By John Geddie and Amy Sawitta Lefevre
The six-month closure of the Philippine tourism island of Boracay for a revamp after the country’s president branded it a “cesspool” reflects the growing pressures on beach resorts across Southeast Asia as visitor numbers surge
Tourism experts say the region’s infrastructure is buckling under record visitor numbers, especially as more Chinese holiday abroad, and expect more drastic measures to come.
Airports have become chaotic, hotels are being thrown up hastily with little regard for safety and sanitation, tropical beaches are strewn with garbage and coral reefs are dying.
Thailand already has plans to shut its famous Maya Bay in the Phi Phi islands for four months this summer, while an environmental group is calling for urgent government action to tackle a “crisis” on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali.
“Many out-of-control destinations across Asia will need clean-ups,” said Brian King, associate dean of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “These may come from government, or industry or from NGO-driven community action. The danger is that little happens until the crisis point is reached.”
He added: “Boracay is not the first and won’t be the last closure.”
Airlines have already started to cut back flights to Boracay, which had 2 million visitors last year, with the largest foreign contingents coming from China and South Korea, ahead of its closure on April 26.
The Philippines, which had record visitor numbers last year after three years of double-digit growth, estimates the Boracay closure could reduce full-year GDP by 0.1 percent
It is also planning to inspect the beach resort of Puerto Galera, on the island of Mindoro, and is already looking at the resorts of El Nido and Coron, in Palawan province, where an influx of tourism and rapid development has put infrastructure under strain.
But rival tourist hotspots around the region are not all rubbing their hands at the prospect of the extra revenue from the redirected tourist traffic.
Kanokkittika Kritwutikon, the head of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Phuket office, said the island was at “stretching point”, particularly its airport, which has undergone a number of upgrades in recent years to try to cope with overcapacity.
“Our policy is to try to spread tourism around” from Phuket to “secondary destinations that are less well-known,” said Kanokkittika. “Apart from guests arriving by plane to Phuket we also have boats coming in, including cruises, so you can imagine how many tourists come through Phuket.”
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