Friday, October 13, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
October 14, 2017 issue

For the coming Chinese Lunar New Year, a businessman from Manila is organizing a reunion of his immediate relatives, not from Binondo, but from Fujian, China. This is not going to be the usual gathering of about ten or fifteen people. It is going to reach about a thousand. He was so upbeat he even put up a travel agency business, catering mostly to tourists in that part of the mainland. 
There are approximately 1.5 million Filipinos with pure Chinese ancestry, or around 1.8% of the population. Most of them are still in touch with their families in China. If each of them would bring, let’s say, three people, imagine what the figure would be.
Close family ties are making many Chinese plan their next clan reunions in the Philippines. There are the Ongs, the Tans, the Liaos, the Pes and many more. Suddenly, the upsurge is very evident and you can see that it is happening.
Chinese tourists are similarly ‘invading’ Paris, London, Rome, New York, Moscow, Athens and other destinations in the world. An international business magazine reports that “over an eight-fold increase in the number of overseas trips were made by Chinese travelers - from 10 million, who traveled to other countries in year 2000”.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, China was already the top tourist source market in the world as early as 2012. The outbound travelers grew by a double-digit figure after that. By 2014, it reached 107 million, and the number breached the 120 million mark in 2015, up 16 percent over the previous year. That was also corroborated by the China Tourism Academy, a research institution under the China National Tourism Administration.
The Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecast had said outbound Chinese travelers could number around 174 million by 2019, spending about $264 billion annually. That's roughly equivalent to the GDP of a developed country like Singapore.

In the Philippines, China dislodged the United States for the second spot, registering 90,763 and 86,017 arrivals, respectively. Korea remained the country’s biggest market, registering 132,135 arrivals for the first six months of the year.

Bang the gong. Beijing apparently is making good its promise to send more tourists to the Philippines. The sharp increase of arrivals from China, a 76.48 percent growth from January last year, was worth Php 8.89 billion. 

“We are now seeing the fruits of our country’s effort in reaching out to China. Doors to more economic opportunities and people-to-people exchanges are wider now. Ties between Manila and Beijing have seen a new day,” according to Secretary of Tourism Teo.

“Ni Hao” From China
Chinese overseas travelers make up a sizable group of consumers, acclaimed as the world's largest and “most favorable spenders”. They spent $164.8 billion overseas in 2014, a fourfold increase over year 2008, and 88 percent was spent on shopping, the China Tourism Academy reported.

About 400,000 Chinese spent around $833.7 million in Japan in year 2015. Four million visited Thailand on the same year but the biggest spending surprise came from Australia, where Chinese spent $5.6 billion in 12 months. The number exceeded the spending by the British, Americans and Canadians combined.

The official tourism board of United Kingdom expects Chinese travelers to be spending more than $1.47 billion in year 2020. A Hurun/International Luxury Travel Market Asia report released in May 2015 said: “Half of all super-rich travelers flew business class in 2014, compared to one-third the previous year. 

World Tourism Organization credits rapid urbanization, rising disposable income and the relaxation of government restrictions on foreign travel for the upsurge of Chinese outbound travel to the world.

CNN also reported that China leaped to first place, surpassing both top-spender Germany and the United States (both close to US$84 billion) in 2012. Though the report did not break down spending per trip among international travelers, total spend by number of trips suggests that Chinese travelers averaged $1,230 per trip. 

Industry observers say, the growth of tourism expenditure from China and Russia reflects a growing middle class from these countries, which will surely continue to change the map of world tourism.

The World Travel and Tourism Council also projects that China will be one of the 10 fastest growing markets for leisure travel spending through 2026. The chart below shows the world’s ten largest source markets for outbound tourism spending in 2016.

Top 10 Markets: Outbound Tourist Spending in 2016
Spending ($U.S.)
% Growth Over 2015
$221 billion
$122 billion
$81 billion
$64 billion
$41 billion
$29 billion
$27 billion
$27 billion
$25 billion
Hong Kong
$24 billion
Source: UNWTO

Philippine as hot destination

Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism said the implementation of the Visa Upon Arrival (VUA) program could make China as a top source of visitors to the Philippines. 

