The travel trade is baulking at the consequences of allowing a multi-million dollar casino project in Boracay, approved by the Philippine government at the same time that it announced closing the island next month for rehabilitation from environmental problems caused by unbridled development.
While the industry’s current focus is taking care of the island’s rehabilitation and determining its real carrying capacity, “for years we have been calling for a moratorium on buildings” and adding more facilities “might not be to the best interest of Boracay”, Tourism Congress of the Philippines’ president Jojo Clemente said yesterday in a joint press conference by Boracay’s stakeholders who favour its rehabilitation but not its closure.
The industry expressed concern that Boracay is being stretched to its limits as the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR) earlier this week approved the US$500 million casino to be built by Hong Kong-listed Galaxy Entertainment Group and its local partner Leisure & Resorts World Corporation, following the approval of another casino in 2014 as well as the mammoth 1,001-key Hotel 101 Resort-Boracay.
It is “ill-advised to spread the casino footprint” to Boracay, said Bill Barnett, managing director of hospitality and consulting firm C9 Hotelworks. “I’d be very concerned by the prospects of gaming on Boracay, as the sheer scale conflicts with environmental issues being faced”, he explained.
Teody Espallardo, Alta Briza Resort Boracay’s director of sales and marketing, surmised that the influx of tourists from China, now Boracay’s top foreign market source, could be the reason behind allowing casinos on the island. Many attempts to build casinos in the past were not allowed, said Espallardo, who previously worked with Pagcor for nine years.
An industry leader lamented the move as “surreal” and “double standard”. “The government is not even hiding the fact that they are opening casinos in the world-famous beach destination. We will be in Boracay for our entire lives but they (government officials) are up to six years only”, he stated, referring to the term of office of government in the Philippines.
Intas DMC managing director Sonia Lazo said casinos will likely translate into “a loss of tourists coming to Boracay” as her clients and source markets do not favour such gaming projects.
It’s the absence of proper regulations and policies that has led Boracay to its current state of demise, acknowledged Lazo. “If they plan this casino on the island, it would mean more responsibility, more governance and they need to double the effort (in governance),” she said.
“This call of closure of Boracay is a red flag that we’re not doing something right. It affects our image as a destination,” remarked Lazo.