Philippine Boracay reopens to tourists

The Philippine tourist hotspot of Boracay (pictured) has reopened and will be subject to new rules to avoid it turning back into a “cesspool”, leading to its closure in April.

The 4-square-mile Sulu Sea island has reopened for a “dry run” of 10 days, during which only domestic tourists will be allowed entry while the “rehabilitation” is reassessed. Other nationalities will be readmitted after October 26.

An overnight visitor cap of 19,000 will be imposed, along with a ban on smoking and drinking on White Beach and a temporary water-sport ban.

The Department of Tourism said it had accredited 68 hotels and guest houses with 3,519 bedrooms out of the 15,000 rooms registered on the island.

Only hotels that had complied with the new rules would be allowed to resume operations, the authorities said.

Major work is still due to be done to get the island’s roads up to speed before tourists are allowed back.

Interior minister Eduardo Año said almost 200 illegal structures had been demolished, many voluntarily by their owners.

Boracay will face limits on conventional transport, a ban on single-use plastics and offshore zones for watersports, providing a 100-metre swimming area from shore.

Deckchairs and tables, masseuses, refreshment vendors and fire dancers will be banned from the beach. The beach performers will now have to use LED lights rather than kerosene-soaked torches, in a rather unsatisfying compromise.

Increasing numbers of tourists are arriving, with 1 million in 1990 and 6.6 million in 2017. More than 2 million of those tourists visited Boracay, which has a permanent population of just 30,000. Tourists first started arriving in significant numbers in the 1980s.

The Philippines has 7,640 other islands, according to the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, but none carry Boracay’s honeypot status with tourists.

The soft sands of White Beach failed to impress President Rodrigo Duterte in April when he called the island a “cesspool” after a viral video showed sewage flowing directly into the sea.

He criticised the municipal authorities for not controlling building work and a task force found more than 800 environmental violations. A recent study said three times as much waste was generated per person on Boracay as in Manila.

The authorities said the sewerage issue has been resolved, with bacteria levels in the water now complying with international standards.

Environment secretary Roy Cimatu told the media: “I guarantee that the water is now very clean. The island is now a sight to behold. Boracay will even be grander in the near future.”

Boracay. Picture credit: Wikimedia