RESTRICTIONS on boat operations between Panay Island and Guimaras have made transport links unpredictable and are hindering the tourism industry of Guimaras, the island province’s governor said.
Some thirty-one people were killed in early August when three boats making the crossing to Guimaras sank in bad weather, leading to a suspension of boat operations for a week.
The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) has since lifted the suspension but allowed the motor bancas servicing Iloilo City routes to Jordan and Buenavista in Guimaras to operate with restrictions.
MARINA ordered boat operators to roll up or remove all awnings to increase their stability in high winds and limited them to carrying 75% of their passenger capacity, while permitting crossings only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The no-awning rule has increased passenger discomfort on the trip, leaving them exposed to heat and rain.
Guimaras Governor Samuel T. Gumarin said in an interview Thursday that the island’s visitor arrivals declined by more than 80% after the boat sinkings.
“We are still experiencing difficulty. Currently, our tourism industry in Guimaras has been declining by more than 80%,” he said.
The Department of Tourism’s (DoT) Western Visayas regional director, Helen J. Catalbas, also noted the significant decline in Guimaras tourist arrivals.
According to Ms. Catalbas, tour groups have cancelled visits to the island province.
“The effect is really negative for Guimaras. I have information that some if not all DoT-accredited tour operators that have groups scheduled to visit Guimaras have cancelled,” she said in a news conference on Wednesday.
She cited “the uncertainty of the availability of water transportation. Tourist visits are limited in time,” she said, noting that boat passengers experience discomfort even when it’s not raining.
She added that fast craft serving the route are bigger and more stable but need to wait to fill up before they leave port, causing delays which increase the element of uncertainty.
“It is not feasible to charter fast craft for tour groups,” she added, given the short trip and expense.
Ms. Catalbas said the DoT in Region 6 hopes to convene stakeholders this month including MARINA, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), local government units (LGUs) and tour operators to come up with a plan to make transport more reliable.
Guimaras had 68,636 visitor arrivals in the first seven months of 2019, according to DoT data.
Overall the region hosted 2.5 million visitors — domestic and foreign — over the same period.
In the first nine months of 2018, Guimaras received 87,209 visitors. — Emme Rose Santiagudo