Philippine tourism bracing for the worst as volcano brings its fury

A boy rides an outrigger canoe while the Taal volcano spews ash as seen from Tanauan town in Batangas province, south of Manila, on Jan 13, 2020.
A boy rides an outrigger canoe while the Taal volcano spews ash as seen from Tanauan town in Batangas province, south of Manila, on Jan 13, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - It's the peak of the tourist season in the Philippines, and the volcano erupting about 65km south from Manila couldn't have come at a worse time.

The country recently reopened Boracay, ranked by Conde Nast Traveller as Asia's "best island".

Some of the most popular cultural events in the nation are scheduled for this week. Even United States comedian Dave Chappelle is planning to perform for two nights in the capital.

The Philippines said on Sunday that there is an imminent threat of a hazardous eruption of the Taal volcano that is rumbling and spewing ash and smoke.

Schools and government offices near the volcano were closed, and as many as 200,000 people could be forced from their homes.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila suspended all flights "until further notice" as ash began accumulating on ramps and runways, airport officials announced. Almost 170 flights have been cancelled.

January has typically been the most popular month for Philippine tourism as the rainy season winds down at the end of the year.

A total of 732,506 visitors arrived in the country in January 2018, more than any month. A similar number of travellers came in January 2019.

The eruption also hit just weeks after homes in Boracay were damaged by Typhoon Phanfone, which struck right before Christmas. The resort island, known for its powdery white sand and shallow waters, was shut down for months for a government clean up before gradually reopening to the public about a year ago.

 

Cebu, in central Philippines, is scheduled to hold "Sinulog", an annual religious and cultural dance parade, at the end of the week. Organisers billed it as the country's biggest cultural event that draws millions of visitors.

With the economy in danger of notching its slowest expansion since 2011, attracting tourists is a key focus of efforts to boost growth. Tourism accounted for 12.7 per cent of the Philippines' gross domestic product in 2018.