Inside Boracay: It is only one week since the closure of Boracay Island to tourists. It already feels longer. The island hasn’t been this quiet, the beach this empty, since the last actual Low Season – probably around August 2009.
Well, let’s be honest. White Beach is mostly quiet but the rest of the island rings with the sound of buildings being demolished, roads being torn up, electricity poles being moved and large trucks carrying away demolition materials.
Inside Boracay: Ongoing Improvement Work
Even before the closure date of 26th April 2018, Business Owners and Residents began to set back their properties. Whether they were affected by the 25+5 Beach Set-Back, or the Road Set-Back, people began to prepare to make the changes. It seemed that the shops and businesses along Road 1A Bulabog, and the main road section of Station 3, were the first to start with the self-demolition. Here and there were pockets of others doing the same.
Lhen Brutton, Island Photographer and Owner of St. Angelique Ortho Dental Clinic, Bulabog, was among the first to begin the set-back process with her own business. Her clinic was located in a narrow street, which will form a new road connection to Bulabog Beach and Mount Luho. This new road will ease some of the traffic congestion for those heading to the North of the Island, once Boracay re-opens.
Lhen has continued to document all the work being undertaken by local Businesses, Staff and Government Teams across the island in the first week of closure.
Inside Boracay: The island continues to be newsworthy
It saddens me to read some online media articles and netizen comments. Despite everything people on this island are going through, there is still jealous and angry comments directed at the Remainers. A smug satisfaction that we brought this closure on ourselves. Followed by outrage that, despite the months of uncertainty, no income and the upheavals of an island undergoing reconstruction, we get to enjoy a beautiful, empty beach to ourselves.
But among such online comments and anger, have been heart-lifting posts of support for islanders. From offers to hire Boracay Staff permanently or temporarily, the creation of Job Sites, setting up GoFundMe Pages or Fundraising Groups, to businesses offering to buy surplus stock from the closed establishments.
We have been gifted with support and offers to help Boracay from so many different quarters. In some cases it is from people who once lived on Boracay, in other cases it’s from people and sources who just feel the islander’s pain and want to ease it.
Inside Boracay: Our Wider Boracay Community
Ana Trenas called Boracay home for several years. She watched her young son growing up on Boracay’s beaches. Ana set up the Jobs Beyond Boracay Facebook page. A page dedicated to hospitality businesses offering Boracay staff temporary and permanent positions, across the Philippines. In an Article for Business Mirror.com.ph, appropriately released on Labor Day, 1 May 2018, Ana said “I’ve lived in Boracay for five years, so I know these people—the hotel staff, the wait staff, etc. And it’s sad…. I felt so bad for these people. So I put up this site and through the help of a philanthropist friend, she connected me to people [who have job vacancies].
Rica Velsaco also worked & lived on Boracay for many years. Rica contacted all her Hospitality connections, asking if they had any vacancies which would suit Boracay Staff. Initially posting from her personal Facebook Page, Rica moved her Job Vacancy posts to Support Boracay to reach a wider audience. Rica continues to update the job offers. Rica also assisted the Sunnyside Café owners, who have a number of Cafes and Restaurants at Station X. With closure looming Odette needed to sell off surplus stock and Rica assisted by sharing their stock list on the Support Boracay Page.
The Z Hostel Group contacted Rica and told her there was a community of people who also wanted to provide help and support to Boracay Islanders. A Non-Profit Organisation has now been formed: Manila For Boracay organized by the Z Hostel Group, and concerned individuals. The aim is to help Boracay residents, employees and entrepreneurs, affected by the closure through employment opportunities and by finding takers for surplus stock. The group has also assisted Boracay Staff with finding Boarding Houses in Manila, close to new places of work.
Karen G. Elizalde posted in various Boracay Facebook Forums with an offer to sell items for Boracay Businesses at a series of ‘Pop ups’ in June, to be held in Manila.
