The popular holiday destination has reopened after a six-month tourism detox. Justin Francis, CEO at Responsible Travel, shares his thoughts.
The party may not be quite over on Boracay, but it’s definitely time to turn the music down and flick the lights back on.
As the island reopens to visitors following a six-month ‘tourism detox’, the Philippines joins other destinations suffering from overtourism, such as Thailand’s Maya Bay, in taking stronger measures to regulate the industry.
Visitor numbers on Boracay will be limited, and restrictions introduced on construction, watersports and beach parties, as well as single-use plastics.
President Duterte ‘very pleased’ with new Boracay— PH News (@PHNewsTeam) October 27, 2018
President #Duterte was satisfied with the results of the six-month intensive rehabilitation of #Boracay Island, commending everyone, particularly the inter-agency task force for their patience and cooperation.#DuterteImpact pic.twitter.com/w2T9QYDtqn
Destinations worldwide need to manage tourism better and ensure that it works for them. What I’ve always believed is that tourism shouldn’t be regarded as a fundamental right, where everyone can go wherever they want, whenever they want and do as they please. It must be planned and regulated effectively so it’s sustainable.
In Boracay, it’s possible to see a microcosm of the tourism industry, where for too long the rights of tourists have trumped those of local residents and the environment; where loose or non-existent regulations have led to speculation and overdevelopment, and the overall tourism experience has been degraded for everyone. That’s symptomatic of a kind of ‘Wild West’ atmosphere that has grown up around the tourism industry generally, where a lack of global oversight and control is leading to devastating impacts on many destinations.
Boracay is a small island with a fragile environment. In recent years upwards of two million visitors have visited annually, which has resulted in around 70 tonnes of waste being produced every single day, while the sea and coral reefs that surround the island have become terribly polluted by sewage.
The conversation really does need to change. Instead of asking: What can we do for the tourism industry? Governments both national and local need to start thinking: How can we make tourism meet our needs?
There will be an inevitable backlash from some Boracay tourism businesses of course, but we think the changes should be seen as an opportunity. There are many other islands in the Philippines that are larger than Boracay, and with the infrastructure in place to cope with high levels of visitors. By redirecting tourists to these islands, their local economies would benefit while the pressure on Boracay would be eased.
But that’s only one part of the solution. Much tighter regulation is needed, and the type of tourism on Boracay needs to change too. Beach parties can be hugely damaging for marine environments, no matter how big an island is, or the state of its facilities.
As with many other popular tourism destinations, Boracay has been the victim of its own success. Now it needs to redefine what success actually is.
It’s crucial that this move isn’t seen as elitism or a crackdown on people having a good time. Well-managed tourism should be open to all, but within reason, and never at the expense of the local community and environment. It’s about developing the right kind of tourism and the right level of visitor numbers in the right places. That’s something that in destinations as diverse as Venice, Machu Picchu and Ko Phi Phi Leh in Thailand, is beginning to be realised and addressed. There’s a long way to go, but awareness is clearly starting to grow.
It’s quite possible that Boracay is a sign we’re now entering a more progressive era in tourism. Let’s hope so.