The Department of Justice’s favorable action on the DOT’s long-standing proposal to ease the visa rules and procedures, to implement the VUA for Chinese visitors could lead to that.

DOT Secretary Teo had pressed for DOJ's approval and implementation of the VUA, to help push the country as a rightful competitor in international tourism industry. "We believe this will serve as an incentive to Chinese guests who may be prospective investors wanting to prove that the country is not only a safe haven for tourists but also a lucrative business location," Teo said.

Following President Duterte’s state visit to China in mid-October 2016 and the lifting of Beijing’s travel restriction to the Philippines, Chinese arrivals surged to 675,663 by yearend, up by 37.65 percent from 490,841 in 2015.

The phenomenal increase in Chinese arrivals continued into the first half of 2017 as it jumped 33.44 percent with 454,962 visitors compared to last year’s 340,958.

"Accommodating our visiting Chinese friends with a visa grant upon arrival will only help keep the momentum of massive influx of Chinese tourists to the country, Teo said.​

More global brands in DF shops 

At the recently-concluded 2017 Duty Free & Travel Retail Global Summit held at Cannes, France, Secretary Teo said, 
“The Philippines is in a position to join the ranks of countries whose Duty Free industry is expected to grow by an average of 40 percent in the next decade.” 

She expressed optimism that the global premium brands are now looking to increase their presence in the Philippines in anticipation of the steady growth in arrival of Chinese tourists. “Bringing in global premium brands would be an additional incentive to attract more Chinese tourists, particularly the luxury segment,” Secretary Teo said.

The summit was a flagship event of the Tax Free World Association (TFWA), a much-attended duty free industry event that combines a shop window for premium brands, experts forum and the chance to network with key influencers. 
515 companies registered as exhibitors based on 472 booths.

Philippines-China tourism strategies
To boost renewed tourism cooperation between the Philippines and China, Filipino and Chinese tourism officials have programmed an array of activities. These are series of meetings on communications campaigns, familiarization trips for media and tour operators, tourism-related workshops and capacity building sessions for travel professionals, as well as official visits by tourism heads and joint travel fairs, to be held in the Philippines and China.  
Total tourist arrivals from China to different Southeast Asian countries numbered 18.5 million, an increase of 42.4 percent compared to 2014. Total number of visitors from ASEAN countries to China was 6.5 million, an increase of 6.3 percent compared to 2014. 
What does that mean to Philippine tourism? With the average annual growth of 15.7 per cent for two-way visitor-traffic between China and ASEAN for the past five years, it is projected that the target goal of 30 million mutual visits will be realized by 2020. 

The progress in the implementation of the ASEAN-China Air Transport Agreement and its protocol has facilitated air connectivity between the Southeast Asia destinations and China.
Since the agreement’s enactment, 37 cities located in the ASEAN member-states were connected with 52 cities in China through more than 4,900 direct flights per week. More actions among ASEAN-China committees concerned with aviation cooperation will further support the development of tourism in the region.
Tourist arrivals up by 12.7%
Tourism is poised to become the country’s top dollar-earning industry as Philippine lawmakers rallied behind DOT Secretary Teo to mount an “all-out promotion campaign,” as she disclosed yet another double-digit increase in international visitor arrivals for the first semester.

“Amidst setbacks and mounting challenges, tourist arrivals are way up. Beefing up the DOT’s war chest, at least restoring it to its previous level (P1B), would go a long way in boosting our branding campaign, expected to be at par with those of our Asian neighbors,” Teo stressed.

“In the face of challenges, the country continued to receive the growing influx of tourists from across the globe, desiring to see our world-class destinations and experience the renowned Filipino hospitality,” Teo said. During the congressional hearing, the DOT chief reiterated the agency’s commitment to a more competitive branding campaign as it sets higher targets for the coming year.

More foreign tourists have arrived in the Philippines this year, staying for more days and spending more money, as indicated by the data collected by the country’s Department of Tourism (DOT) for the month of January. 

