MANILA • The Philippines reopens its crown jewel resort island Boracay to holidaymakers tomorrow, after a six-month clean-up aimed at repairing the damage inflicted by years of unrestrained mass tourism.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the island to be shuttered in April to fortify weak infrastructure and crack down on the rampant overdevelopment that had left it a "cesspool".
When the government throws open the doors, Boracay will have fewer hotels and restaurants, a cap on the number of visitors and anti-beach boozing rules aimed at taming its reputation for partying hard.
All of this is intended to protect the bruised beauty of the island's turquoise waters and white sand beaches, which were visited by two million tourists a year.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said she hopes the new Boracay will be the start of a "culture of sustainable tourism" in the Philippines, adding that other tourist destinations will be next.
She told reporters last Friday that it means taking account of the impact on the environment now and in the future.
Ms Romulo-Puyat said she has sent a written "warning" to other top Philippine tourist draws, including El Nido and Panglao islands, while others such as the whale shark-feeding site of Oslob have cut its tourist arrivals by half.
Boracay, which major tourist magazines consistently rate as having among the world's best beaches, is a mere 1,000ha.
Yet it was seeing up to 40,000 sun worshippers at peak periods, who contribute not only US$1 billion (S$1.38 billion) a year, but also leave behind mountains of garbage, an overflowing sewerage system and a carnival-like atmosphere.
Under the new rules, 19,200 tourists will be allowed on the island at any one time, with the government aiming to enforce that by controlling the number of hotel rooms available.
Fire eaters, masseuses, vendors, stray dogs, bonfires and even the builders of its famous sandcastles have been chased from the beachfront, while buildings were torn down to create a 30m easement from the waterline.
All water sports, save for swimming, are also banned for the time being.
Boracay's three casinos have been permanently shut, in line with Mr Duterte's wishes.