BANGKOK, 9 April 2018: Two of Asia’s popular island resorts, Boracay in the Philippines and Maya Bay, Phi Phi Island, Thailand, will close as governments act to resolve runaway pollution.
Boracay Island closes to tourism for six months from 26 April, while Maya Bay will be off-limits for four months starting 1 June and ending 30 September.
Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, called Boracay a cesspool, last February, threatening to close the island if nothing was done.
Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and AirAsia all announced suspension of flights.
Cebu Pacific, the dominant domestic carrier, said it has suspended 14 daily roundtrip flights to Caticlan and Kalibo, Boracay’s two main gateways, 26 April to 25 October, while Philippine Airlines said it was scaling back services leaving just few to serve the island’s 50,000 resident.
Airlines offer around 1.2 million seats, annually, to and from Boracay’s Caticlan airport. Nearly three-quarters of the flights are from the capital Manila.
Cebu Pacific supplies around 323,000 odd seats a year to and from the Island.
The move to shut down Maya Bay on Thailand’s Phi Phi island was led by the country’s national parks based on research by conservationists including a Kasetsart professor, Thon Thamrongnawasawat, who has campaigned to save Thailand’s national park islands from ‘overtourism.’
His research revealed the devastation to the beach marine life and coral reefs was caused mainly by the daily footfall of more than 6,000 tourists. A fleet of tourist boats anchoring in the bay also caused catastrophic damage to coral and marine life.
In response, the national parks department decided to close the bay for four months and when it reopens authorities will limit the daily intake of tourists to around 2,000, possibly through a quota and ticket system.
European tour operators put Phi Phi Island on the map in the 1980s, but visits were limited until 2000 when the movie The Beach was shot at Maya Bay. It spawned a rash of haphazard hotel and guesthouse development that quickly destroyed the island’s natural beauty.
Subsequently, the island was devastated when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit Andaman Sea resorts, 26 December 2004. The destruction was almost total and gave rise to hopes that a more sustainable tourism model could rise from the ruins. Nothing of the kind happened. Greed triumphed. Investors quickly replaced the ruins with a profusion of guesthouses and ugly resort developments.
Thon said on his Facebook page he believed tourists to Phi Phi had increased 28.35% in 2017.
“If this, rate continues the island will be swamped by 2,550,000 visitors up from 560,000 visits in the past,” he commented.
The increase of 28.35% in Phi Phi is greater than the increase of foreign tourists in Thailand almost 3 times (8-9%), he claimed.
Saying the Thai government was trying to resolve distribution to national park islands such as Phi Phi, he recommended that a limit be imposed on day trip visits.
He noted that figures from Krabi Airport’s Immigration Bureau showed Chinese tourists made up 66.6% of all visits to area, which includes Phi Phi Island. This compared with Malaysian that has a market share of 11.9%, Europeans 5 to 6% and Singapore, 4.6%.
He warned that closing Maya Bay would also place more pressure on other islands close by unless guidelines were introduced across the marine national parks in Phang Nga, Krabi and Lanta to prevent further damage.