“We have to keep the momentum going now that we are in the implementation phase of the Tourism Development Plan for 2017-2022, which aims to unleash the potentials of our tourism industry and make it more competitive,” Teo said.

Friday, October 6, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
October 7, 2017 issue

Let’s avoid the fancy titles. Let’s just call them Creative Directors. 

Creative Director A is former boss of Creative Director B. The former transfers to another advertising agency but the creative umbilical cord between the two remains rubbery strong.

Creative Director C is from a competing ad agency. For some reasons, he doesn’t get invited to chi-chi parties and other industry events where CDs A and B are always present.

Creative Director D is from a local ad agency. He wants to penetrate deep into the inner circle of A and B but always ends up an outsider. Reason: He is not from a multinational ad agency. 

Creative Director E is a charming social butterfly and with an odd foreign accent. She spends more precious executive hours in industry meetings rather than brainstorm with her agency wards. She also gets invitations to judge more than what she could chew. 

Creative Director F is a protégé of an industry ‘kingmaker’. She is a remnant of an old epoch. She has been in advertising when digital was still an unknown territory.

All these characters are fictitious. But they are becoming real.

Picture all of them in a high profile judging. Walk through the cocktails’ ‘beso-beso". Listen to the echoing guffaws of self-proclaimed gods and goddesses of advertising. Come closer, baby. Have you been phubbed?

("Phubbing", combination of "phone" and "snubbing"). To be phubbed is to be snubbed by someone using a celfone while in your company and not paying attention.

As you mingle and hear red wine glasses clinking, and see the hors d’oeuvres cleaned off the trays, you hear the head of jury: “Time to scrutinize the entries.”

He makes a speech and reminds that you abstain from voting for your agency’s entries. Hmm, who will give out fat zeroes or perfect 10s? Let’s see.

After rounds of voting, score sheets are turned over to an auditing firm. The shortlist and the final list of winners are not supposed to leak. Even media are told to embargo the news prior to “The Big Night”, also called the gnashing of teeth and moment of whining.

Biases in advertising award judging? Let’s face it, they have been talked about for many years. Some people don’t want to speak up because it may doom their career. But we’ve seen one or two big ad agency networks, at certain times, expressed their sentiments, even declaring not participating.

Ivan Raszl, owner of one of the world’s most browsed advertising creativity sites, “Ads of the World”, says: “The credibility of some awards is very low because we are awarding ourselves. A multinational head of creative, judges another multinational ad agency work, and vice versa.

“Just the night before, they both drink and party together on the same beach. The industry is small and all big shots know each other. It's just unrealistic to expect from people who know each other and most of the time, respect and like each other, to be objective. If they hate each other, it's even worse. Their decisions will be consciously or unconsciously affected by their personal relationship,” he continues.

Raszl notes that independent fashion journalists and critiques judge fashion shows. Independent safety and other authorities rank new models in car shows. “It would be inconceivable and ridiculous if Vivienne Westwood were to judge Tommy Hilfiger's work, or if Ford were to rate Volvo's safety ratings. Yet, that's exactly what the advertising industry does,” he says.

Independent, third party judging

The solution to this uncomfortable situation, according to Raszl, is to create juries that consist of one or a mix of real consumers (like a trial jury), clients or independent advertising critiques, probably made up of journalists from major ad publications. 

“When creatives judge their fellow creatives in awards shows, one might argue that it's a good way to ensure strong work. Others might argue, it gets a bit ‘incestuous’,” Adweek, another global advertising trade magazine, says.

Epica Awards

Founded in 1987, Epica is the only major ad industry awards show judged solely by journalists working for marketing and communications publications around the world. It highlights that its judges are journalists who are largely detached from the personal relationships of advertising—and even barred from judging work from their home countries.

We personally interviewed Mark Tungate, a British Journalist and author of "The Epica Book", Adland: A Global History of Advertising and other subjects specializing on media, branding, travel, lifestyle trends. He is also a favorite speaker at conferences around the world. Here he is:

Apart from being the only awards show judged by Journalists around the world, what makes Epica an important award show? 

