President Duterte’s order to close Boracay Island from tourist traffic on April 26 so it can undergo rehabilitation has sent local government officials of other tourist spots in the country scampering to clean up their sites.
With teams from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) going around the popular resorts, the stakeholders in these places have taken steps to make them compliant with environmental and tourism regulations.
They do not want to find themselves in the crosshairs of the President or DENR and suffer the same fate as Boracay.
A closure or cessation of operations, regardless of its length, would be financially disastrous to the business operators in the area and the people who depend on them for their livelihood.
For incumbent local officials, stagnant business activities and high unemployment do not make good politics, more so with the 2019 local elections just around the corner.
The rehabilitation of Boracay and voluntary cleanup being undertaken in other tourist spots have brought attention to the issue of the “carrying capacity” of these areas.
“Tourism carrying capacity” is defined by the World Tourism Organization as “the maximum number of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time, without causing destruction of the physical, economic, sociocultural environment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of ‘visitors’ satisfaction.”
Simply stated, it is the number of tourists, infrastructure and support staff that a tourist site can host without degrading its natural beauty and at the same time be able to live up to tourists’ expectations.
There are two elements involved in this issue, i.e., the number of tourists that can be accommodated at a certain period of time and the length of their stay.
How many is too many?
The carrying capacity of tourist spots varies depending on, among others, their geographical location, sociocultural characteristics, accessibility and period of attraction.
In the latter case, for example, beach resorts in Bohol draw guests almost all-year round because it is not in the typhoon belt, while those in other parts of the country are good to visit only during the dry (or summer) season.
According to Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, the number of Boracay visitors in recent years has gone up to as high as 75,000 which is way above its earlier declared carrying capacity of 25,000 people.
She said that when Boracay reopens for tourist traffic after its rehabilitation, the entry of visitors would be regulated to ensure that the island’s acceptable carrying capacity is met.
The international tourism industry has generally accepted guidelines or formulas in determining carrying capacity. There is no one-size-fits-all checklist in this activity.
The bottom line in all cases is, the natural features of the tourist area, or the things that attract visitors to it, should be preserved for the benefit of its residents and the people who may in the future want to visit and enjoy its sights.
Figuring out the carrying capacity of local tourist sites is not rocket science. That is something that local tourism officials can easily come up with based on their experience and records of tourist arrivals.
It’s the implementation or enforcement of the carrying capacity that may pose problems. It will take a lot of political will on the part of the tourist areas’ local government executives and stakeholders to do that.
Resort and hotel operators will not look kindly on efforts to restrict the entry of tourists during a tourist boom.
Every tourist who arrives represents money in the bank and no businessman worth his salt would shoo him away even if his presence exceeds the site’s carrying capacity. The enforcement would be more difficult in case local officials or their kin own or are part owners of tourist facilities in those areas.
And even if there is no conflict of interest, they may not be keen in supporting a carrying capacity policy because of the possible adverse political consequences that may arise from the loss of jobs of their constituents.
The DENR has its work cut out for it on the issue of carrying capacity of our tourist spots.