This Popular Island in the Philippines Is Temporarily Off Limits to Tourists

Taking extreme measures to mitigate overtourism isn’t novel by any means. Santorini recently capped its visitor count by limiting the number of cruise ship passengers allowed to disembark every day. Venice, too, banned particular cruise ships from entering its city center. And in 2004, the Malaysian government closed all hotels on the popular island destination of Sipadan, and later limited tourism to only 120 visitors per day. The newcomer to this seemingly growing list: the Philippines.

The four-mile island of Boracay has a landscape that’s conducive to sunbathing, boating, and diving by day, with powdery white-sand beaches, clear water, and coconut trees. When the sun dips below the horizon, the area is known for its parties -- live music, fire twirlers, and flowing booze included. (It wears its nickname, the Ibiza of Southeast Asia, well.) The island has become so popular, in fact, that it welcomed over two million international and domestic visitors in 2017 alone. Haven’t experienced the destination for yourself? Don’t start looking up flights just yet. 

The Philippine government recently announced its plans to close off the island to domestic and foreign tourists, so that it can recover from the environmental degradation, traffic congestion, poor solid waste management, and illegal construction that it has seen over the years.  

Slimy algae, which has been linked to insufficient sewage management, has crept up on beaches around the island. The bacteria found in this algae, called coliform, is the same found in human waste. And it’s not just an unpleasant sight, but also a sign that that the water has been contaminated by waste that wasn’t handled properly.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte slammed Boracay, describing it as a “cesspool.” “I’ll give you six months. Clean the goddamn thing,” he told Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu. The six-month closure of the island is set to begin on April 26, and final word on the outstanding details is expected to come on April 5.

Residents will be permitted to enter and leave, but local and foreign tourists will have to put their travel plans on hold. Visitors will be blocked from the mainland ferry port, though the airports of Caticlan and Kalibo on the mainland will continue to operate. That said, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Air have both confirmed that they will offer refunds and rebooking opportunities.

During this half-year period, Boracay hopes to construct a sewer system, clear the beaches of illegal structures, and inspect legal buildings to make sure they’re following construction and environmental regulations.

“We have already seen a lot of cancellations, particularly from China and Korea. They have opted for other destinations, like Bali and Phuket,” Mary Ann Ong, a member of the Philippine Tour Operators’ Associate, told Bloomberg. However, while this six-month tourist ban may bring canceled flights, the hassle of rebooking hotels, and lost revenue for some businesses, the longterm gain -- of reviving Boracay back to its once-pristine state -- is well worth the short-term nuisance, if you ask us.

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