By Peter Blaza
BORACAY, Philippines (Reuters) – As night falls on the Philippine resort island of Boracay, beach-goers eat, drink and watch a troupe of fire dancers twirling flames and performing acrobatics.
Among the dancers is Princess Taunan, who, like many other workers in the tourist business, will be out of a job next week when the holiday hotspot closes for up to six months.
The closure is part of a major clean-up of the island President Rodrigo Duterte has described as a “cesspool” due to pollution.
“It’s good. At least it will save the island and my daughter will benefit since it’s also for their future,” Taunan, 22, told Reuters Television.
Boracay, due to be closed to all visitors from April 26, has joined other beach resorts across Southeast Asia facing growing pressure from a surge in visitors.
The island, which generated over $1 billion last year and is home to more than 30,000 people whose livelihoods depend on tourism, can no longer cope with the strain of two million annual visitors, the government says.
Some 195 businesses in Boracay were found to be discharging untreated waste water into the sea, resulting in increased concentration of human faeces along the beaches and posing health risks to swimmers.
Taunan, a fire dancer since she was 14, said she was trying to earn as much as possible before the island shuts down.
“Summer is usually when we get more gigs, but now that it is closing we won’t have anything,” she said.
Every night, the island’s roughly 65 fire dancers put on shows at beaches outside resorts and restaurants. Wearing colorful costumes, they dance and spin flaming objects to upbeat music.
Taunan said she earns up to $10 a night in tips from tourists.
It’s not much, but when combined with the meager income earned by Taunan’s live-in partner at a transport co-op, there is just enough for the family of three to live on, she said.
The government has set aside 2 billion pesos ($38.4 million) to help informal workers – including masseuses, tattoo artists, sand sculptors and dancers – who complained they will lose their main source of income during the closure.
But Taunan said she and other dancers have yet to hear about the aid plan from local authorities.
With nowhere else to go, the Boracay native said she planned to wait for the tourists to come back.
“Fire dancers are one of the things that bring Boracay to life, and what the island is known for,” she said. “It won’t be complete without people seeing fire dancers”.
(Reporting by Peter Blaza; writing by Masako Iijima; editing by Darren Schuettler)