Lessons learned from the closure of Boracay is inspiring a renewed push for more responsible and sustainable tourism across the Philippines, according to a senior figure from the Philippine Department of Tourism.
Speaking during a panel discussion at Routes Asia 2019 in Cebu, Arturo P. Boncato Jr, the department’s undersecretary for tourism regulation, coordination and resource generation, explained that the national government is now focussed on rehabilitating other major destinations and promoting alternative sites.
“We are seeing to raise standards across the country through our new tourism framework,” he said. “We’re also investing a huge amount in branding the Philippines as a sustainable destination. A key component of this is engagement with the private sector.”
Boracay, known for its white-sand beaches, closed to visitors in April 2018 for six months following concerns about the impacts of tourism. The decision was announced by President Rodrigo Duterte after he dubbed the island a “cesspool”, condemning hotels, restaurants and other tourist businesses, and accusing them of dumping sewage directly into the sea.
Since then, the island has undergone massive rehabilitation with billions of pesos invested in its infrastructure. Its carrying capacity has also been limited to 19,250 tourists at any one time so that resources do not become strained.
Boncato said that securing buy-in from all stakeholders - from the national government to hotels and bars - has been key. This has included low-cost airline Cebu Pacific, which launched a sustainable tourism programme called the ‘Juan Effect’.
Fellow panellist Candice A. Iyog, the vice president for marketing and distribution at Cebu Pacific, said that while the carrier wants to fill its planes with tourists, the company has a responsibility to ensure that it does not come at the expense of the destination.
“Tourism growth and sustainability are not mutually exclusive,” she added. “It’s a matter of how we mindfully grow tourism. When Boracay closed, everyone was impacted.”
Iyog explained that the Juan Effect has three components to encourage responsible travel among passengers. This includes making “simple pledges” to preserve the beauty of the Philippines; working with stakeholders to achieve solid waste management targets; and investing in more environment-friendly processes.
Also on the panel was Abe Tolentino, the president of Siargao Tourism Operators Association; Sharzede Datu Hj Salleh Askor, chief executive of Sarawak Tourism; and John Petersen, aviation strategist at the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation.
All of the panellists agreed that education of the local community is vital if destinations are to become more sustainable. “It is difficult to stop the desire for more and that is a real challenge,” said Boncato. “But we need to make sure the community appreciates the value of tourism.”
Askor also stressed that sustainable tourism cannot be achieved unless regulations and laws are enforced. On Sarawak, a Malaysian state on Borneo, she said capacity at one of its national parks is limited to 200 visitors per day in order to preserve its natural beauty. “Once we reach the 200, we do not sell more tickets,” she added.