As a sustainable tourism programme is set to be enforced countrywide, the Philippine travel trade has stressed the need to learn from the haphazard rehabilitation of Boracay, which is expected to reopen in stages starting from next month.
Philippine tourism undersecretary for administration and special concerns, Art Boncato Jr, said the framework for the country’s sustainable tourism will be finalised this year to ensure “that we are promoting the kind of tourism that takes care of the current and future economic, environmental and social impact of tourism, and not just taking care of the interest of tourists, but also of the environment and most especially of communities”.
But industry leaders cited the necessity of having a concrete and well-organised sustainability programme which Boracay was denied. Boracay is set to reopen 5,000 rooms (or 33 per cent of the total hotel inventory of 15,000) beginning October 26, with the rest following in April 2019 and after.
Christine Ann Urbanozo Ibarreta, president of Hotel Sales and Marketing Association International, is concerned that the island is not ready for business given that roadworks are behind schedule, and a vast majority of hotels and resorts have yet to comply with revised regulations and accreditation standards.
An anonymous source in the trade estimated that only 30 per cent of the roadworks have been completed, with residents reporting seeing little work on the ground.
“For an island that’s opening in a month’s time, work should be (going on) 24/7,” he lamented.
Another issue Boracay faces is also how the hotels are being assessed and approved for reopening, how the list of compliant hotels is being vetted, and how the hotels are being screened. Certain hotels have already obtained conditional compliance to reopen even as their sewerage treatment plants are still under construction.
As Philippine destinations are required to have a carrying capacity, Boracay’s estimate from Eduardo Ano, the officer in charge of the Department of Interior and Local Government, stands at 55,000 daily. This includes the island’s 36,000 residents and 19,000 tourists.
Tourism Congress of the Philippines’ president Jojo Clemente, an advocate of establishing a carrying capacity for tourist destinations, opined the carrying capacity in Boracay may open a can of worms.
“How do you track that only 19,000 tourists will visit Boracay, what are the mechanics that will be used, and who is going to monitor (the numbers)? If we see an increase in waste and pollution, we have to rethink the numbers,” he said.
And while Clemente supports sustainability especially as destinations like Siargao and certain parts of Mactan island are already reaching saturation point, he pointed out that “the long-term concern is whether the government is able to maintain the standards and regulations that are now in place”.
Meanwhile, marine wildlife expert and Kirschner Travel Manila’s general manager AA Yaptinchay expressed satisfaction with the direction the Philippines is taking in sustainable tourism, as the country’s marine-based offerings such as diving are facing problems like pollution and environmental destruction caused by tourists.
Yaptinchay added that the government should also focus on sites that were not yet included in the 258 biodiversity terrestrial and marine sites.