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Philippines – Boracay Temporarily Closed

Boracay, the premiere tourist destination in the Philippines, had been temporarily shutdown effective 26th April 2018.  The government declared the closure of Boracay to rehabilitate the world famous island resort.  No less than the President  of the Philippines ordered the closure, declaring  the holiday destination off-limits to tourists, saying the island has become a “cesspool” tainted by sewage.  President  Duterte  invoked public safety, interest and health issues in ordering the closure.

Boracay was known as the crown jewel of Philippine tourism with its world-famous powdery  white sand, but unchecked tourism and environmental degradation, made it far from  the tropical paradise it was decades ago.  Authorities noted some of the hundreds of hotels and restaurants use the island’s drainage system to send untreated sewage into its surrounding turquoise waters.   The island saw some two million visitors last year, contributing roughly $ 1 billion in revenue into the Philippine economy.

The government has promised to release  PhP 2 billon  to help  some  35,000 workers , including an estimated 17,000  hotel, restaurant and other tourism workers plus about 11,000 construction workers.

While acknowledging that that the closure  would adversely affect the tourism industry,  government authorities  stressed it would just be temporary.

The government have  started extending  the emergency employment assistance to displaced workers in Boracay, while some 2,500 workers were also given  emergency livelihood assistance.  Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III  said they will exercise oversight functions,  as well as closely watch the rehabilitation work in Boracay to make sure the closure will not be wasted, most especially as the  closure entailed loss of  revenues and jobs.

The Department of Tourism (DOT),  downplays the effect of Boracay’s   closure on the country’s tourism.  It is confident the government can still meet the target of 7.4 million foreign tourists this year despite Boracay’s closure during the summer or peak season.  Former Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo noted  that  the island was in fact not the top destination in 2017.   Data show around 986,000 foreign tourists visited Boracay  in 2017, or only 15 percent of the total number of tourist arrivals at 6.6. million.

According to Boracay Foundation, a non-profit organization,  over 36,000 hotel and resort workers, as well as masseuses, tattoo artists and vendors stand to lose their jobs, Seven in 10 workers in Western Visayas, a region in central Philippines, are in Boracay.  The closure will cost the island’s tourism sector some 56 billion pesos (S$1.4 billion) if it lasts for a year. Eleven hotels have said their combined losses  can run up to Php550 million  pesos a year.

Boracay’s degradation has been blamed on the failure of the local government to enforce ordinances on marine conservation, garbage and sanitation, and zoning and construction, among others.    At least 300 hotels, resorts and inns have ignored an ordinance that require them to build their own sewage and wastewater treatment facilities. They have instead been dumping waste into canals meant only for rainwater and surface overflow, which have led to an increase in the coliform bacteria level, which further  resulted to  fecal contamination  in waters around Boracay, and longer episodes of algal bloom.  Four of the nine wetlands on the island, meanwhile, are occupied by a shopping mall, a hotel and around 100 illegal settlers.

The closure of Boracay would harm the entire Philippine tourism industry with “massive and long-lasting repercussions,” private sector groups warned.  Instead of closing down the world-renowned tropical island, the groups appealed for the government to give them 60 days – from April to May – to undertake individual clean up and rehabilitation in their own properties.