Philipinnes UN

UN Photo/Cia Pak Alan Peter Cayetano, Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, addresses the seventy-third session of the United Nations General Assembly.

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Emma Charlton, Writer

No tourist destination wants the moniker “cesspool.”

But earlier this year, the Philippines island of Boracay – one of the nation’s major and heavily exploited tourist destinations – was dubbed as such by President Rodrigo Duterte, as he closed it for a six-month clean-up. Now it’s reopening, with a new plan to operate in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

The shuttering garnered international interest, not only because Boracay had become a byword for pristine white sand and clear seas, but also because the initiative taps into a burgeoning awareness of the environmental impact of tourism and a growing market for sustainable travel.

The trend is set to continue, according to Booking.com, with almost two thirds of travellers willing to spend at least 5% more on their holiday if they could be sure it had a low impact on the environment.

The United Nations declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. It defined sustainable tourism as “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities”.

Economic benefits of tourism

Image: UNWTO

Even so, for many popular destinations, the trade-off is a fine balance between conservation and the income and jobs that tourism generates. The industry contributed 12.2% to the Philippines economy in 2017, up from around 8% in 2012, according to the nation’s statistics agency, and it employs more than 13% of the population.

Tourism is increasingly important to the Philippines economy - but at what cost?

Image: Philippine Statistics Authority

And that success has taken its toll on Boracay and its five kilometer-long White Beach, with at least 10 cruise ships visiting the island every year. The sheer volume put pressure on the island’s infrastructure and the sewage system, as well as increasing littering and overcrowding.

“Boracay is a cesspool,” Duterte told a business forum in early 2018, according to local media. “You go into the water, it’s smelly.”

 

New Era

According to the Philippines Department of Tourism, new-age Boracay will have fewer hotels and restaurants and only 19,200 visitors are reportedly allowed on the island at any time.

The department said it will launch a worldwide advertising campaign to promote the cleaned up destination as well as encourage travellers to visit other destinations in the Philippines.

With the reopening, the department is looking to new markets, as well as attracting those from the key areas of South Korea, China and the US.

“When you look at it overall, we really have to make sure that when we roll it out, when we relaunch Boracay, it would be a better destination, more environment-friendly,” said Undersecretary for Tourism Development Benito Bengzon Jr.

“And we have to make sure that, more important than anything else, we avoid the problems that led to its closure in the first place.”