The tropical island of Boracay, with its pristine, white-sand beaches, crystal clear blue water and picturesque sunsets, has always been the Philippines’ best-kept secret. Until now. What was once a remote, perfectly untouched enclave has freakishly mutated into a typical Southeast Asian tourist hotspot, no different from Phuket or Bali.
Though Stations 2 and 3 have always been bustling with the usual beachfront restaurants, bars and hotels (they are boat stations after all), more and more establishments have now overcrowded the already condensed coastline. Sadly, not even the relatively calm Station 1 has been spared. Considering the hundreds of paraws (small, banka-like sailboats) blocking your supposedly breath-taking view or the hoards of boatmen rudely awakening your sunbathed slumber to offer you a joyride, it’s pretty safe to say that Boracay has officially lost its charm.
Add a Starbucks right smack in the middle of the island as the icing on the cake and you know it’s all over. Boracay as it once was, as the best-kept secret of the Philippines has inevitably shifted sands.
As an archipelagic republic far-removed from the Southeast Asian mainland, tourism plays a critical role in Philippine economic development. In truth, these boat tours, beach front massages and even late-night fire dancing serve as the main lifeline of Boracay’s local economy. Nevertheless, if these tourist-centric activities result in the conversion of a once splendid island paradise into a long stripmall crowded with middle-aged caucasian men and their suspiciouly younger Filipina girlfriends (or wives), then it is rather questionable whether or not this development is worth it.
Indeed, for most developing nations, the exploitation of natural resources, whether for industry or tourism, is both characteristic and conducted with good reason. Economic law dictates that the rampant destruction of the environment is only logical since natural goods such as cash crops, timber and minerals are in abundance in areas such as these. As a result, the bulk of exports from the Third World are composed primarily of agricultural commodities, raw materials or low-level industrial goods such as textiles, clothing and footwear (as opposed to highly advanced technologies in the West). Despite these means of production, countries like the Philippines are still considered to be economically immature.
Be that as it may, it must be pointed out that the standards of economic development are set by those few nations that possess an entirely distinct set of economic circumstances (geographic location, endowment of resources and historical context). The result of which is a Starbucks –the epitome of rapid commercialization and development– around every corner. Who is to say that their model of progress is well-suited to the developing world? If that were the case, prevalent issues such as sustainability, climate change and environmental protection should not be demanded of emerging econmies as those in the First World have been disregarding them ever since in order to gain economic supremacy.
Yet, it is in fact the protection of these natural assets that must be prioritized by developing nations, not for the sake of tourism but rather in order to achieve a more sustainable path to economic development. Given the vast uncertainty and instability of the modern, global economy as well as the steady decline of Western economic growth, emerging markets, particularly in Asia and the Americas, are in a strategic position to capitalize on improving their economic performances, especially through sustainable means. As the Western model has proven to be far too aggressive and irresponsible, the developing world has a golden opportunity to be at the forefront of innovative, sustainable growth, through the protection of their natural resources.
Although a concrete mehod of achieiving this remains to be seen, keeping the beaches unstarbucksed is undoubtedly the first step. ✌
Boracay Malay Aklan, The Philippines