Boracay Has Its Problems, But Closing It Down is Not the Answer
Jen is one of the more than 33,109 residents of Boracay call the island their home. She worked for seven years in Japan before putting all her savings into a laundry business. After the rains damaged her machines last December, she had to take out a P350,000 loan in February to keep her shop running. Now that the government wants to close the island due to environmental concerns, her future is now uncertain. This is the same for everyone who lives and works in Boracay.
According to the Department of Labor and Employment, more than 17,000 workers will be affected by the closure of Boracay. This figure does not even count informal workers—the boatmen, suppliers, vendors and the like. These are the people you probably don’t pay much attention to when you’re on holiday but are needed to keep your vacation running behind the scenes. A closed Boracay means their families will have no income.
The narrative being sold to the public is that it is simply about Evil Corporations vs The Environment, and that’s why Boracay should be closed for rehabilitation. The reality is more nuanced than that.
As Boracay residents, we are actually the first to demand better infrastructure and care for the island’s ecosystem. We're the first ones to benefit from that, too, and we're the first hit by the lack of it. When tourists go home, we're the ones who stay on the island. We're the ones who really feel the pollution in the water (though it has been pointed out that other beaches in the Philippines, including those in Davao, have it worse). We're the ones who suffer through the floods, and experience the traffic on our streets. And, unlike tourists, we don't pack our bags to go home and complain about the hassle of a ruined weekend. Boracay is home, and this is our reality.
But these calls for change have not been answered by the same government that wants to shut us down now. We know that there are erring establishments, but it is the same government which has given them license to operate in the first place. It's the same government that hasn't addressed the problems that its various agencies are mandated to fix.
While there are surely those on the island who care only for making a quick buck, there are also long-time residents like us who are always moving and pushing to make the island better. Remember, for example, that Boracay was actually one of the first islands in the country to require waste segregation. Many restaurants and hotels have been trying to reduce the amount of plastics being used and are increasingly sourcing local. Let’s not lump the violators with the many other businesses who have following the rules and have been playing an active part to make this destination even better.
Closing down Boracay will also affect tourism in other areas of the country. The Department of Tourism imagines that visitors will simply choose to visit other Philippine destinations in lieu of a closed Boracay but it is ridiculous to expect this. Most of our visitors visit Boracay in conjunction with our Philippine destinations.
Without Boracay, the Philippines makes a less compelling case for tourists to visit. They’ll choose to visit Thailand, Vietnam, or Indonesia where they can visit more destinations in one trip. This means flight cancellations not only for trips from Manila to Caticlan, but also for many international flights flying into the country. Not only will hotels in Boracay lose revenue, but hotels in Manila, Cebu, and El Nido, which are used as jumping-off points or itinerary stops for foreign tourists, will also lose business. In short, the country will lose more than the P56 billion pesos generated by the island last year alone.
Furthermore, other destinations in the country have even worse infrastructure compared to Boracay. They will not be able to accommodate the more than 2 million tourists who visited our island. Sending visitors to these places simply moves the problem elsewhere.
Boracay isn't a light switch you can turn on and off at will. Closing the island will mean that it will take years for it to recover from the lost momentum and PR disaster of having no visitors. A single bomb in Bangkok caused tourist arrivals to drop by almost 20%. With our tourism industry already lagging in the region, the closure of Boracay will be have more damaging and far-reaching effects.
As it is right now, with just the threat of closure and the conflicting statements being given by various agencies, the island is already being hit badly with a spate of cancellations that are being felt by hotels, wedding coordinators, restaurants and more. We are already seeing that credit lines are being cancelled, hiring is frozen, and inventories are not being purchased. This will trickle down and hurt every worker and resident on the island. I just met a stylist who has been on the island for seven years and he is now concerned about the fate of his staff given that all the weddings he was supposed to service have cancelled.
The government has taken the false-binary view that there it’s either Boracay has to be closed in order to be saved or keep it open and lose it forever to environmental disaster. This approach is unimaginative and narrow-minded—and it won't work. Rather, the government should work with the residents of the island for a phased and well-planned improvement in infrastructure. If we are so impressed by political will, let this be applied to finding real, practical solutions that allow Filipinos who have built their lives on this island to continue their livelihood while protecting Boracay’s future.
We're doing our part here on our island. And if you've ever taken a vacation here and love Boracay as so many people do, consider this your island, too. You can help by signing this online campaign to tell our legislators to look to more far-reaching and comprehensive solutions. But best of all, come to the island and see for themselves. Your continuing business helps the locals survive.
The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, is one of the many business owners based in Boracay. Having moved to the island from Manila in 2005, he now employs more than 100 people in Boracay.