Tungate: I think the answer is in the question. The fact that we have this unique jury of journalists means that we’re entirely objective and unbiased. None of our jurors are going to vote for or against a piece of work depending on whether they once worked at the agency, or they’re in the same network, or a rival network. They are interested in great work, that’s all. I’d also say Epica, as an event, is one of the few places where the worlds of journalism and creativity overlap. But as communities, both agencies and journalists are storytellers. So they can learn from one another.

Has the number of entries to Epica Awards grown over the last 3 to 5 years? If yes, how many percent? 

Well, we’re a fairly modest awards show and the number of entries has stayed fairly stable at around 4,000 a year. In fact in 2016 the exact number was 3,800, a 2% increase on the previous year. Obviously, it would be nice to have more, as the fridge in our staff kitchen needs replacing, but at the same time, we’re not greedy or money grabbing. Having said that, the mix has changed slightly. We get more entries from independent agencies now - in fact they make up around 50% of our entries - while the networks tend to enter slightly less work, but of a very high quality.

Who designed the Epica logo and why was it named that way? 

We rebranded a couple of years back. Our website and logo were designed by an agency called Vasava, in Barcelona. They’re extremely talented friends of mine: we worked together years ago on a book about the history of the jeans brand Diesel. The pyramid represents the peak of success, of course, while the black lines represent lines of print. Epica stands for the Editors’ and Publishers’ International Creative Awards.

Would AI (Artificial Intelligence) invade advertising in the future? 

There have been a few recent examples of agencies experimenting with AI, but they remain fairly anecdotal for the time being. It’s true that chatbots are being used as marketing tools and replacing customer help departments. But I’m pretty confident there will always be room for human creativity. Our foibles, anxieties and strange obsessions are also what make us effective creators. Could an artificially intelligent human being make the film “Blade Runner”, which is essentially, a discourse on what it means to be human? I don’t think so. 

Without newspaper journalists, would respect for other Journalists diminish? 

Seriously, I think the image of the incorruptible newspaper journalist, seeking after the truth, is a romantic one that continues to have a certain allure. That’s certainly what attracted me to journalism as a young man. That and Tintin, obviously. But in today’s world, I’m not sure it’s possible to be “just” a newspaper journalist. You have to be skilled at video, social media and even podcasting. The journalist of today is a multimedia one.

What would be the medium of the future, let’s say in the next 5 to 7 years? 

Interestingly I think certain high-quality print media will survive. Newspapers and magazines will be regarded as artisanal, almost luxury items, rather in the way that vinyl records are today. I’m a great believer in what I call “analogue snobbery”.

Books are going that way, too. But it seems certain that the vast majority of media will be consumed on mobile devices. I read The New York Times on my phone every morning. Having said that, at the weekend I tend to buy the hefty print version and sit at a café poring over it. It’s the difference between taking a quick shower,or wallowing in a bath.

How extensive are you reaching out to Asian markets? 

Getting better, I would say. Last year we had gold winners from the Philippines (two, in fact!), India, Japan and Taiwan. We also had entries from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and of course Thailand, which is a very creative market. Part of the problem is that we’re based in Paris so we can’t travel extensively in Asia promoting the awards. Got a fridge to pay for, you know.

There are some people who don’t believe in awards, your thoughts?

Not everyone likes awards, but everyone likes to win one. Plus, agencies like to measure themselves against the competition, in my experience. It’s true that awards require an investment, and many of the shows have become rather expensive to enter, but at the same time they motivate hard-working staff and build creative careers. It’s pretty difficult to say “I’m one of the world’s most creative people” without being able to prove it in some way. Awards help with that. I could tell you I’m an author but sooner or later you’re going to want to see one of my books.

