Last year was the greatest number of tourists worldwide, according the World Travel and Tourism Council. Global tourism created the most number of new jobs and outperformed the global economy seven years in a row.
The environmental backlash to this rapid sector growth is now being felt, especially in Southeast Asia’s top beaches. The unmanaged growth of Boracay, the country’s top destination, epitomizes this malaise. From a pristine island in the 1960s, Boracay has consistently topped global rankings in the island category. As a result, Boracay has become “over-touristed,” with annual tourists topping 2.0 million last year.
Boracay is not alone in having visitor numbers far more than its carrying capacity. Tagaytay and Baguio are in a similar category. Siargao and Vigan are also getting close to being filled to the brim. The uncontrolled tourism has caused irreversible damage to the Ifugao Rice Terraces, encroaching on the most spectacular rice terrace clusters in the main town of Banawe.
In contrast, there are still many “under-touristed” sites in the Philippines. For instance Santa Ana, Cagayan (Boracay-like beaches) and Bretania Islands (which resemble El Nido) in Surigao del Sur are crying for visitors. Camiguin, Siquijor, and other islands can also accommodate increase in demand.
So the problem of tourism in the Philippines is how to manage demand. In other countries, entry is being restricted in highly vulnerable areas. In 2016, Santorini in Greece capped the number of tourists from 10,000 to 8,000 a day. Cinque Terre in Italy has also announced a plan for a ticketing system to cap tourists to 1.5 million a year. Macchu Picchu in Peru has also enforced such policy.
Tourists can also be redirected to less traveled areas through better promotion and website management. Already, the Masbate 2018 rodeo has reported 50 percent growth in tourists due to the impending closure of Boracay. In the long term, new destination areas need to be developed, with the requisite infrastructure and planning. One hopes that we would have learned the lesson of Boracay, and that future tourism growth would also be based on health and environmental considerations.
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