It’s almost criminal to spend a mere five hours in Boracay, which was what I did last July 7. It was also the most productive five hours I’ve had there without even getting a tan, because by the time I left the island, 500 more tourism workers had received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
This was made possible by our National Task Force (NTF) for COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., our testing czar and deputy chief implementer Secretary Vince Dizon, and the rest of the NTF team who listened to the Department of Tourism’s call to include tourism front-liners in the vaccination priority list.
The first roll-out in Boracay finally happened, with an initial target of inoculating 3,000 workers, of which 2,178 are employed in hotels and resorts, 308 in restaurants, 140 in tourist transport services. The remaining 374 are tourism front-line personnel, including tour guides, boatmen, e-trike drivers, airport and seaport front-liners, and water sports providers.
I must say, the Boracay front-liners are also lucky to have the best vaccination site in the country—the beach!
Workers get jabbed
The combined efforts of DOT, the NTF, the provincial government of Aklan, LGU-Malay, PCCI-Boracay, Boracay Foundation Inc. and the Compliance Association of Boracay to vaccinate tourism workers in Boracay is just the beginning of the plan to vaccinate all 40,000 residents and workers in the entire town of Malay. To realize this goal, Sec. Vince promises that the supply of vaccines will be uninterrupted.
I hope more private sector partners pitch in, like Crimson Resort, which donated 5,000 doses to support the initiative and hasten the process. Health and safety will remain a top concern even as travel restrictions are loosening up, especially as new variants keep emerging.
While vaccination is one of the most urgent programs to drive recovery, we have also been continuing the rehabilitation projects and infrastructure improvements initiated prior to the pandemic.
Two portions of the Boracay drainage project, spearheaded by the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, were completed last December, with the whole project expected to be completed this year. The drainage improvement project will not only alleviate the perennial flooding problem on the island, but also improve its water quality and supply, ensuring the long-term environmental sustainability of the island.
The DOT is also launching three tourism products in anticipation of the return of tourism to the island. The Boracay Biking Tour, which will showcase the scenic terrain of the island, is a unique way to explore the different areas, from the paved roads with shoreline views to the network of dirt roads inside the island, to the peak of Mt. Luho and down to the more secluded beaches.
While I do enjoy biking and I try to hop on one every destination I go, the Boracay Food Crawl is probably more my speed. This food tour highlights the iconic dishes of each establishment, and each night spent in Boracay promises to be a culinary adventure.
The third tourism product being promoted is the Boracay Wellness Workation Program, which will lure work-from-homers, digital nomads and other flexitimers to spend a longer time—weeks and even months—on the island where they can strike a balance between work and wellness.
Boracay has been through its share of upheavals, and it gladdens my heart that the local businesses which have struggled through two closures, the tourism workers who have lost their livelihoods, and the residents who have feared for their health are finally getting to see the light of day again with the safe reopening of tourism and the rollout of vaccines.
Of course, the island was given its much-needed time to regenerate. But paradise is not paradise if there are no people there to enjoy it, to share it, to live it.
Even though I spent a short day on the island mostly working, I could not help but be amazed at how beautiful it has become again. I also noticed how it’s beginning to recapture more of that Boracay magic—all because of the people who make it such a special place.
And I didn’t leave without getting my favorite mango shake from Jony’s, an establishment that has been around since the 1980s. Despite adapting to the new normal, the various health protocols, and the ever-evolving travel regulations, there are just some things that will never change.