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Duterte Closes Popular Cruise Port to Tourism

Alleged sewage line on the beach at Boracay (social media)

By MarEx 2018-04-12 13:57:00

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the closure of the island of Boracay to cruise passengers and other tourists, citing pollution and environmental concerns. The island - the main destination for the adjacent cruise port at Caticlan - will be shuttered for four to six months beginning April 26.

Royal Caribbean, Star and Dream Cruises make port calls at Caticlan, and they will have to make alternate arrangements for a small number of itineraries. RCL has already made plans to divert its affected vessels to Manila instead. 

According to environment undersecretary Jonas Leones, an aerial survey of the island in January revealed excessive "garbage, overcrowding [and] traffic congestion," reports Rappler. In addition, the government asserts that nearly 200 businesses on the island have been discharging raw sewage into the sea. The allegations involve shoreside firms and the effects of total tourism volume, not cruise lines or cruisers specifically.  

Over the last several months, Duterte's staff have suggested several remedial options, including a one-year closure, a gradual, phased closure and a 60-day "tourist holiday," and the president selected an intermediate option. He had previously threatened to close specific island resorts if their operators did not improve environmental conditions. 

After Boracay reopens, it may be subject to a daily visitor count limit. Tourism secretary Wanda Teo told media that tourists could stay nearby until a slot becomes available. 

Duterte has also declared that he will make Boracay a "land reform area" for Filipino farmers, and will give them back large areas of the island. Much of Boracay's land area is technically publicly owned, thanks to a presidential decree dating back to the 1970s, and is designated as agricultural and forest land.

If Duterte follows through, the reforms could have a material effect on resort operations and new developments. Multiple investors have plans for large-scale hotel and vacation properties on the islands, like a giant $500 million resort and casino complex planned by Macau-based hotelier Galaxy Entertainment. In addition, Royal Caribbean holds a memorandum of understanding with the Philippines' Department of Tourism to provide “all the necessary technical and financial support towards the building of a purpose-built [cruise] terminal either in Caticlan or Boracay." It is not yet known whether this development would be affected by land reform and tourism caps on Boracay.