The re-opening of Boracay Island on October 26 is probably the most awaited development in the tourism sector. Rehabilitation works are still ongoing in the famous island destination and if regulations and environmental laws are strictly enforced, Boracay should have no problem in shedding the cesspool tag given by President Rodrigo Duterte before he ordered its closure.
Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Roy Cimatu, who is also the chairperson of the Boracay Task Force, is the most upbeat about Boracay’s re-opening. He says visitors can expect a “new and improved” Boracay Island, adding the island’s white beach is already “very clean” and safe for swimming.
“Categorically, I am telling you that Boracay is no longer a cesspool,” said Cimatu. President Duterte earlier warned that he would permanently shut down the island, a popular tourist attraction, if it did not clean up in six months.
Boracay’s clean-up, however, will not be complete if the DENR and the government do not penalize all the establishments that violated the environmental laws in the island. Several stakeholders and concerned parties are also wondering if the erring establishments will continue to operate once the island opens. Are they now compliant with environmental laws?
If they are not, all of the rehabilitation works done during Boracay’s closure would have been for naught. Concerned government agencies, perhaps, should place these erring establishments under a sort of probation over the next six months, or until they are able to prove their compliance to environmental laws of the island.
New responsible players
In the meantime, the government should open the development of Boracay to new players with a good track record in the hotel and entertainment industry. The government, the DENR and the Department of Tourism should carefully identify and welcome companies with a track record of building quality and environmentally sustainable facilities in developing projects in Boracay. Boracay should focus more on attracting higher spending, quality tourists, and not simply go for quantity. The slew of hotels and restaurants that degraded Boracay should serve as lessons in the master-planning of Boracay.
One company, Hong Kong-listed Galaxy Entertainment Group, is initially getting negative publicity after it unveiled a plan to develop a high-end resort project in Boracay. GEG, contrary to the criticisms it received, wants to complement Boracay’s natural beauty with the development of a world-class, eco-friendly, low-density premium villa-centric resort, with not more than 180 keys. GEG’s plan is consistent with the government’s goal of environmental and sustainable tourism development for Boracay and other island destinations.
GEG, with an investment pledge of $300 million to $500 million and a goof track record, has committed to deliver a premium product that could help to further elevate the position of Boracay as one of the top island destinations in the world. GEG promised to support the upgrade of the island’s tourism industry, benefiting the local economy’s development and employment opportunities, while also helping to ensure that the island’s natural qualities are maintained and sustained for the enjoyment of future visitors to the island.
GEG’s proposed project is clearly being opposed by casino operators in the island. The GEG resort will actually have a casino among its amenities. But this is an amenity of interest to the target premium, high-value and high-spending customers that GEG plans to source from its client base. The resort casino, which will principally cater to the entertainment needs of the resort guests, will only be a fraction of the size of the casinos operating in Entertainment City.
GEG said it will be greatly disappointed but will respect and accept the decision of the government if it prevents the project from proceeding.
President Duterte’s decision to temporarily close Boracay was long overdue. Its rehabilitation and sustainable development should serve as model to other island destinations that similarly suffer from environmental degradation. But there should be a clear and consistent plan on the development of Boracay and other tourism islands to avoid the same mistakes. It should be ideal to preserve the allure of Boracay and the other islands in the Philippines.
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