In Boracay, This is the Sound of Silence

Philippines, environment, Boracay

Once upnn the time, Boracay Island...

Iconic tourism destination of Boracay has been shut down now for almost a month. How will island’s people manage to survive for another five months?

Earlier this year, local office of tourism in Boracay was expecting that 2018 would bring some 2.2 million of travellers, growing by 10% over 2017. While the Philippines registered last year 6.6 million international tourists, Boracay alone welcomed 1.1 million of them, generating alone 17% of all arrivals to the country.

Earlier this year, local authorities indicated that the island registered 1,052,976 foreign and 42,060 overseas Filipino tourists in 2017 who spent  a total of PHP38.78 billion (roughly US$745 million). Another 972,994 domestic tourists added revenues of PHP 17.36 billion, the equivalent of US$334 million).Spending for the island was up by almost 15% while all together Boracay passed for the first time in its history the two-million visitors’ mark.

 

 

Chinese comprised the biggest number of foreign tourists on the island last year at 375,284; followed closely by Koreans at 356,644; and Taiwanese at 40,802. Also included in the top 10 list of foreign nationals who visited the island were tourists from United States of America with 22,648 arrivals; Malaysia with 20,585; United Kingdom 17,416; Saudi Arabia 15,944; Australia, 15,365; Russia, 14,074; and Singapore, 9,897.

Tourism development in Boracay brought not only prosperity to the island but also all its current problems: pollution, overcrowding. The government’s decision in April to shut down the island is a abrupt solution but it gives a change for Boracay to turn things around and take it as a lesson over tourism management. With the multiplication of hotels and f&b outlets -many being even illegal- along the island coastal line, the necessity of a proper planning assessment seemed necessary. However, like in many places in Asia, corruption and greed have generated enormous environmental problems and finally tarnished the reputation of Boracay.

US magazine TIME recently reported that nearly 200 businesses and thousands of local residents are not connected to underground sewer lines for example with raw waste being directly pumped into the sea. “I agree it should have been cleaned up, it really is filthy,” Lynette Boone, manager of a diving school on the island told to TIME. “You can see the sewer lines going right out into the water on the beach, and there’s just masses of green algae. It’s not normal.”

“The issue of too many tourists and its impact on the environment are a result of years of neglect and bad governance with cases of corruption at resorts” added to the magazine Maria Ela Atienza, Professor of Political Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

The island has been now shut down for six months to tourism. And the eery feeling along Boracay empty beaches with closed hotels will certainly be part of the common memories of locals for a long time. Especially as it also has terrible consequences for the local population.

Local population living on the island is around 30,000 but people working in the tourism industry totals 35,000 as it includes people coming from the outside and operating informal business such as boat rental or small tours According to Jojo Clemente, President of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines to TIME, 17,000 workers are employed in the hotel and F&B industry. Prior to closure, Boracay had some 500 hotels.

Some of these workers are now back home or took temporary jobs in other regions. Many actually went to Manila.

The problem of Boracay has been the lack of planning in the aftermath of the island’s closure. The Department of Social Welfare and Development hastily put in place an assistance fund to help locals affected by the closure of Boracay. Guidelines for assistance have just been released on Thursday May 17.

According to DSWD Acting Secretary Virginia N. Orogo, the fund primary aims to address the needs of the displaced workers from the informal sector through the provision of grants for alternative income-generating activities such as engaging in micro-enterprises or employment.

Eligible families and individuals include residents or non-residents of Boracay with at least one family member in the informal sector prior to the closure of the island.

Assistance may be in the form of Micro-enterprise Assistance Grant (MAG) to be used as capital for a certain micro-enterprise venture or as additional capital for new or existing enterprises; grants to cover various expenses including food and transportation when looking for another job outside the island. As well as a scheme called “Cash-for-Work” (CFW) who will be attributed to locals who are joining government’s program to clean up Boracay.  Beneficiaries under the CFW program will now receive 100% of the regional wage rate rather than 75%. In the Western Visayas, the existing regional minimum wage rate is P323.50/day (US$6.20)

Similarly, for affected migrant workers who have returned to their original regions outside of Iloilo, they will also receive the established minimum wage in their respective regions.

“The increased rate of assistance is meant to help alleviate the economic difficulties of Filipinos affected by the Boracay closure,” Acting Sec. Orogo said.

However, some locals and social groups believe also that the island cleaning will pave the way to a gentrification of Boracay tourism products. The cleaning is for example accompanied already by the destruction of many houses in environment-sensitive areas with people being vacated at very short notice. Reducing the number of illegal dwelling will of course pave the way for a reconfigured tourism activity in Boracay in the near future.

While it was truly necessary to take into control Boracay to return the island’s environment to acceptable standards, the price tag to pay will certainly be high for locals, who were used to live only from tourism. Boracay will probably never be the same when reopening to tourism by the end of the year…