 Tungate’s latest book, "The Escape Industry", history of travel industry from the perspective of its most iconic brands, was launched in Europe last week and will be rolled to the US market on October 28, 2017. Interested parties who may want their work judged objectively, may log on to

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


By Roger Pe
September 28, 2017 issue
Business Mirror

It is not just an award. It is meant to extol sustainability for humanity, modernity with less impact to the environment. It may sound like a motherhood statement but demographically, it means, all of us, and generations of our children, can look forward to enjoying this paradise, just like Mother Nature made it.

On that bright and sunny Thursday morning, a few hours after we landed at Lio Airport, the scene that greeted us was like in Francis Ford Coppola’s Oscar winning motion picture “Apocalypse Now”. Only this time, there were no helicopters but motorboats, the undisputed king of the seas in El Nido.

In the movie, people remember the 12-minute chopper assault that was meticulously storyboarded and executed by Coppola and his production designer Dean Tavoularis when they shot in the Philippines.

Yes, we were on our way to ‘assault’ the blue waters of Bacuit Bay. Our mission: Reach El Nido’s famed lagoons, and subsequently, enter the more secluded nooks and crannies of Miniloc, Entalula, Pangalusian, Pinagbuyutan, Shimizu, and the longest sand bar I have ever seen, Snake island.

“Get ready for the time of your life,” our island tour guide hollered. As we sat and panned our thrilled eyes like Arriflex cameras, we saw 12 other bancas, each with about 20 passengers, going our direction, as if wanting to chase us.

Our voices were now drowned by the sound of motorized bancas. As we passed by Pinagbuyutan, the most recognizable of all rock formations in the area, our heartbeat stopped. The structure was so hairraisingly beautiful, the iconic location of “Survivor 10”, the Israel reality show and “Bourne Legacy”, the Hollywood blockbuster.

Soon, three other bancas came closer, and further down, a line of bancas followed. Now, I could really hear Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries,” Coppola’s movie soundtrack assaulting my ears.

Lagoons of wonder

Motorized bancas used to lull me to sleep. In El Nido, they gave me goosebumps and adrenaline rush. Not only they were bigger than usual, they cruised unbelievably fast, running like the wind as if mimicking the movements of flying fishes.

Here, the islands are not spread out from each other and can easily be accessed in less than an hour. In about 30 minutes, we reached the “Big Lagoon”, the picturesque landscape that was always on the pages of Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure magazines.

“Here I am, I have finally seen it. Now I could die,” I whispered. All passengers of the boat then scampered for their smartphones and alternately took selfies. They posed with the lagoon as backdrop and made the de rigeur El Nido signature shot.

From a 50-meter distance, smoke billowed from the prow of four boats. They also emitted a strange smell. We were told that they were roving ‘restaurants’ with chefs onboard. Want to have the freshest catch from the sea? They can whip up a delectable dish for you, served grilled and scrumptious.

Closer and closer, the cliffs started to look daunting. A raft then gently slid from behind our boat. There was a man paddling and peddling “Buko” juice, young coconuts and canned colas. What a pretty sight! But then again, I asked: “Where do they dispose their trash?”

The “Big Lagoon” was about the size of three football fields to my estimation. When we arrived, foreign and local tourists were already basking in its glory, and most of us were ready to take the plunge. But then again, our tour guide, who sounded every inch like a marine biology and anthropology professor, told us that visitors are not encouraged to swim here.

I got the drift. The flurry of boats coming in and out of the lagoon posed some risks and there could be accidents. He also mentioned that thousands of marine species lie underneath and reminded us to be extra careful in not disturbing their sanctuary.

The water was so irresistible, four of my companions jumped into it. I did not but listened to my instinct. The color of the water was a tell-tale sign. One could tell, turquoise blue was rather deep.

Small and ‘secret’ lagoon

We were now moving towards a jawdropping limestone karst formation, a crystal clear waterway with refreshingly clear emerald water. We had gotten off our boat and now paddling on kayak.

The entrance to the “Small Lagoon” is a narrow 3-meter wide rock hole. “One kayak at a time only or you’ll hit the stone wall”, the boatman said.

