Foreign tourists outnumber Pinoys in Boracay

Both local and foreign participants interact at the 18th Philippine Travel Expo that opened in Pasay City on Monday. Phitex is the biggest government-organized travel trade event in the country. Patterned after the Asean Tourism Forum, it hosts qualified international buyer delegates all over the world as they participate in table-top business appointments with accredited Philippine tourism suppliers. Invited foreign participants are also given a chance to experience what the country can offer as a tourism destination during pre- and post-tours, featuring key Philippine attractions and destinations.

VISITOR arrivals in Boracay Island reached 1.6 million in the nine months to September this year, with more than half of them foreign tourists.

Data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) Region 6 (Western Visayas) obtained by the BusinessMirror showed Philippine residents accounted for 729,415 of the total arrivals, while non-Philippine residents reached 820,622.

Over 44 percent of the foreign visitors in the first nine months of 2019, were from mainland China, or 363,823, making them the top source market for tourists for Boracay. They were followed by tourists from South Korea at 303,504.

Lawmaker’s warning

This developed as a lawmaker on Sunday warned against the possible influx of tourists in Boracay in the coming months, and called on the government authorities to strictly enforce the carrying capacity of the island.

In a news statement, Senator Nancy Binay called on the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) “to give us an update on the monitoring system it has put in place to tourist and what are their evaluation and recommendations since we expect a large stream of tourists in the next few months.”

Binay chairs the Senate Committee on Tourism, while the BIATF is chaired by Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, with Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año and Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat as vice cochairmen.

A environmental study commissioned by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) indicated that the island can only accommodate 19,125 tourists at any given time.

“We should have learned from our past mistakes,” said Binay in Filipino, “from the lack of enforcement of our laws, from the disregard of nature, and from the unli-tourists on the island.”

She called for the strict enforcement of the daily limit on tourist arrivals, at 6,405, and the workers at 15,000 everyday, to maintain the 55,000 carrying capacity of the island.

The DOT has already pointed out, however, that for tourists, it is the 19,125-tourist cap that the BIATF enforces, not the daily arrivals limit, because there are tourists who also leave the island everyday. “The 6,405 daily arrivals carrying capacity number assumes a three-night stay,” said DOT Undersecretary for Tourism Regulation, Coordination and Resource Generation Arturo P. Boncato Jr., when the possible breaching of the carrying capacity was brought up earlier by Boracay stakeholders. (See, “Boracay stakeholders fret over ‘breaching’ of daily arrivals cap,” in the BusinessMirror, December 17, 2018.)

Carrying capacity refers to an ecosystem’s ability to support people and other living things without having negative effects. “It also includes a limit of resources and pollution levels that can be maintained without experiencing high levels of change. If the carrying capacity is exceeded, living organisms must adapt to new levels of consumption or find alternative resources,” according to the Environmental Literary Council.

Due to the six-month closure of Boracay last year, only 930,363 tourists were recorded, about 50 percent less than the 2.1-million peak reached in 2017.

In the nine months to September this year, visitors from the United States were ranked third among the top foreign markets for Boracay, at 18,567. Following at a distant fourth were visitors from Taiwan at 25,133; then at fifth were those from the United Kingdom at 9,806.

Tourists from Australia came in sixth place at 9,225; followed by Japan at 8,889; Saudi Arabia at 8,675; Russia at 8,308; and Germany at 5,464.

Meanwhile, Binay also urged the BIATF to remain vigilant and make sure establishments in Boracay are complying with environmental laws. “I hope this isn’t ningas cogon only because all the good things that have been started on the island would be wasted. We should also raise the standards of caring for the island,” she added. Ningas cogon is a Filipino idiom which describes starting something good, only to let things slide and results become shoddy later.

The senator also suggested that the BIATF and the local government of Malay town strongly consider training personnel to brief tourists on the “do’s and don’ts” on the island. She said ground and ferry crew, drivers, boatmen, and transport staff can also be tapped since they are already strategically placed at the island’s entry points.

“This is a small matter but I think it would go a long way in making sure tourists are aware of the things that are allowed or prohibited,” Binay stressed. Recently, Romulo Puyat requested the head of Ctrip to help educate its clients on the laws, regulations and “do’s and don’ts” in the Philippines, before they travel. Headquartered in Shanghai, Ctrip is the largest online travel agency in Asia, and accounts for a large number of Chinese tourists bookings in the Philippines. (See, “DOT urges Chinese online travel agent to keep its customers in line,” in the BusinessMirror, October 19, 2019.)

Boracay Island was closed to tourists for six months from April 26, 2019, for rehabilitation, which included the widening of its main road, fast tracking of the construction of vital infrastructure like a drainage system, recovering of wetlands,  enforcing the 30-meter “no-build” zone on the main white beach, among others.

Image credits: NonIe Reyes



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