Boracay clean-up plan could derail tourism target

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's plan to shut Boracay island in order to clean it up could deal a blow to the nation's plan to attract 7.4 million tourists this year.

Uncontrolled construction of too many establishments so close to the shoreline and the lack of sewerage systems have created environmental problems for the central Philippine destination famous for its powdery white-sand beaches.

Last month, Mr Duterte slammed Boracay as a "cesspool", prompting state agencies to quickly assess how to resolve the issue.

The heads of the interior, tourism and environment departments are proposing a six-month closure, and Mr Duterte seems amenable.

There were about one million foreign visitors to Boracay last year while the entire country had 6.6 million tourists, according to the Department of Tourism.

Some 36,000 jobs stand to be affected, with an expected shortfall of about 56 billion pesos (S$1.4 billion) in annualised revenue.

"We have already seen a lot of cancellations, particularly from China and Korea. They have opted for other destinations like Bali and Phuket," Ms Mary Ann Ong, a member of the Philippine Tour Operators' Association, said in an interview.

Still, the government has hinted that the gain in the long run could more than compensate for the short-term pain.

The clean-up drive will ensure sustainability of the destination at one point touted by an international travel magazine as the best island in the world, Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said in a text message. "That may be the minimum that needs to be done to sensitise and instil fear in violative resort owners as well as tourists who degrade the ecology," Mr Pernia said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2018, with the headline 'Boracay clean-up plan could derail tourism target'. Print Edition | Subscribe