We, Filipinos, have only seriously considered the carrying capacity of our tourist destinations when the very popular island of Boracay was closed on April 26, 2018. The truth hurts, dearest Seniors, and yes, tourism inevitably impacts on tourist destinations!
So, tell me, do we really know what tourist carrying capacity is? Well, just to be sure, and before the October 26 re-opening of Boracay, read on.
The Tourist Carrying Capacity, according to the World Tourism Organization, is the process of determining the maximum number of people that may visit a tourist destination at the same time, without causing the destruction of the physical, economic, socio-cultural environment and an unacceptable decrease in the quality of visitors’ satisfaction.1
Former Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo stated that the carrying capacity of Boracay was set at 25,000 tourists, but, in recent years, it went as high as 75,000!2 Wow, that was triple the set capacity, no wonder the island had problems!
But what is an acceptable carrying capacity for a particular destination? It seems that acceptable conditions are a matter of human judgment and not an inherent quality of a particular site. It is difficult to calculate the maximum number of visitors since this is also dependent on other factors, amidst an unstable and unpredictable world.
So, tourism, environmental, local government, public works and transportation officials, the local community, and other stakeholders must get their act together to objectively implement the carrying capacity not only of Boracay but of other tourism destinations as well, so the latter will not suffer the same fate as the former.
Anyway, these stakeholders must take into consideration the 4 different forms of carrying capacity: physical3, economic4, socio-cultural5, and biophysical6. A framework for the limits for acceptable change7, developed by The US Forest Service in the 1980s, should also be considered, along with sustainable tourism8 and sustainable transport9.
The international tourism industry has generally accepted guidelines or formulas in determining carrying capacity. Alas, there is no one-size-fits-all checklist. Nonetheless, the bottomline, in all cases, is that the natural features of the tourist area, or the things/places that attract visitors to it, should be preserved for the benefit of its residents and the people who may, in the future, want to visit and enjoy them as well.2
The implementation, or enforcement, of the carrying capacity also takes a lot of political will on the part of the tourist area’s local government executives and stakeholders.3 Let this challenge all local government units in the country!
I pray that the 6-month long Boracay closure be the wake-up-call for national, regional, and other local leaders to redo their tourism development plans for all tourist sites, using all the aforementioned factors and setting stiffer penalties for non-compliance of rules/regulations, especially during peak season, and/or when local officials, or their kin, are also owners of tourist facilities.
So, anyway, after waiting so long from authorities, how many tourists will be allowed to go to Boracay, for example, on a daily basis, taking into consideration its current infrastructure, residents, workforce, and state of natural resources? What are the guidelines for ensuring the tourist carrying capacity? Will there be a maximum number of days to stay in the island? Let us wait for such guidelines/policies.
As of end of August 2018, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) set the tourist carrying capacity of Boracay to 19,000, taking the number of workers and the local population into account. And based on a study done by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau11 and the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, Laguna,12 the island can only accommodate a total of 55,000 people (local population, workers and tourists, combined).10
Alas, only 3,000-5,000, out of the 15,000 hotel rooms, can be made available to tourists during the reopening date. The remaining accommodation entities still need to comply with the new permits and accreditation set by the multi-agency task force.10
There will be on-going roadwork/sewage rehabilitation and limited accredited accommodations, among others, when Boracay opens on October 26, but I am sure that the first batches of tourists will be excited to see the changes in the island. Instagram and Facebook will surely be filled with such pictures!
Most of the information was taken from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1
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The following terms are defined for interested readers, especially non-Filipinos, those with “Senior-Moments”, and those too busy or lazy to Google such terms:
1”Tourism carrying capacity,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_carrying_capacity.
3The physical carrying capacity (PCC) is the maximum number of tourists that an area is actually able to support. It is the maximum number that can fit on the site at any given time and still allow people to be able to move, i.e., one meter per person. The formula used is: PCC per day = area (in meters squared) x visitors per meter x daily duration. Information is from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1
4The economic carrying capacity (ECC) is the level of acceptable change within the local economy of a tourist destination. It is the extent to which a tourist destination is able to accommodate tourist functions without the loss of local activities. It is also used to describe the point at which the increased revenue brought by tourism development is overtaken by the inflation caused by tourism. Information is from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1
5The social carrying capacity (SCC) refers to the negative effects of tourism development to the socio-cultural state of a destination. Reduced visitor enjoyment and local tolerance as well as increase in crime rate are indicators that the SCC has been exceeded. Information is from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1
6The biophysical carrying capacity (BCC) is the extent to which the natural environment is able to tolerate interference from tourists. This is made more complicated by the fact that because it deals with ecology which is able to regenerate to some extent, so the carrying capacity is when the damage exceeds the habitat’s ability to regenerate. Environmental carrying capacity is also used with reference to ecological and physical parameters, capacity of resources, ecosystems19 and infrastructure. Wildlife sanctuaries, for example, would be better off when there is a set of guidelines for regulating tourism without much disturbance of the wildlife. Information is from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1
7The limits of acceptable change (LAC) is based on the idea that any tourist activity has an impact, and therefore visitor management should be based on constant monitoring of the site as well as the objectives established for it. Information is from the Wikipedia page “Tourism carrying capacity”.1
8Sustainable tourism is the concept of visiting a destination as a tourist and trying to make a positive impact on the environment13, society, and economy. Tourism development should always be sustainable but how to achieve this is debatable, according to Wikipedia page “Sustainable tourism”.14
9Sustainable transport, or sustainable mobility, refers to transportation that is sustainable in terms of social, environmental and climate impacts, and the ability to, in the global scope, supply the source energy indefinitely, according to the Wikipedia page “Sustainable transport”.15
11The Ecosystems Research and Development Bureau (ERDB) is the principal research and development unit of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) focused on 5 major ecosystems20 of the Philippines: coastal zones and freshwater, forests, grassland and degraded areas, upland farms, and urban areas, created on June 1987.16
13The impact on the environment, or environmental issues, refers to the harmful effects of human activity on the biophysical environment17, according to the Wikipedia page “Environmental issue.”18
14“Sustainable tourism,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_tourism.
15“Sustainable transport,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_transport.
17The human impact on the environment includes the changes to biophysical environments19 and ecosystems20, biodiversity21, and natural resources, caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming22, environmental degradation23, mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crises, and ecological collapse, according to the Wikipedia page “Human impact on the environment”.24
18“Environmental issue,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_issue.
19A biophysical environment of a population refers to the (living and non-living) surroundings of a population, and consequently includes the factors that have an influence in its survival, development and evolution, according to the Wikipedia page “Biophysical environment”.25
20An ecosystem is a community made up of living organisms and non-living components (air, mineral soil and water), according to the Wikipedia page “Ecosystem”.26
21Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth, according to the Wikipedia page “Biodiversity”.27
22Global warming, or climate change, is the observed century-scale rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system and its related effects, according to the Wikipedia page “Global warming”.28
23Environmental degradation is the deterioration of the environment through the depletion of resources such as air, soil and water; the destruction of ecosystems20; habitat destruction; the extinction of wildlife; and pollution, according to the Wikipedia page “Environmental degradation”.29
24“Human impact on the environment,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_impact_on_the_environment.
25“Biophysical environment,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biophysical_environment.
26“Ecosystem,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecosystem.
27“Biodiversity,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodiversity.
28“Global warming,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming.
29“Environmental degradation,” accessed August 16, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_degradation.