“You go into the water, it's smelly. It’s a cesspool.” This is not a description of a backwards region or a waste disposal. It is a description by Rodrigo Duterte, the President the of Philippines, of Boracay, the world-renowned vacation spot. A wide expanse of deep blue sea and fresh sea breezes are now hard to find in Boracay due to extreme environmental destruction. The region and its people are disturbed by those who visit for their relaxation.
The Philippines’ Boracay, one of the most treasured travel sites and honeymoon destinations, received more than two million tourists last year. The small island of about 11 km2 attracts tourists from all over the world, resulting in tourism revenue of more than a billion dollars a year. However, the government has finally closed down the island as a vacation spot to prevent further pollution.
The balance between tourism and environmental preservation has been a conundrum for many countries because they commonly come into conflict with each other. Attracting as many tourists as possible is vital for tourism, which inevitably leads to external intervention in popular regions, while the environment flourishes best when left alone. However, tourism is usually given priority, resulting in environmental destruction.
Jeju Island’s predicament is not that different from Boracay’s. Jeju’s purity has been a tourism magnet, but wastewater, indiscriminate development, a sudden increase in the population and number of tourists, and dangerous levels of pesticide usage and traffic are all present. All of this is eroding the very basis of tourism.
One of the solutions suggested is ecotourism, which causes less damage to the environment. However, as the saying goes, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Frequent visits for ecotourism and the garbage that is produced as a result would be just as damaging to nature as ordinary tours. Furthermore, ecotourism would not lure as many tourists as there are now; who would climb mountains without paved roads to cable car stations? Ecotours will never make as much money for the region as other types of tour can.
In fact, expecting a harmonious coexistence of the economy and the environment is too idealistic; one of these must take a back seat with careful deliberation . The decision affects the future of both a region’s tourism and its natural environment. But the answer is quite evident— environment comes first. The condition of the land, the basis of every human activity, including tourism, is far more crucial.
The shutting down of Boracay's tourism is international news not only because of Boracay's reputation as a vacation spot, but also the boldness of the discussion itself. Most regions show concern about the environment, but never take a significant step to protect it; earning foreign currency is a priority for most. As for the Philippines, a significant decrease in their profits from tourism would be certain if they decide to ban tourists from Boracay, but they still chose their land and their nature. Their adventurous decision would promise them a better place to live in in the long term.
What led to the final decision on Boracay will be an example to other nations experiencing similar situations, no matter how the result turns out for the latter. The attempt to keep two incompatible policies together will, at some point, topple both, killing the goose that laid the golden egg. The sustainable coexistence of tourism and environmental protection will always remain unsolved, but that does not mean one can afford to procrastinate while coming up with a resolution. Tourists are not the only group that needs time off from the daily grind—the environment needs a break too.