BORACAY (REUTERS, AFP) – The Philippines reopened its top holiday island Boracay on Friday (Oct 26) and promised sustainable tourism and a greener environment, welcoming back visitors after a six-month cleanup order by President Rodrigo Duterte to mend decades of harm caused by unchecked tourism.
Hundr of excited local and foreign tourists barred from Boracay since April trooped to a jetty serving as the main gateway to the 10-square-km island, which is famed for its sugary white sands, turquoise waters, lively nightlife and abundant water sports.
“We have already done the first phase, this is the rehabilitation. There is no more cesspool,” environment minister, Roy Cimatu, told a news conference.
Boracay attracted two million visitors last year and raked-in US$1 billion in revenues but was under heavy environmental stress, with garbage pile-ups, rampant land encroachment, and narrow roads filled with fumes from clogged traffic.
But the island is now turning over a new leaf. Beach parties are now banned, as is smoking and drinking. Along the shoreline, there will be no more vendors, masseuses, fire dancers or watersports, and the scores of moored boats for years a fixture on the beach have been forced to anchor elsewhere.
“Manage your expectations. The front is beautiful, the water is pristine and clear, but of course the roads are still being built,” she added.
The government plans to extend its restoration beyond Boracay to other tourist spots on the archipelago of over 7,000 islands, she said. Prior to the closure, authorities found about a third of the 600 to 700 resorts on Boracay were operating without permits.
End of ‘ghost town’
Some 157 hotels offering 7,308 rooms were allowed to operate starting Friday.
In the six-month closure, authorities removed illegal sewage pipes, closed or demolished unregistered hotels and expanded widened roads, although work is still ongoing.
Tourists arriving on Friday were greeted by, rubble, excavators and partially-knocked down buildings along roads, but there were flashes of Boracay’s idyllic past for years obscured by crowds and commercial activities.
Nearly 400 hotels and restaurants deemed to violate local environmental laws have already been ordered closed, and airlines as well as ferries were told to restrict service to the area.
“Everyone, big and small, has sacrificed a lot during the six-month (closure),” its executive director Pia Miraflores told AFP.