close one establishment but open another, tourists will still come. All establishments, whether compliant or not, will be closed," Ms Teo told ANC news channel.

The tourism industry urged a less drastic approach to rehabilitating the island and to delay the planned closure.

Mr Jose Clemente, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, said businesses were aware of Mr Duterte's planned clean-up, but hoped for a partial or phased closure, and more time to adjust.

"We are a bit depressed right now in the industry," he said. "I really feel for the people in Boracay. They really need to find ways to be employed, or at least keep their head above water for the next six months."

Boracay attracted nearly two million visitors last year, with the largest contingents coming from China and South Korea.

Both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific offered customers full refunds or flights elsewhere.

Discovery World said it has started to refund customer deposits, rebooking them to future dates or to its resort on the island of Palawan.- REUTERS