Is Boracay on the verge of over-development?

Rachelle Cruz in Boracay, 2010

Turquoise waters claw its way to the powdery white shores.  In the distance, sailboats—of blue, white, yellow colours like paper boats glide over the never-ending sea horizon.  Crystal waters embrace you, cooling your skin against the beat of the sun…

It’s easy to lose yourself in this paradise.  A place of escapism, ecstasy, adventure…with anything-goes kind of place, the island is a world on its own.  Boracay seems to have a paradoxical effect on people–of the calm pristine waters enchanting you by day, and the rapture and frenzy at night that leaves you mired in confusion…

Boredom is an unwelcome guest.  You can play under the sun from snorkeling, to diving, swimming, surfing, and island hopping.

In every corner stall, you’ll find a storm of tourists and locals alike bargaining over freshwater pearls, painting henna tattoos, massage parlours decked out by the beach in mini-huts and a string of boutique stores cluttered at the D*Mall in Station 2, where you can pretty much find anything you need.

With their touch of European influence to traditional Filipino style cuisine, it leaves your palate wanting for more…and as you pass restaurants at night, fresh catch of lobsters, prawns and fish are on full display.

The energy of bars and clubs strewn along the beachfront is infectious.  Clearly, the once agricultural farming community has found its niche, using tourism as the driver of their economy.

Still, my lingering questions about its fast-paced development keep on resurfacing–

While banners promoting a clean and green Boracay are splattered everywhere, the implementation of such rules are always an issue.  It seems that much of the enforcement is left to the residents and local police officials.  For instance, they are the ones who remind tourists that smoking by the beachfront is forbidden.    Once, a local spoke to me how immaculate the island once was—and that it’s quite different now due to the rapid changes in development.

How long can this paradise last?  Will it be forever?

Let’s not forget the 1997 disaster when Long Beach waters were contaminated due to inadequate sewage treatment that scared tourists away.   The absence of a satellite office of the local Department of Environment and Natural Resources and lack of designated officials monitoring the activities, may lead Boracay to its gradual deterioration.

My suspicions reached its climax by Saturday midnight when the entire island went blackout.   Hotel managers explained that power outage is becoming more frequent because of the lack of electricity supply.  It seems that the infrastructure in place is beginning to reach its carrying capacity.

Sure, Boracay is better off with tourism than without, but has this free market capitalism promoted real equitable economic benefits to all?

The owners of booming businesses definitely rake in the money, the municipal government officials also make their cut, but the local population is relegated to lower positions withdrawn from any bargaining power.   Even with increased revenues and employment opportunities, without higher education and training, the people of Boracay will remain vulnerable to the highly competitive labour market.

If Boracay ever wants to retain its Paraiso quality, multi-stakeholders such as developers, entrepreneurs, including the civil society and its municipal government might have to rethink its tourism development strategy and consider a more responsible destination development—one that is sustainable.



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