The Philippine Tourism was proud to have launched their “Bring Home a Friend” campaign in Sydney last November. Tourism Attaché to Sydney, Norjamin de los Reyes even boasted at a Filipino community meeting in March this year, “According to my boss, we had the best campaign launch.” The campaign asks Filipinos exactly that – “Bring Home a Friend” and in return, you get to go into a raffle draw with the top prize being a condominium from MegaWorld. The referral incentive campaign is recycled from the one implemented in the late nineties, during Ms Lito Jones’ term as Tourism attaché in Sydney.

Approximately three months after the campaign was launched, the Philippine government announced that the Philippines’ world renown island resort, Boracay was being closed down for six months for a “much-needed rehabilitation and an environmental clean-up.” The face-lift would include drainage and sewerage problems, garbage disposal and demolition of illegal structures. According to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources the six-month shutdown effective April 26, 2018, was necessary for “undisrupted implementation.”

According to National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), there will be minimal impact on tourism and the economy as the shutdown is happening during the lean months. Lean months? Really? And from what planet do the officials of NEDA come from when they do not know that April and May are summer months and peak holiday season in the Philippines? And do they know that Boracay had two million tourists in 2017?

As soon as the announcement was made, rumours started flying that the Galaxy Entertainment Group, a Macau casino operator, was to build a $500M casino and resort in the area. This was strongly denied by the authorities and President Duterte at a Davao press conference was quick to retort, “It’s going to be a land reform area for Filipinos.” Most wonder where the suitable land for farming is.

Confused? So are we!

Although the deterioration of Boracay may be true, the idyllic white sands did not turn into a putrid state overnight. Surely there would have been other options rather than a complete shutdown.

Firstly, why did the officials not enforce the rules from the start? As someone said “The whole of Manila is in a bad state. Let’s close it down!” Surely developments have inched their way, slowly but surely. If the officials had been more vigilant and more conscientious about protecting one of the big revenue earners for the Philippines, it wouldn’t have gotten into that state. Why did they not plan to fix it in stages?

Secondly, they may be trying to fix the pollution but the shutdown sure reeks of malice. And the timing is totally off! It’s summer in the Philippines! Did the hotels and resorts know ahead of time so they could stop accepting bookings? Holidaymakers from overseas plan their holidays a year ahead. Events for the April-May season have been planned. Now people are scrambling for alternative destinations for weddings and holidays.

According to Rappler, this meant closing down of 948 illegal structures, 102 buildings/resorts establishments and putting 17,000 people out of jobs. Hotels, restaurants, airlines, cruise companies would all be affected, not to mention the consequences would spill over to minor jobs like masseuses, manicurists, snorkelling instructors, our guides, souvenir sellers, etc. This would mean a loss of P56B in revenue to the country. Whoever thought of it had no regard for the loss of revenue or the loss of tourists, or the loss of the Philippines’ reputation as a tourist destination.

Duterte is to proclaim Boracay a “state of calamity” to release funds for the clean-up and to compensate those who will lose their livelihoods. Interesting, how they declared the clean-up first without the funds!

During the shutdown, the following rules will apply: Local residents will need to have a valid ID/permit to be allowed into the island; no tourists and visitors allowed; no floating structures within 15 km from shoreline; locals will be allowed to swim at the White Rock area between 6am to 5pm; and most importantly of all, no journalists allowed in the area.
As always, and as is typical, someone in power had a stupid idea and everyone around jumped up and went along with the plan to ingratiate themselves. I guess we just have to play wait and see what exactly will come of it when the six months is over. However. the ripple effect will be felt for a long time to come and will affect the reputation of the Philippines.

So much for “Bring home a friend.” For now, it is paradise lost!

— www.filipin-oz.com

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