It’s all about context!

A phenomenon that has always intrigued me is that of the various travel lists that are compiled each year by such august publications as Lonely Planet, Conde Nast, National Geographic etc. The lists usually fall into broad categories such as ‘The world’s best beaches’, or ‘Top countries to visit in 2018’, ‘The ten most romantic cities’ and so on. The bit that intrigues me is what, exactly, is it that elevates such recipients to become part of such lists one year, whilst being demoted out of them the next?

Surely, barring the instigation of civil war; the complete failure of a city’s sewerage system or power supply or a refuse collection strike that carries on for months on end, the very attributes that get a beach, city or country into such a list in the first place should entitle them to stay there — potentially indefinitely — if none of those original criteria change!

The fact of the matter is that there are a couple of things going on here in the background that you need to be aware of. Firstly, such lists need to change on an annual basis if they are to generate the PR that such journalistic efforts crave. It also means that you have a whole new bunch of recipients each year who revel in their elevation to the rarefied atmosphere of the world’s best something-or-other — with all the column inches that that generates.

Secondly, you need to appreciate that there is a big difference between objectivity and subjectivity. What do I mean by that? Let’s say I live in Boringsville, USA and I’ve never been outside my own state, let alone the country and I get to travel abroad for the first time. I experience my first beach as the state I live in is landlocked. The beach is beautiful, the sand soft and the waters lapping at its edge are pristine. I declare it to be the best beach in the world, ever! That declaration much surely be subjective since I have nothing else to compare my beautiful beach against. I have no other reference point with which to make a comparison.

If I’ve visited 50 beautiful beaches all around the world — with many of them in exotic locations already universally acknowledged for their stunning nature — then any such claim is more likely to be objective because they are all being compared against each other by means of a set of parameters such as sand colour, softness, colour of water, backdrop, location, weather, safety etc.

The reason why I bring all this up is that I recently visited a beach in the Philippines which has featured many times in such lists as being one of the best beaches in the world and whilst it was undoubtedly lovely and the sand super fine and white, I was less than impressed by several aspects of the place in which it was set — its backdrop, if you will. The beach in question was White Beach in Boracay, a small island located in the central Philippines. Boracay is clearly the flavour of the month these days as development is rampant there right now and there appear to be hotels and resorts going up left right and centre so that by the time it’s finished, it may end up looking like a low-rise version of a tropical Benidorm. There is such a thing as over-development and I fear that they are making a big mistake in Boracay.

There doesn’t appear to be much infrastructure being put in place to accommodate the vastly increased numbers that will ultimately descend on this island once everything has been built. The existing roads are small, narrow, windy and in poor condition and can’t cope with the huge amounts of traffic (motorbikes, jeepneys, Tuk-tuks, vans, lorries etc) that are using them right now. The sewerage system clearly isn’t coping either as one of the first things that hits you once you land on the island is the smell, which jars with what you’re expecting, given the exotic, paradise island nature of the scene. Tourists consist mainly of either Koreans (who all keep to themselves) or Western backpackers who are probably only there because the Philippines is a cheap destination. What also jars, paradoxically, is the significant and visible display of heavily armed police which is the first thing that you notice when you step of the ferry at Cagbar or Tambissan at the southern end of the island. Although presumably designed to instil a sense of security in visiting tourists, I suspect it ends up having the opposite effect with one wondering ‘is something about to kick off here?’ With militant Islamists an increasing problem in some of the outer reaches of the Philippine archipelago, it doesn’t exactly send out the right signal.

Which brings me to the point of this week’s blog: Sitting behind every accolade, listing and perceived reputation lies another reality so always be careful in researching potential future destinations as the headlines may hide some of the things that they don’t want you to know! As someone who has had the privilege and pleasure of experiencing beaches all over the world in such disparate places as Hawaii, Bermuda, South Africa, Thailand, Jamaica, Australia, The Seychelles, The Bahamas, French Polynesia etc., I can honestly say that Boracay would find it difficult to appear in any ‘Top 20’ list compiled by your truly.

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