Red Pirates is famed for its native style bar located off White Beach at Angol. Along with its acoustic nights, and perpetual greeting of “Good Morning” no matter the time of day.
Red Pirates found themselves included on the list of structures within the 25+5 setback zone. Despite confusion as to how they were within the zone this time, the owners complied with the Order and demolished half of the bar. They posted on Social Media that they would be closing, unable to afford the cost of a rebuild.
Nigel Davies, from the UK regularly visits Boracay and fell in love with Red Pirates, one of the oldest local bars on the island. He has set up a GoFundMe Page, which is already attracting donations from around the World. We hope it will raise enough for Red Pirates to rebuild their bar and open again in October, as the Oldest Boracay Bar.
The Owner commented “Whilst we are really happy that we can rebuild the bar, the title of The Oldest Boracay Bar comes with sadness, as it’s due to the loss of other native bars such as Spider House”
Inside Boracay: A New Community Spirit
Despite the uncertainties around the rehabilitation of Boracay, the old island community spirit is blooming. It is the community, not just the beauty of Boracay, which brings visitors back year on year. And our community is coming back together, to support each other and to remind ourselves that this, right now, is what many of us had been crying for: CHANGE! A saved island.
We have been gifted with an opportunity to breathe, look about and come together, to question what we can all be doing better for Boracay. And many of us started working towards that outcome even before the closure.
Boracay Foundation Inc pulled the community together for a Beach Clean-up and Tree Planting Morning, on the 14th April, along White Beach. Hotels, Resorts and Bars signed up to have Coconut Palms planted in front of their resorts, agreeing to take responsibility for nurturing the young plants, in order to receive them. Tourists, members of Boracay Airforce, Philippines Navy, Coastguard and Police attended, as well as longstanding, environmentally conscious residents. Good News Boracay, a Facebook page tracking positive initiatives and island community news, posted a live video that morning.
#OneBoracay a fundraising initiative made up of representatives from Hotels, Resorts, Travel Agencies and Tourism Associations, as well as the Hotel Sales and Marketing Association International Inc (HSMA) also got the ball rolling. On April 16 the group held a Beach Clean-up and a Job Fair at Paradise Garden Resort, offering over 4,000 job opportunities. The Group also assisted Boracay staff to find new positions, using online matching with Jobstreet.com, ahead of the closure.
In addition, #OneBoracay have designed a range of really cool fundraising T-shirts, which can be ordered here. The aim is to provide financial help to the families of displaced workers and at least six families have already been assisted.
As the closure approached, several facebook groups were set up for Islanders planning to stay on the Island throughout closure. Information about important meetings, changes in Plans and Regulations, and announcements coming from the three Barangays’, DILG, DENR, DOT and DSWD are shared across all these groups, or in meetings, to ensure everyone knows what is going on.
From one of these Facebook groups, came the need to document all the businesses, which plan to stay open; Bars, Restaurants, Cafes, Laundry Shops, Clinics, Grocers and Markets. Emily Soria, of 7Stones Boracay Suites, pulled the database together, and then published it. This has been great for islanders to know who is open and where to go. Little social groups are already forming, taking turns to visit particular bars, restaurants and cafes, to help them to stay open for as long as possible. This adds to the rekindling of our island community.
The I Love Boracay Movement organised a Boracay Eco Fest, leading up to the closure date. The Festival featured a range of stalls for local initiatives selling Eco Friendly Products and Systems, as well as art and craft stalls, to encourage individuals and businesses to become as green and sustainable as possible.
Working on the islands future generation, Boracay Foundation Inc (BFI), in partnership with LGU Malay and Boracay Water, held its Annual Information Education Communication Campaign on the 27th April, one day after closure. The Campaign taught the lower and middle school classes at Boracay European International School. The 2018 program included Solid Waste Management, Tourism Updates and Statistics, Coastal Resources Management and the Ecobrick Exchange Program.
