Authored by Diane Wuthrich (Contributor)
Boracay is the Philippines’ number one tourist destination.
This island paradise has garnered international recognition for its beauty, and has been named as part of Travel and Leisure’s “world’s best islands” lists for two years in a row.
I was lucky enough to grow up in the Philippines, an archipelago of over 7,000 islands. My childhood summers were always at the beach, and this kind of upbringing instilled in me a strong yearning for tropical life even well into my adulthood. I’ll never forget my first trip to Boracay – it was my freshman year of college, and my best friend and I took a journey to the island to celebrate our first summer off university.
I remember being captivated by the blinding white sand, the most beautiful crystal clear turquoise waters I’ve ever seen. It was nothing like any other beach I’ve been to in the country.
I was in love.
I loved Boracay not just for its beach, but for the experience it offered me as a visitor. Tons of great restaurants, the shopping, vibrant nightlife right by the sea, and cool waters that will refresh you no matter how hot Philippine summers get.
Once I graduated from college, I received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: my first job ever would take me to Boracay island, but this time as a resident, not a traveller. I landed a sweet gig working as a sales and marketing assistant to a travel company based out of Boracay, and I stayed for a year. Even if island fever occasionally got me down, there was nothing on this earth that could compare to living in one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I made lifelong friends, and I was living a dream!
After that stint, I made a commitment to continue visiting Boracay as often as I could, making the pilgrimage almost every year. It felt like a necessary tradition that I had to do. Pay homage to the beautiful island that feels like home.
Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve witnessed Boracay succumb to over-development. At one point, during peak season, I even experienced TRAFFIC on Boracay. Yes – traffic during rush hour. Bumper-to-bumper tricycles on the only main road that runs on the island. I started to notice that there was significantly less free land. Accommodations of all kinds were popping up in every space imaginable.
And finally, I saw the sewage problem for myself. Pipes leaking out onto Bulabog beach and Station 2 of Boracay.
It was disheartening.
That never deterred me from visiting time and again. I had faith the locals would fix it up, despite the bureaucracy we are subject to in the Philippines.
But now, we are faced with the worst solution possible to the environmental crises of Boracay. Too much, too late.
Closure of Boracay
Effective April 26, 2018, the closure of Boracay will commence for a rehabilitation period of 6 months as per the order of Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte.
This announcement was made just a few weeks ago, giving Boracay locals less than 6 months to decide where they will work, live, how they will earn a living. This is not surprising, considering our president’s infamous iron fist and his abrupt decision-making style. Last February 9, he called Boracay a “cesspool”, which followed a handful of closed-door meetings with a complete lack of transparency which the locals needed.
President Duterte’s decision was met with a lot of emotion from both the public and private sector: a handful of business owners are enraged that their businesses will be shut down without warning, and even demolished despite not violating any laws; many tourists have to deal with cancelled flights and hotel bookings; but the worst affected are the stakeholders directly involved with Boracay’s tourism industry – employees of all levels who will no longer have any job yet the government has no backup plan of any sort. Durterte says he is going to turn Boracay into agricultural land – crazy as that sounds, we never really know what his next move is going to be.
I can’t help but feel affected by these changes. Boracay as we know it will never ever be the same again. I feel for the 36,000 people who will lose their jobs, but then again, the local government units need to be more accountable for the PhP 56 billion in tourist revenues – where has it been going, the environmental fees and taxes that we pay every time we go to the island?
What will happen after the 6 months’ closure of Boracay? Nobody knows. We can only hope and pray for the best.
Lessons in Tourism
Even though many islands in the Philippines are world-class tourist destinations, the local tourism industry has much to learn. Boracay is a painful lesson that other destinations need to take note of.
feel that there are many lessons the Philippines could also learn from Thailand. Both countries have similar natural attractions and beautiful beaches, but the Thais seem to have a better understanding of what it takes to protect them. The Thai islands have become a rite of passage for many backpackers and tourists, especially after they were popularized in the famous movie, The Beach.
Add Maya Bay to the list of closures
Maya Bay, a tiny beach only accessible by boat, is one of the most popular attractions in Thailand. But receiving over 4,000 tourists daily has done considerable damage to Maya Bay’s ecosystem, prompting Thai officials to call for a closure of the island from June 1 to September 30. However, such decisions were carefully thought of, and discussions beforehand included all stakeholders including the private sector, academics, and the government.
Maya Bay will be closed for a short period of time to allow the island’s marine life to heal. The coral reefs of Maya Bay have suffered the most, especially because of the boats parked right above them.
Clearly, Thailand was able to nip the problem in the bud. Meanwhile here in the Philippines, too much is being done – drastic measures that are far too late.