We had expected to be the only group of visitors, but alas, a number of tourists had beaten us to it. Nature as its chief architect, the “Small Lagoon” is largely enclosed. I was in disbelief when I learned that it has an almost perfect circular shape. Inside, I saw people in suspended animation, as if paying homage to the beauty of Mother Earth. I saw a man clamber up a rock, lied behind his back as he looked up the sky unmovingly.

This must be the ‘altar’ of the whole lagoon cavern. Towards the inner sanctum, people were visibly in awe, looking as if they’ve found their fountain of youth. Stillness was all over and the only sound you’d hear was the sloshing of water made by canoe paddles.

The eerie sound of silence would be intermittently broken by people exclaiming in glee - one found a baby shark gliding under the water. Little ‘sharkie’ and a green turtle were playing hide-and-seek in a ‘forest’ of corals as big as wheels of a 10-wheeler truck. Tiger, Parrot, Jack, Butterfly, Sweetlips, Snapper, Grouper, name it. Multi-colored fishes, all of them in their natural habitat, not is some mall or man-made aquarium.

Behind the “Small Lagoon” is an island visited by author Alex Garland years ago. Captivated by a “secret” beach, it became an inspiration for his “The Beach”. The bestseller that became a movie shot in Thailand starring Leonardo de Caprio.  

We wanted to linger a while but the sun was scorching our skin. Lunch was served at Entalula Island where my table was right beside a magnificent limestone wall. We headed next to Snake Island, nature’s wonderful work of art - a white sand beach that connects the island to the mainland. Depending on the tide, you can see the longest sandbar in the Philippines.

Rocked by Earth, Wind and Fire

Ever wondered why El Nido’s geographical formation is similar to Vietnam’s Halong Bay, Thailand’s Krabi or Indonesia’s Raja Ampat? They are all part of Asia’s Sunda Plate, one of the most seismically active and tectonically complex regions on Earth. Each one with its own unique attractions but many travel magazines agree, “El Nido is the best.”

How can El Nido not be “Best Island in the World”? Allow us to tell you why.

The date: September 15, 2017. The event: International Coastal Clean-Up Day. It was to happen in El Nido, Palawan. The participants: Hundreds of local school children, the youth, adult volunteers living in coastal areas, and tourists staying in island resorts.

They came in droves, by boats, buses and jeepneys to do their share in making El Nido’s beaches and seas free of plastic trash, ready to “get dirtied”.

After a few minutes of briefing, Estefania Mahecha, the pretty Colombian leader of the coastal clean-up, divided us into five groups. We were handed out sacks to put in our garbage loot and turn them over to big trucks parked on different parts of the beach when filled up. They would then bring them to recycling stations.

Global coastal clean-up

If other towns in the Philippines revel in their fiestas, people in El Nido celebrate coastal clean-ups. 

Every year, El Nido and the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), an environmental movement, work together with volunteers to clean up the sea and its beaches of plastic trash.

Through ICC, hundreds of thousands of them in various parts of the world comb lakes, rivers and beaches for trash. For over three decades, more than 12 million of these volunteers have collected about 220 million pounds of trash.

Ten Knots Development Corporation, owners of El Nido Resorts has been celebrating coastal cleanups since the 1990s, teaming up with the local government, schools, restaurants, resorts, dive operators, and residents of all barangays in El Nido to participate.

“We plan to do this not every year. Not every month, not every week … but every single day,” said Mariglo Larilit, Sustainability Director of TKDC, who gave an inspirational talk after the coastal cleanup on Lio Beach, Casa Kalaw Resort.

Here’s a one-on-one interview with Larilit, an award-winning environmentalist and former UP Biology Professor who has stayed in the island for almost two decades:

What are your priorities and steps you are doing to make them realized? 

Larilit:  We are mandated to push for shared value - this is taking Corporate Social 
Responsibility to the next level. Creating shared value compels members of the organization to find ways to build partnerships with as many members of the community as possible. Partners look after each other and each other's interests, and seek growth together. The relationship always strives to be mutualistic.

