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BORACAY Island, Aklan (04 June 2007) — International visitor arrivals to this island paradise surged 40 percent year-on-year in the first four months of 2007, attracting new investments that are expected to provide about 1,000 additional rooms and generate thousands of jobs this year.
"Of the 3,000 new rooms that are opening in 2007, about 1,000 rooms will be located in Boracay,” said Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano, who visited five newly built first-class accommodation facilities.
Data from the Municipal Tourism Office of Malay, which has jurisdiction over the island, show that the number of foreign guests reached 73,110 in the first four months of 2007 alone, higher by 20,902 from 52,208 a year ago. Most of them were Koreans.
Including domestic guests, visitor arrivals to the 10-sq.-km. island hit 234,491 in the January-April period, up by 4 percent from 225,409 a year earlier.
Durano visited five newly built resorts that generated more than 300 new jobs, including the posh 88-suite Discovery Shores, the 51-room Microtel Inn, the 50-room Boracay Tropics, the 31-room Asya Boracay, and a new wing of the sprawling Boracay Regency.
With more large resorts expected to be completed this year, such as the Shangri-La Resort and Spa and the Grand Vista put up by a Korean group, businessmen expect the volume of visitors to double in the next few years.
The department’s Web site notes that resort occupancy reaches 80 percent even in lean months like June.
Room rates are also being pegged at record highs of up to $250 a night in the upscale resorts. The 217-room Shangri-La, when it opens, is expected to charge rates of up to $300 a night.
Ma. Victoria Jasmin, director of the Office of Tourism Standards, said new tourism investments endorsed by the department to the Board of Investments were eligible for fiscal incentives such as four- to six-year income tax holidays.
Lance Gokongwei, president of budget carrier Cebu Pacific Air, said his company would buy a fleet of ATR turboprop planes to serve the Caticlan airport, the nearest jump-off point to this island, as the number of tourists here was expected to reach one million in three years.
But there were concerns that the unplanned real estate expansion would exceed the limit of the island’s carrying capacity. “Boracay is overloaded,” said Senator Richard Gordon, a former tourism secretary.
Last year, some 556,084 guests were hosted in about 250 resorts and hotels on the island, up from 499,457 in 2005. The number also rose by more than three times since 1996, when only 163,776 visitors were recorded.
Edwin Trompeta, the regional tourism director for Western Visayas, said the island could handle a million tourists a year, provided regulations were properly enforced.
Trompeta said the island had yet to adopt a master plan that would put some order in building and infrastructure construction. The problem, he said, was that regulation of the island had been devolved from the department to the local government units.
He noted a number of violations like the construction of tall buildings occupying parts of the 25-meter beach space from the high water line, and the lack of the mandated six-meter right-of-way for interior lots or developments.
In early 1990, Boracay exceeded its threshold capacity, with saltwater intruding into aquifers as a result of continuous extraction of fresh water.
In 1997, coliform contaminated the pristine beaches of the island, severely affecting the tourism industry and livelihood of about 12,000 residents.
A Korean real estate company will start the construction in July 2007 of an international airport at Carabao Island, which is being eyed as the “Next Boracay.”
Carabao Island, part of San Jose town south of Romblon, is a 15-minute boat ride from the smaller island of Boracay, and has the same white-sand beaches and pristine waters, according to Tourism Secretary Joseph Durano.
Durano said Carabao Island is about four times the size of the 10-sq. km. Boracay, which accommodated more than half a million visitors last year. It is closest to the Puka Beach, the northern part of Boracay.
“We expect the groundbreaking of the airport at Carabao Island by the end of the month,” said Durano, who, together with Undersecretary Eduardo Jarque Jr., visited the new large hotel developments in Boracay.
Durano said the San Jose airport, which will have a 4,000-meter runway, is part of the tourism masterplan being developed by Euro Asia & Group Holding, a Korean company headed by Byoung-Youn Park.
Korean tourists, representing two-thirds of total foreign guests in Boracay, numbered 124,618 in 2006. In the first four months of 2007, foreign visitors were up 40 percent.
Portions of Carabao Island, Durano said, had already been leased out to the Korean company, which committed to put up the necessary infrastructures before establishing commercial establishments.
“Everything is being planned in Carabao Island,” he said. “It will have the same model as Mactan in Cebu.”
The tourism chief said the development of Carabao Island will relieve Boracay of too much pressure from tourists, in the wake of constant power outages caused by peak demand from more than 250 resorts and hotels on the island. Most resorts here have their power generation sets ready in case of brownouts.
Ma. Victoria Jasmin, director of the Office of Tourism Standards, which is in charge of endorsing tourism projects for fiscal incentives, said the Korean company was applying for the declaration of the entire Carabao Island as a tourism economic zone.
The problem, she said, is that the island already has a thriving local population who own pieces of land in five barangays. San Jose town, which encompasses the whole Carabao Island, has about 10,000 residents.
“Their masterplan involves integrated resort development which will include construction of hotels, resorts and retirement villages,” Jasmin said.
She said the original plan aimed to build an international airport in San Jose capable of handling large Airbus or Boeing planes that will bring passengers to Boracay. But under the Korean masterplan, Carabao Island will now be the major attraction, with Boracay as the day-two destination.
Caticlan airport, which is about a 10-minute boat ride from Boracay, can handle only small turboprop planes, while it takes another two hours to reach Kalibo airport by land.
Asked how much the Korean group would invest, Jasmin said there were no official figures yet, but the amount is expected to be big, considering the extent of development it plans. Roderick T. dela Cruz, Manila Standard TODAY