Editorial: Revaluing tourism

THE closure of Boracay for six months starting this April 26 has caused a spillover of bookings to other popular destinations in the country, such as Palawan, Bohol, Cebu, and Davao.

Since summer in the country is one of the peak seasons for travel, Boracay’s closure presents a windfall of opportunities that is even too much for these “leisure destinations” to handle.

Yet, the other side of that economic bonanza must be Boracay’s more valuable contribution, highlighting the challenges of resource rehabilitation, the stakeholdership of government and private sectors, and the process by which development is supposed to take place.

Katlene O. Cacho reported in SunStar Cebu on April 5 that tour operators are attempting to meet the surge in bookings, especially for large groups displaced when Boracay Island will be closed to tourists from April 26 to Oct. 26.

Beyond transfer bookings, the communities and local governments of these destinations should also anticipate and plan for the repercussions more tourist arrivals will have on a locality.

“Greed” has frequently been mentioned as the root of Boracay’s unchecked “development,” resulting in decades of problems with illegally constructed structures in forests and wetlands, lack of appropriate sewage and drainage systems, and improper solid waste management.

Yet, the same cities benefiting from tourism are already struggling with similar problems brought about by runaway urbanization and lack of urban and regional planning. In December 2017, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) in Central Visayas evaluated that Cebu’s inadequate infrastructure has led to problems with traffic, garbage, and flooding.

Ironically, travel and tourism are one of the major drivers of Cebu’s growth. The projected opening by the middle of this year of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Terminal 2 and the new Bohol Airport in Panglao is expected to boost domestic and international travel, tourism, and allied industries.

Industrialization and urbanization blinders prevent many government planners and industry players from focusing not just on the economic gains to be maximized but on other concerns having more impact on residents: livability and ecological sustainability.

Taking the center of Boracay’s litany of woes is the government’s intervention to impose immediate closure, instead of a phased process that will give more time for consulting, planning, and working with residents and other stakeholders; clarifying and agreeing on the specific guidelines, targets, and plans steering the rehabilitation for six months; and most important, coming up with concrete programs to respond to the workers, entrepreneurs, and other sectors displaced by the six-month closure.

Uncertainty over Boracay’s re-opening must take its toll on the flow of investments, tourist bookings, and other activities sustaining the island.

Despite these draconian measures, it is unclear whether Boracay’s degradation, spread out through several decades, will happen “overnight” after the six-month closure.

How can other places avoid sharing the plight of Boracay?
Is there a political will to implement what must be many plans formulated by several bureaucracies?

Will the public and private sectors ever succeed at collaborating to discuss, plan, and implement a rational, inclusive vision of growth and progress?

In his April 7 “Philippine Daily Inquirer” column, Michael L. Tan wrote about the anthropologist’s ethical requirement to keep out of publication the name of a place with an undiscovered potential for tourism that may crop up in research.

“You will have to ask the people if they want their town’s name, or the potential tourist attractions, to be named in your report, given that tourism does not always bring benefits to a place,” wrote Tan in his essay on balancing privacy with the Filipino’s culture of communalism.

Unfortunately, in current realities, tourism stakeholders follow a different beat.
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