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Boracay—‘cesspool’ no more?

By Tracy Cabrera
A soft opening is scheduled for the reopening of the tiny island of Boracay in October.

Once considered among the world’s most idyllic tourist destination, it was closed to visitors earlier this year due to the effects of overtourism. It is now in a race against time to be ready for its reopening date next month.

Since April this year, the tiny outcrop that has been the favorite for local and foreign toursists was declared off-limits. A six-month period of repair and restoration was announced after the country’s president described it as a “cesspool.” But now, with the reopening date just six weeks away, tourism experts say the island is still recovering.

Thanks to Boracay, the Philippines experienced a surge in tourists in recent years. Just over one million visited the island in 1990, and last year it hit 6.6 million—and almost a third of those visitors, about two million—ended up on the white sand beaches of Boracay, which measures just 3.98 square miles and has a resident population of just 30,000. That’s all the more remarkable when you consider that the Philippines has 7,640 other islands to choose from, according to the most recent estimate from the country’s National Mapping and Resource Information Authority.

But is the island ready to be reopened?

According to some accounts, the reopening may be too soon since recovery cannot be acheieved overnight.

“We have not yet accepted bookings until now because rehabilitation is just 50 per cent,” Tourism Congress of the Philippines president Jose Clemente aptly pointed out.

“It might be useless to go there because a lot of work is still ongoing. If (tourists) insist on visiting, don’t expect a fully restored Boracay as it is still a work in progress,” he stressed.

Clemente added that the island was in a good condition for locals but not yet for tourists.

Tourism secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, however, announced that Boracay will reopen in three phases, with the first happening the following month. A further soft reopening ha been set in April next year before a full opening is expected in the month of December.

And in a bid to retain the island’s tourism potential, the country’s environmental ministry has instead turned its attention to encouraging more than 15,000 staff at Boracay’s beach resorts, restaurants and hotels to live off the island.

Environmental secretary Roy Cimatu described mainland Aklan as suitable for workers.

“We will look for a place, an area that is accessible (and) private investors to put up dormitory for workers to stay,” he said.

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