A specific example would be committing to assist the LGU in Tourism Planning. This is an activity that will result in greater benefit for the entire municipality. This requires a long-term outlook and commitment, to ensure that we become part of seeing the plans through, as opposed to a one-time charity event.

A Tourism Plan is all-encompassing, requiring inputs from many sectors and expertise.  As one of the country's leading real estate entities, we have access to a pool of talents from whom the LGU can draw. We are glad to be of help, as this taps into our core competency.

Your brand of stewardship raises the bar when it comes to environmental protection, what else are you doing to TKDC a leader on this aspect?

Good environmental practices make good business sense. We have proven this time and time again. We would like to share this with as many entities as possible to assure them that these best practices are scale-able and not a luxury that only large business entities can afford.

We are also happy to draw from years of experience to demonstrate how to this scale-ability works for different types of resorts and hotels.

We embrace our leadership role, and we do appreciate a lot of followers, but we look forward to the day when more leaders in sustainable tourism in the Philippines will rise and help us push for this across the country, 7107 islands, plus - plenty of potential for leadership.

What were the tough challenges you encountered and how you dealt with them?

Working with communities can be a challenge because some of them operate within a different development framework and timeline. 

Agreeing on standards could also be a challenge sometimes. But we benefit from an employment ratio that is 90% locals - every one of them is an ambassador to the barangays where they come from. So they can attest to the sincerity and seriousness with which we carry out our programs. 

What are the great rewards in teaching people about environmental protection?

No one has tested this recently but I can bet that El Nido has a high environmental awareness quotient. No matter how remote the barangay, children know about turtles and why their eggs should not be harvested. They also know why blast fishing is wrong. There are several other indicators that tell us our efforts have hit their target.

What do you think are the best things that happened to El Nido as a community over the lst 10 years?

I see the benefits of tourism spread more equitably. People are able to prepare their and their children's future with greater confidence because of improved economy. People have greater access to information, and the influx of people of different cultures enrich the locals in various ways.

I, however, am very much aware that tourism carries the seeds of its own destruction, that it is a double-edged sword. The natural environment has taken a hit with increase in population density and demand for building materials.

Would you like to be in the same job if you were to start all over again?
Without a doubt.
Bird’s nest haven

Old Palawenos still call El Nido, Bacuit, a name that evokes long, torturous travel (because it is located at the tip of the mainland) and edible Swift bird’s nests. The latter, when turned into a soup, gave aphrodisiacal experience to the Chinese who paid premium for them.

Before the Spanish came, Chinese boats flocked to this once sleepy village. Bird’s nest trading thus gave birth to a thriving town and was renamed El Nido (meaning Nest).

The town sits right at the foot of a menacing limestone mountain. Menacing, because it drops vertically to the sea, and its jagged edges seem to challenge only those with the fiercest of hearts.

Adding fear to the bystander are its greyish monotone hues with dark crevices in between. If you ask what lurks inside, the answer is they’re home to thousands and thousands of Swift birds that build their nests from their own saliva, a prized-catch for those who believe in its medicinal value.

The dome of the mountain is likewise scary, gothic-like with spikes protruding to the sky, not the usual mountaintop you see in the Philippines. They’re cragged, sharp stones that could pierce your body if you make a false move.

Unregulated hunting has diminished bird inhabitants of El Nido cliffs. On the verge of extinction, the collection is now banned - by virtue of “El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area” declaration, making it the largest marine sanctuary in entire Philippines, covering a total of 903.21 square kilometers.

El Nido was part of Taytay town before it became a first class municipality. The latter was previously a Spanish settlement, capital of the whole Calamianes island region and the entire Palawan mainland.

The other El Nido

Word of mouth has fanned El Nido’s reputation as mecca for the legendary edible bird’s nest. Until a stunning discovery that unraveled the town’s other beautiful secrets to the world - the 45 limestone islands that now compete for attention, sparkling gemstones in its tourism jewel box. Precious rocks that never fail to mesmerize thousands of visitors daily.