More youth work has come from the Philippine Red Cross Boracay-Malay Chapter, running First Aid and CPR Training, as well as Enviornmental Awareness Classes for the rehabilitation, with art and team building activities. Those interested in hosting or inviting the Chapter to put on a class can call 288-2068 or 09179815207.
Island resident Finn Ronne has been running Finn’s Bleeding Hearts Club for years. The club normally receives regular donations of rice, noodles and tinned food from local hotels and businesses on the island, for an impoverished village. “The children of Finn’s Bleeding Heart Club are going to need 200 kilos of rice a month, while the parents have no work during this closure of Boracay for 6 months. A 25 kilo sack is 1100 Peso (30 Canadian dollars) if you can help me feed let me know thank you”
In addition, individuals and businesses sponsor the children, so they can attend school and Krishop McBrat kits a child out in a new outfit, and shoes of their choice, on each child’s birthday.
Oasis Resort continues to employ and support their local villagers, and children in Yapak. Oasis Resort is running a food kitchen for local families who are struggling due to the loss of employment, or earning possibilities.
Boracay.travel, the first Online Travel Agency to operate in Boracay back in 2006, has taken the decision to stop running the travel website for hotel and tour bookings, from the closure date. The plan is to instead, keep the website as an Information Portal for visitors and have a portal page for hotels to advertise any special deals being offered for early bookings on post-opening dates. “We’re working on the platform change over now. We have really high visitor numbers to this site and decided not to waste that traffic, even if we won’t be taking bookings ourselves anymore. Once we’ve built in this new portal page, there will be no charge for Boracay hotels to list their deals or special offers on this website. We want no commission for it, it is our gift to Boracay”.
Hotel Link Solutions Philippines, an Online Marketing Solutions company, has waived all fees for its partner hotels during the closure and is offering their products free of charge to any Boracay property, to help them maximise their online sales ready for reopening.
Your Hospitality Hub decided to fast-track its Focus Group Program, which will be eventually rolled out across other tourist spots in the Philippines. Trudy Allen, who lives and works on Boracay said “With everything that Boracay was facing, we felt it was useful to start here with the program. The aim is to have a range of Focus Groups covering specific areas of work in the Hospitality Industry and to gather examples of Best Practice that can be promoted etc. Boracay is slightly different to the original remit, because of the issues that the closure has brought about. But the island remains the flagship for Philippine Tourism and there are several other destinations, also under scrutiny, who may benefit from what comes out of the Boracay Focus Groups. Eventually, other destinations will have their own Focus Groups. We’ve been really blessed with the support and commitment of some really keen Business Owners and staff, who send representatives to contribute or offer the use of their resorts or restaurant areas so that we can meet. We have held two Focus Groups about general Marketing so far, with some ideas to take forward and work on. During the week starting May 7, there will be an Eco-Friendly Sustainability Focus Group (Tuesday 8th, 7pm at Chillax Hostel, Diniwid) and a Marketing Focus Group for Hotels working with OTA’s or who use Channel Manager Platforms (Wednesday 9th May, 2.30pm at Surfside, Angol)”.
Your Hospitality Hub also has a Job Listing Page, which is useful for Boracay Staff still looking for positions.
Boracay Magazine has been posting some quite stunning articles and profiles on members of the Boracay Community, particularly its artists. This has served as a reminder of, and hope for, the amazing community that contributes to the island.
Inside Boracay: A Hopeful Island
Despite the fact that the island is closed to tourists, there is so much work going on. Whether is it physical work such as demolition or beach cleans ups. Or meetings among business owners and residents to consider what changes can be made to practices, towards a better Boracay.
I will leave you, at the end of Week 1, with some photos of a deep-cleaned White Beach and a heart-felt, just released, song from one of the islands resident musicians
Armand TJ, Islander, Singer Songwriter penned “We Are The Lights” dedicated to the Boracay Community and the island. Recorded on the island at Arstrong Clarion’s Concrete Jungle Recording Studio