How Do You Close An Island To Tourists.
Thanks to CYNTHIA DRESCHER CN Traveler
Visitors to Boracay love Boracay, an island in the Philippines that has the kind of powdery white beaches and see-your-feet-clear water that inspires island cliches.
It topped our Readers' Choice Awards list of best islands in the world in 2017. Unfortunately, the tiny stretch of sand—just under four square miles—is a victim of its own growing popularity. With 2.1 million tourists arriving in 2017 alone (spending more than $1 billion), Boracay now has to contend with environmental degradation, traffic congestion, insufficient solid waste management, illegal construction, property disputes, illegal fishing...to name a few.
In February, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte called the island a “cesspool.” “I’ll give you six months," he told Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu. "Clean the goddamn thing.”
To future-proof Boracay’s natural beauty, the government has announced an unprecedented six-month closure of the island, set to begin this month and last through September, though an end date hasn't yet been confirmed. At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said it would be a "total closure" to tourists, reports CNN.
So, how do you actually "close" an island? Although residents will be allowed to come and go, both local and foreign tourists will be blocked at the mainland ferry port starting April 26. The nearby airports of Caticlan and Kalibo will continue operating as they are located on the mainland, but Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Air have both confirmed they will offer refunds and rebooking.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Departments of the Interior and Tourism, and local authorities are working together to decide how exactly to the implement the temporary ban on Boracay tourism. A few major goals of the closure are clear, and involve constructing a sewer system, clearing the famous beaches of illegal structures, and inspecting legal buildings and businesses to make sure they're abiding by construction and environmental regulations.
Prior to the announcement, Boracay was already making headlines when the government approved the approval of a 250-room, $500 million hotel-casino on the already stressed island. The DENR has only been researching Boracay’s ecosystem and tourism’s impact on it for a decade, and new research this year is expected to help to determine the island’s “carrying capacity,” or the maximum number of people the island and its infrastructure can support, all at once.
This isn't the first time a country has taken drastic measures to preserve the environment of a beloved island. In 2004, the Malaysian government abruptly closed all hotels on Sipadan, known for having some of the best scuba diving in the world. Night diving was banned and, by 2013, the government had further limited tourism to only 120 daily visitor permits.
Farther away, the Pacific island nation of Palau began requiring visitors to sign an eco-pledge in December, stamped into their passports as part of the visa, where they promised to act in an environmentally responsible way during their stay.
While a six-month tourist ban for Boracay may mean hundreds of thousands of interrupted or canceled airline, hotel, and activity plans and an untold amount of lost revenue for local businesses, the alternative—running Boracay into the ground until travelers eventually move on to greener (or, rather, cleaner) destinations—isn't worth considering.