To enjoy El Nido’s real beauty, one must also look at them with a drone-like perspective. One must not just sit there and wait for its world-renowned beauty to reveal itself. 

When one explores, the experience is just as incredible as finding a rare stone.

Regulating visitors

Recently, the management board of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (ETMRPA) issued a statement that it will start imposing a limit of visitors to its environmentally sensitive islands. 

To avoid further deterioration, a “carrying capacity” policy will be implemented to regulate the number of visitors at any given day.

Tourist arrivals in El Nido increased by 30.70% in the last three years, according to the Municipal Tourism Office (MTO). The town registered 126,000 visitors last year.
Would we still see El Nido’s Swiftlets and Hornbills that were there many years ago? Would the town’s famed islands, seas and coastal areas be always free of garbage and plastic trash? Would its corals and beautiful lagoons continue to grow and be as astonishing as they were, and not suffer degradation? Will its forest not felled illegally?

With the town’s environmental culture and mindset, there is hope for planet Earth.

“You don’t just create a destination, you see the bigger picture,” Larilit said. 

She also mentioned that we are literally swimming against the tide of trash. 

“We consume so much and at some point in time, we will discard them. It is easy to trash and the potential to do it is at its all-time high, reaching a feverish pitch. Before we buy, we need to examine ourselves,” she said.

Beautiful planet

On our way to El Nido Cove Resort, accompanied Lio Estate Resort Senior Manager Ramil Lagrosa, we saw a few forest trees standing tall in the middle of the street that was apparently widened. They had caught everyone’s attention. “Why didn’t you cut them,” I asked. “Why should we? They were here ahead of us,” he said. Well said.

Lagrosa started his career as a waiter and bartender. He moved to Manila after seven years to gain more experience in resort management. In 2013, he was offered a Group F&B Manager position handling El Nido’s Pangulasian, Lagen, Miniloc, Apulit and El Nido Cove resorts.

In two years, he was promoted as the Resort Manager of Apulit Island Resort. On his 4th year, he was given the opportunity to become the Senior Resort Manager of all Lio Estate Resorts (Casa Kalaw, El Nido Cove, Balai Adlao and Hotel Covo).

Born and raised in Palawan, Lagrosa wants El Nido to become a world-renowned destination, known for its stewardship towards responsible and sustainable tourism. He is proud of the El Nido kind of service that he has helped become famous - personalized, impeccable and beyond guests’ expectations, the kind of service with a personal touch showing the local community’s remarkable nature, and making them feel ‘at home’ while on vacation.

Gemstone islands and resorts

Miniloc allows you to discover popular attractions around Bacuit Bay. It is the gateway to “Big” and “Small” Lagoons and Snake Island. Here, you can get up close and personal with a school of 1.5-meter jack fishes and an amazing variety of marine species.
Pangulasian has a pristine white beach amidst a tropical forest setting. You can frolic in its 750-meter stretch of white sand beach and be amazed by the marine sanctuary right at its doorstep. They say you get the most spectacular photos of sunrises and sunsets here.

Lagen is often referred to as El Nido’s eco-sanctuary island. It nestles between a lush four-hectare forest and a calm, shallow lagoon, ideal destination for those seeking a relaxing holiday in a private paradise.

Casa Kalaw features a 42 well-appointed guestrooms, each equipped with air-conditioning, hot and cold shower, wireless Internet, 42” cable television, coffee and tea making facilities, safety deposit box and bathroom amenities to ensure a delightful experience for everyone.

El Nido Cove Resort is a beachfront paradise that is also located in a forest, just 20-minute ride from Casa Kalaw. On our way here, I saw a squirrel darting off from the bush and crossing the street. A beautiful Mynah, perched on tree, also made my day.

Progress, as in any part of the world, cannot be stopped.
Islanders must police themselves against pollution and degradation of paradise. Tourists must be responsible. Developments in El Nido should blend with the natural landscape.

If they are master-planned to be ecologically sustainable and guided by the principles of sustainability, and with the least impact to the environment, El Nido will be forever called the World’s Best Island and make our planet Earth happy.