Since the government’s discovery of the missing marshlands of Boracay, a lot of talk and media has been devoted to tourism issues — one of which is its sustainability. I was recently at a Global Sustainable Tourism Council-The Philippines Forum along with fellow MAP member Department of Tourism (DoT) Undersecretary Alma Rita Jimenez whose passion and advocacy is also Sustainable Tourism. We, along with international speakers from Riviera Maya, Mexico and Inkaterra, Peru, had local government executives as our audience in the hope of preaching “holding capacity” of our tourist destinations.
We look at tourist numbers and tourist projections then the business people start to build one hotel after another, as in the case of Boracay. This is what Randy Durband, head of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) calls “mass tourism.” Randy called for a conscious effort for tourist dispersal to other destinations like maybe Siargao, Bohol, and lesser-known places. I witnessed the traffic in Boracay — 90 minutes to get from Station 3 to Station 1 in our van — we all wanted to get off and walk but were too tired after a long day at the forum.
I have never seen Boracay like this — it’s sad that forests have been destroyed to have another 500 rooms for an average of 1000 tourists a day, just for one hotel. And there are about 480 resorts in Boracay already — so do the math. It is hot, full, and crowded.
So is tourism a bane or a boon? I know our tourist arrival numbers have escalated and we now have over four million tourists annually but are they of the spending power we want? I also heard that most of these tourists have already paid their fees at country of origin and almost nothing is left for them to spend for the local economy. Further, I remember doing the numbers before — do we want five million people spending $20 a day or do we want two million tourists spending $50 a day. The results are the same, is it not? Same revenue, less traffic, and fewer disappearing marshlands and forests.
For Bhutan, it is expensive for people who fly to that country but it is affordable for those who can go by land. Bhutan authorities have figured — fewer people can afford to fly but pay more per person. But if you drive from India, you need not pay the expensive daily “maintenance” fee. This way, Bhutan is able to control the number of tourists.
One of the speakers, Masaru Takayama (www.asianecotourism.org) told me about his tours in Kyoto. He does not advertise. His business is purely developed by “word of mouth” but he gets tourists who can spend a minimum of $1500 a day for a week. And he has a maximum number of eight persons per tour. That is sustainable tourism.
So what is our policy on sustainable tourism — is it still the number of people who can come regardless of how little they spend, or is it about getting the “holding capacity” of each destination and controlling how many people can come per season, how many rooms can be built, and how many can stay on the island to keep it running well without further damage to marine life, forests, and the whole ecosystem?
Our foreign co-speakers were aghast at what they saw. Fluorescent lights and air-conditioned rooms; heavy traffic any time of day; building on every piece of land in the forest.
Where is the paradise we called Boracay? I was there 20 years ago and we had lights out at 9 p.m., we used flashlights after “lights out” if we were to walk in the moonlight, we had ceiling fans instead of air-conditioners, we could walk along the shore and not see plastic sachets and plastic packaging strewn around.
Today, you would be brave to even wade in the water. Until the water tests prove it’s safe to swim, until the vehicles are converted to electric or solar-powered, and until the illegal structures are removed, we all have to first let Boracay rest. It may mean reducing the arrivals and making sure everyone complies with rules and holding capacity guidelines. We may as well get a visa to stay on such a crowded island. Otherwise, it may not last another generation.
Now, Batanes faces the same fate. And also Coron. The same people building hotels in Boracay are building in Bohol and I am certain in Siargao and soon wherever the smell of 1000 tourists a day per hotel is projected. Is it just about money?
I hope the investors take another look and use a sustainable lens. There are guidelines to have another Inka Terra and another Riviera Maya. And maybe we should think about the average spend of each tourist and what kind of tourists we wish to attract. It’s not just about increasing arrivals. It’s also about making sure we have enough pristine islands left, especially for the next generation.
Thanks to our MAP colleagues Usec. Alma Jimenez and Nurture Wellness Spa owner Cathy Turvill — these are the people who will spearhead Sustainable Tourism. It’s not just about making money. It’s about considering social and environmental impact, that triple bottom line is so important in considering yet another investment in tourism or a tourist-oriented business.
So, think about it — is tourism a bane or boon?
The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.
Pacita “Chit” U. Juan is the Chair of the Trade, Investments and Tourism Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). She is the Chair of the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network (AWEN); Chair of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines (Womenbizph); and Founding Chair of the Women Corporate Directors PH chapter.
You may reach her at
Linked in: Pacita Juan or Twitter @chitjuan