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Editorial

A big blow to tourism

/ 05:13 AM April 23, 2018

Starting April 26, world-renowned Boracay will be off-limits to tourists for six months, to give way to a massive cleanup and rehabilitation program, mainly to fix a faulty sewage system and remove hundreds of illegal structures that had made the tourist destination an environmental disaster.

The National Economic and Development Authority estimated that the six-month closure of Boracay would have minimal impact on the whole economy.

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Of course, that is looking at the big picture. Zooming in, however, the closure is not without cost.

For instance, 35,000 workers will suddenly be without jobs. The resort island hosts some 1,800 businesses, mostly hotels and resorts. All these will cease operations. The government sees losses of P18-20 billion if Boracay is shut down for six months.

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About 2 million tourists visited Boracay last year. In the first quarter of 2018, it drew more than half a million tourists, with locals accounting for 30 percent or 164,911 visitors and foreigners totaling 376,171 visitors, up 32 percent from a year ago.

Chinese and Korean tourists topped the foreign arrivals for the first three months, accounting for three-fourths of the total.

Jose Clemente III, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, estimated that about 700,000 bookings would now have to be canceled from May to October.

For May alone, 170,000 bookings would be gone (the month is considered the peak season for Chinese and Korean nationals). Per the estimate of Clemente’s group, tourism revenues of about P30 billion would be lost in the process.

Hundreds of hotels and the Philippines’ three biggest airlines will likewise suffer financially from Boracay’s closure. Accommodations on the island, including high-end hotels like Shangri-La and Discovery Shores, have announced the closure of their facilities from April 26 to Oct. 25.

Flag carrier Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air and AirAsia Philippines have announced the suspension of thousands of flights to and from Caticlan and Kalibo in Aklan starting April 26.

There is so much work to be done that the government decided to close Boracay to tourists. Under the plan, the government will check until August each establishment’s compliance with environmental rules and regulations, especially those on the proper disposal of garbage and treatment of sewage. More than 800 establishments have reportedly been served show-cause orders by an interagency council for easement violations and not connecting to the sewage treatment plant.

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The bulk of the work involves fixing the inadequate sewage and garbage disposal system on the island. New water treatment facilities will also be built during this period.

The government will likewise dismantle close to a thousand illegal structures on forestland.

In addition, owners of more than a hundred buildings or resorts that violated the 30-meter easement rule from the shoreline will be ordered to voluntarily demolish them, or the government will do it.

There is a small ray of hope—the possibility that the closure will not last the whole six months. The government said it had been receiving pledges from volunteers outside of Boracay. If all stakeholders plus the volunteers do their part, the whole process could be cut by at least two months, according to an official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.

This is truly the stiff price everyone has to pay for years of neglect. All stakeholders should now make sacrifices to rehabilitate and protect Boracay.

Of course, it would not have come to this had local government officials been faithful to their jobs and private investors followed regulations on sewage and easement. The government must ensure that all the corrupt officials — past and present — responsible for this mess will pay for their sins.

And local government units and tourism stakeholders in other resorts that are nearing congestion — Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro and El Nido in Palawan are examples — better learn their lessons from this tragic story of Boracay.

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TAGS: Boracay cleanup, Boracay closure, Inquirer editorial, Jose Clemente III, NEDA, Tourism, Tourism Congress of the Philippines
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