MANILA, January 2, 2006 (STAR) OUTSIDE THE BOX By Doris Magsaysay Ho - Boracay is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Over the last few years, an increasing number of people have built beautiful vacation homes there – so much so that Boracay’s Long Beach has become the place to be in for the New Year’s celebrations. The most significant new investor on the island is the Shangri-La Group, which plans to build a hotel in the Puca Beach area. The airport in Caticlan is being expanded to take in larger planes. Negros Navigation now makes direct calls to Caticlan. The provincial and municipal leadership – under Gov. Carlito Marquez of Aklan, Congressman Florencio Miraflores, and Mayor Ciceron Cawaling of Malay – has taken the reins to position the island for growth. They are working together with the private sector – Boracay Foundation (BFI), the Boracay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), the Boracay Trade and Development Council and the Eminent Persons Group including Iñigo Zobel and Freddie Elizalde.

A key challenge is the infrastructure to support the potential growth of tourism. The first is sustaining the beauty and pristine nature of the island environment – the very reason why people flock there to start with. One needs to address how to bring about world-class standards of tourism services to attract a broader group of visitors. There is the pressure that a growing population has on water, sewerage, power, waste disposal and other utilities also brought about by laundry, dishwashing, public markets and landscaping, among others. Another is the housing and infrastructure requirements of service personnel and their families which compete for services and space.

Then there is the need for a tourist/transfer system from Caticlan to the island. The Boracay authorities will no longer allow any bancas (pumpboat/outriggers) on Long Beach for the safety of swimmers. All boats of all sizes must follow the policy to enter and exit in Cagban, on the southern tip of the island. As a result, Magsaysay, the company that brings tourists by fast ferry to Corregidor Island, entered into an MOU with the province, to study the development of a unified transport system incorporating both sea and land and to include the existing pump boat and tricycle stakeholders and cooperatives in the business.

Magsaysay’s and the government’s vision was to have larger ferries bring visitors under all weather conditions, to connect to LPG-powered, environmentally-friendly land transport vehicles organized under a unified system, with one look not unlike the yellow cabs in New York. The bancas/cooperatives would continue transporting visitors and goods to and from the island and would expand to offering island tours with their unique charm and/or own one or more of the new ferries. The tricycle drivers could drive the new land transport vehicles, own them or be part of the chain of services needed to make the system work.

Magsaysay set up a group of community workers to dialogue with the stakeholders and cooperatives and lined up micro-financing and credit to finance the coop members interested to join. The business idea was an ambitious one: to achieve a "win-win" result for all – for the tourist, for the existing banca and tricycle stakeholder/cooperatives, for the hotels and restaurants, for the government, for the community, for Boracay, and for the country.

Perhaps the concept was not communicated well enough, or too much publicity came before the concept was fully understood. While the project was well-accepted by many, Magsaysay respects the resistance to change expressed by the directly affected stakeholder resulting in Magsaysay regretfully but voluntarily withdrawing their effort.

I believe this project is really worthwhile. If we want Boracay to be shared with more visitors, and to become more beautiful and prosperous, I believe that the only way for a long-term sustainable tourist/transfer solution is for the government to work with the present cooperatives, help them organize themselves to implement a unified plan to allow Boracay to reach its full potential and to be recognized as the gem it so rightfully deserves to be.

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