Duterte Shuts One of Asia's Top Beach Attractions to Save It

(Bloomberg) -- Boracay Island, one of Asia’s top beach destinations, will be shut for six months after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approved a proposal from the environment and tourism agencies to close the area for rehabilitation.

The island, known for its white-sand beaches, will be closed starting April 26, at the height of the peak summer season. The government estimates losses of up to 20 billion pesos ($384 million) in tourist receipts during the six-month shutdown. Speeding up rehabilitation may accelerate its soft opening to as early as July, Tourism Assistant Secretary Ricky Alegre says in a televised press briefing.

Philippine Airlines and Cebu Air’s Cebu Pacific will cancel flights to Boracay during the closure, the airlines said in separate statements. Boracay Island’s White Beach was ranked Asia’s second-best beach destination by TripAdvisor.

The closure of the island, which Duterte earlier described as a "cesspool," could also deal a blow to the nation’s target to attract 7.4 million tourists this year. About 15 percent of the 6.6 million tourists in the Philippines visited Boracay last year, spending 56 billion pesos in the tourist spot.

Four other tourist destinations will be investigated next: Puerto Galera in Mindoro, El Nido and Coron in Palawan, Bohol and Siargao, Alegre said.

The government will release 2 billion pesos in emergency funds to help 36,000 workers who may be affected by the closure, Harry Roque, spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte, said in the same briefing.

San Miguel Corp., the nation’s largest company by sales and the operator of an airport near the resort island, said it supports government’s initiative.

“The island needs to be rehabilitated and we have to support the government," the company’s president Ramon Ang said in a statement. "Yes, we will endure some short-term pain but it’s a step in the right direction and in end we are hopeful it would bring about long-term gain for all.”

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