It may be difficult to imagine the party island of Boracay with fewer tourists, but that’s exactly what the Philippine government said it wants to do.
In an interview yesterday with ANC’s Headstart, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Wanda Teo said the government plans to set a limit on the number of tourists that can be on the island at the same time, a rule that will be implemented after the upcoming six-month closure.
“When it’s full, then you have to book the next day. You have to wait. Anyway, there’s Caticlan, and when tourists leave, then they can go in. We have to limit,” Teo said in English and Filipino.
In 2016, about 1.7 million people visited Boracay, an island that is only about 1,000 hectares. While the DOT’s goal is usually to bring in more tourists, the massive crowds have also become a deterrent for some travelers.
“I’m sure we’ve all had stories about friends, family members who have gone to Boracay recently and said ‘wow, I’m never going back anymore.’ Right?” licensed environmental planner Mark Evidente told Coconuts Manila last month. “There’s an influx of people, but at the same time, there are all these people who are saying that ‘we’re never going back anymore.'”
But how will the government determine how many tourists will be allowed inside? According to Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Jonas Leones, this will be done via studies that will determine Boracay’s carrying capacity.
“That’s the reason why [DENR] Secretary [Roy] Cimatu has already directed… one of our bureaus to undertake the study,” Leones said during the Headstart interview. “So the carrying capacity study is critical after rehabilitation, because that will set the limit and threshold of the resources that can be accommodated by Boracay.”
Evidente had a similar suggestion. “For me, it would probably really involve bringing down the number of people on the island, setting a cap on the number of hotel rooms,” he said.
This may prove to be difficult as further hotel developments are still on their way. In February, it was announced that a 1,001-room hotel would be built in Boracay. It would be the largest hotel in the country in terms of capacity.
Last Wednesday, it was announced that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had approved a proposal to shut down Boracay for six months starting April 26, just a day away from Labor Day weekend, typically one of the island’s busiest days.
While many see this as good, even an absolute necessity, for the environment, many residents also fear losing their sources of income.
While we don’t know yet how drastic the tourist limit will be, the cap could mean that major changes will be felt by residents even after the closure is lifted.
“When we open it, it will be a different Boracay and everybody would be looking at us again,” Teo said.