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Cheap flights cause tourist influx in small Philippine islands

An official from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said that cheap flights and the hype on social media cause the increase in tourist arrivals in certain Philippine islands that may not yet be ready for such influx.

But Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) Executive Director Carmelo Arcilla said it’s the local government unit who should adjust, not the airlines.

This, as the upcoming total closure of Boracay triggered questions as to what is causing the overcrowding in certain tourism destinations like Siargao and Palawan — which are prone to suffer the same environmental issues that turned Boracay into a “cesspool”.

Ultimately, he said that airlines, even if they offer cheap flights to the aforementioned destinations, can’t be blamed for the increasing number of tourists because they only cater to demand.

If the government closes down an island, then the demand for air transport will go down. That’s when airlines will start reducing flights in these areas but not necessarily stop it.

In the case of Siargao — which also had its fair share of controversy — a local government official was recently quoted saying in a news report that tourists should temporarily stop going to the island as the LGU is not yet prepared to cater to so much visitors.

Just in March, Philippine Airlines (PAL) launched maiden flights between Davao and Siargao as part of its continuing expansion in Davao.

Last year, low cost carrier Cebu Pacific (CEB) also increased its flight frequencies to Siargao.

When asked if airlines are required to consult with communities before they can open a flight in certain areas, Environment Undersecretary Maria Paz Luna said “the Department of Tourism talks with airlines but I am not aware of them consulting communities when they open new flights.”

Then she agreed that opening of cheap flights in communities like Siargao result to overcrowding of tourists in these areas.

Luna said that “not just with airlines” but LGUs must first consult communities before they promote their areas as tourism destinations.

Arcilla maintained the overcrowding of tourists in certain islands like Boracay and Siargao is “not an aviation issue” but part of LGU’s responsibility.

“It’s an open market. Airlines are free to enter the market. It’s the LGUs who should regulate [the influx of tourists in their areas].”

Saying that the airline industry is “market-driven”, Arcilla said that it depends on the airline to study a market and if there’s a potential, they are the ones who spend the money to develop a route and promote a destination.

“Connectivity is a sign of social progress,” he added. “[Handing environment issues and influx of tourists] is not airlines’ responsibility but of the local government.”

CAB is the agency of the government mandated to regulate the economic aspect of air transportation.

Yesterday, PAL and CEB announced that they will temporarily stop carrying Boracay-bound tourists, while the government implements the six-month total closure of the island to pave the way for its rehabilitation.

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