Time to limit number of tourists in Boracay: experts

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 18 2017 05:41 PM

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

Boracay to suffer problems being experienced by Baguio, say urban planners 

MANILA - A group of environmental planners believes it's high time to set a limit to the number tourists arriving in Boracay, as the quality of water in the country's "Island Paradise" continues to worsen.

Nathaniel Von Einsiedel, an architect and urban planner, said that based on the information they've gathered, the capacity of existing facilities in Boracay to process waste left by people visiting the island is already inadequate.

"There is a certain limit to what an area can accommodate," Einsiedel said in a press conference on Thursday. "And as you know, the more the people there are, the more waste they generate."

The carrying capacity of Boracay, he stressed, should be set by the residents, local government units, and all the stakeholders of the place after a thorough study and consultations.

But Einsiedel said the most doable action now is to strictly enforce of existing ordinances, which include requiring residential and commercial buildings to connect to the existing sewerage system. 

A BAGUIO-LIKE PROBLEM IN 2021?

Based on Department of Tourism (DOT) data, the total number of tourist arrivals in Boracay in 2016 was 1,725,483, around 250,000 more than in 2015. Tourism growth is expected to continue in the coming years as more flights and facilities are established. 

Assuming the average length of stay of tourists in Boracay is 3 days, tourism development specialist Mark Evidente said the number of tourists on the island every day is 14,182.

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

Adding the official population of Boracay which is 33,109, he said the total number of people daily on the 10.32-square-kilometer island is 47,291. Boracay's population density, he said, would thus be close to that of Talisay City or Bacolod City. 

He warned that if the trend continues and the number of tourist arrivals remains uncontrolled, the population density of Boracay will be almost at the same level of Baguio City or Iloilo City by 2021.

THE 'LABORACAY EFFECT'

Citing Aklan Tourism Office data, Evidente said the total number of tourists who joined the "Laboracay" weekend was 70,979, or about 15,000 more than in 2016.

Adding the official population of Boracay, he derived a population density of 10,160 per square meter, which is close to that of the cities of Muntinlupa and Parañaque.

It was earlier reported that 10,000 kilos of trash were left after the Laboracay weekend from April 30 to May 1, 2017. This is equivalent to 10.06 metric tons collected from the beaches.

"This is their third year to collect trash and every year, we find creative ways on how to encourage residents and tourists to participate and clean up Boracay," said Alden Cedo, Cause for a New Coast project head. 

THE NUMBERS THAT MATTER

According to Evidente, officials may be putting too much weight on tourist arrivals when measuring the success of a destination. He believes what's more important is the amount of money spent by a tourist during his stay.

He pointed out that in 2016, the Philippines lagged its South East Asian neighbors -- except for Cambodia -- in number of of tourist arrivals. But the Philippines was among the region's leaders in terms of amount spent per tourist.

Evidente said that if Boracay stakeholders agree to set a carrying capacity for the island, they could start looking at the number of tourist arrivals and the capacity of the existing sewerage treatment plant, which is at 1 million people.

"Carrying capacity is a moving target depending on what you are willing to commit to. To some extent, it can be solved by engineering and technology," he said.

"But you can't keep doing that because you'll end up with a Boracay that's all sewage treatment plant and no more hotels. There has to be balance," he added.

He also said not all establishments and structures in Boracay are connected to the sewage treatment plant. 

THE ALGAL BLOOM DEBATE

Untreated water has been blamed for the appearance of a high volume of algae in Boracay, as mentioned in a five-year (2010-2015) study by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

But some locals are saying the algal bloom is just natural, especially during summer. Some residents even claim that this phenomenon is one of the reasons why Boracay's sand remains powdery white. 

Evidente, however, clarified that while algal bloom is normal during summer, the level of algae appearing on the beaches of Boracay is not normal. 

"Every summer, may algal bloom. Pero 'yung waste ay fertilizer. 'Yung existing algae, add the tons of fertilizers, talagang dadami [ang algae]," he explained. 

"The white sand is created by erosion and corals, it has nothing to do with algae," he added.

'SAD BORACAY' LOOMS

If the warnings are not heeded, Evidente said tourists should expect a sad-looking Boracay in the near future. 

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

"It could come to a boom-bust scenario. Right now, it's in a boom. It'll continue for 5 to 10 years but after that, it'll come crashing down and it will be a sad place," he said.

"People will still come but hotels will look sad, they will look dated, 'cause they're all stuck in 2015 when it's already 2030... It's going to be a sad place," he said.

But if things get done and Boracay is "saved," Einsiedel said it will be a good model for other tourist destinations in the Philippines, like Coron (Palawan), Panglao (Bohol), and Siquijor.

Photo by Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

Einsiedel and Evidente were part of a panel in a press conference by groups Alliance for Safe, Sustainable, and Resilient Environments (ASSURE), and the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP).

Former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez previously criticized how tourism is being handled in Boracay. She explained Boracay may be worth billions of pesos, but swank hotels displaced the island's original inhabitants. 

Newly-appointed Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, meanwhile, vowed to take action on the environmental issues in Boracay. In a visit to Iloilo City, his first regional visit, he said the key to resolving problems in Boracay is to implement existing laws.

Cimatu said water quality will be the priority when his leadership takes on the problems in Boracay.