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Why the rich and famous frolic in El Nido

Franck Merot, the French manager of Pangulasian Island Resort in El Nido, Palawan, just smiles when asked if celebrities, including Hollywood actors, really visit the exotic island.  “We are like doctors,” he says. “We don’t say.”

Lagen Island Resort
Merot, who oversees the five-hectare resort with 42 deluxe villas, says they protect the identity of their guests, who are willing to spend $1,000 a night on the eco-luxury hideaway to relax and enjoy privacy on a paradise.

Merot recently met a group of journalists invited by the Tourism Department, represented by media and communications service officer-in-charge Evelyn Macayayong, to witness how El Nido promotes sustainable tourism.  Ten Knots Development Corp. director of sales Bambi Samson helped organize the itinerary for the scribes.

Pangulasian Island Resort is one of the four El Nido Resorts managed by Ten Knots Development Corp., now a unit of property developer Ayala Land Inc. Also known as Island of the Sun, Pangulasian has breathtaking views of both sunrise and sunset at Bacuit Bay and boasts of a 750-meter stretch of flawless white sand beach.

Bacuit Bay is a part of a vast marine sanctuary on a unique location in northern Palawan.  Protected from fishing vessels, poachers and mass tourists, it has become a playground for the rich and famous who desire a sense of exclusivity while frolicking in crystal clear waters, surrounded by the most wonderful background.

“Set amidst a unique exotic location, each resort offers exclusivity to its guests, which means one island, one resort,” says Samson.   “The resorts offer genuine local hospitality and facilities that cater to an individual’s holiday requirements.”

Pangulasian Island Resort is a member of the exclusive club of small luxury hotels of the world.  Overnight rates range from P30,500 for two at a one-room canopy villa with a floor area of 89 square meters, P34,500 at a beach villa and to as much as P37,000 at a pool villa.  An extra adult pays P4,500.

Miniloc Island’s Big Lagoon
Rates include roundtrip regular boat transfers to and from Lio airport in El Nido, breakfast at the Clubhouse restaurant and use of non-motorized water sports equipment such as hobie cat, windsurf and kayak. 

Most guests avail of an additional package of P2,500 a night, including lunch and dinner and standard resort-guided activities and tours of El Nido islands. All visitors to El Nido and Taytay, Palawan, above 11 years old, also pay a conservation fee of P200 per visit.

Posh resorts

Pangulasian Island Resort is not even the most expensive resort in the Philippines. Merot says  Pangulasian offers a different service than that of rival Amanpulo Resort, also in Palawan.  “Their price is at least two times our rate.  But in terms of service, we definitely work it out and with the feedback from guests who go there and here, some people would say our food is even better,” he says.  Pangulasian Island has Chef Rick Abasta preparing excellent menus for guests.

Merot, who came to the Philippines eight years ago, in pursuit of a girlfriend who eventually became one of the first female pilots in the country, saw the development of Pangulasian Island Resort in 2011.  He  previously worked for New Horizon Hotel in Mandaluyong City and Apulit Island Resort in Palawan, before joining Pangulasian Island Resort.

Merot was also captivated by the beauty of the islands and its people. “The sun has a big impact on the mood of the people here. I think it is also genetic,” says Merot whose wife is a Filipina.

Although he and the female pilot parted ways, Merot is now happily married and has a daughter.  His family lives in Ortigas, Mandaluyong City.

“El Nido properties are family-oriented.  It offers a category of service that others cannot give,” he says.  “Here, we can provide massage whenever you like.”

Marble cliffs

Franck Merot and Bambi Samson
Visitors to El Nido are treated to splendid colors and shape of nature, in the forms of towering marble cliffs, enchanting lagoons, white sandy beaches, lush forest and mangroves, interesting caves, spectacular marine biodiversity and glorious sunsets.

El Nido, a town at the northern tip of Palawan, is composed of 45 islands and islets and is a part of a marine sanctuary called El Nido-Taytay managed resource protected area.  El Nido Resorts, which aside from Pangulasian also include three other island resorts, are known for superb service and local hospitality.

“El Nido Resorts’ Miniloc Island, Lagen Island, Pangulasian Island and Apulit Island are set in the El Nido–Taytay marine protected area.  This setting speaks of the distinctive beauty of the place—its crystal clear waters, pristine beaches, karst limestone islands and the rich marine and wild life available for each visitor to explore and enjoy.   Hence, we operate with as little impact on the environment as we could, and even do our best to engage and educate the locals and the visitors of the El Nido and Taytay municipalities,” says Samson.

About half of guests at El Nido Resorts come from other countries.  “Our resorts cater to a wide range of tourists and a big percentage is travel for leisure such as honeymoon, family vacation and special interest such as diving, nature tour, soft adventure and water sports,” says Samson, who is in charge of promoting the posh destinations.

“We also have the incentive and wedding markets. On geographical setting, the local market plays a majority of 50 percent followed by Europe, Japan, Korea, the US, Australia and other Asian markets,” she says.

On the average, the El Nido Resorts have occupancy rate of up to 90 percent during peak season, but this goes down on lean months, the same trend observed in other island resorts in the Philippines.  The Coast Guard advises against traveling to the islands during a storm.

El Nido Resorts employ about 500 people who enjoy working in fabulous natural attractions and facilities.  “Employment is approximately 500 staff, including those under contract across all resorts, more than 80 percent of which are hired from the province of Palawan,” says Samson. 

Rich biodiversity

Bambi Samson and Chef Rick Abasta
With its picturesque islands and rich marine biodiversity, the protected area is home to over 900 fish species, more than 100 bird species and a great variety of marine invertebrates, mammals and reptiles.  Beyond sightseeing, El Nido Resorts offer low-impact activities that include swimming, snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking, windsurfing, island hopping and lagoons tour.

El Nido can be reached in an hour on board Island Transvoyager Inc., which uses a 50-seat ATR aircraft that has its own hangar and terminal in Pasay City.  From Lio airport, a 40-minute boat ride will take passengers to El Nido Resorts.  Lio airport is located four kilometers from El Nido town center, where smaller resorts offer cheaper rates than those in exclusive island resorts.

Mesmerized by the beauty of El Nido, Ayala Land is developing its biggest tourism project yet at Lio airport in Villa Libertade village.  Ayala Land and Ten Knots are set to build a 100-hectare sustainable eco-tourism estate that will include hotels and resorts, tourism and commercial establishments and residential communities with world-class amenities.

“Most of the developments are in the mainland, the Lio project, a 100- hectare resort community which is located on the northern part of El Nido airport,” says Samson.

Sustainable tourism

El Nido Resorts are already known globally.  In 2013, it bagged the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Tourism for Tomorrow Awards-Community Benefit Award for successfully balancing people, planet and profits. It received the Asean Green Hotel Standard in 2010, the Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Award in 2009 and the Sustainable Hotel Award – Sustainable Destination Category at the PATA Gold Award – Environmental Education Program in 2011.

It was also cited for embracing nature-based guest activities and sustainable menus and for providing environment education programs for staff and guests, and employment opportunities for the local community.  El Nido Resorts vies for “Asia’s Responsible Tourism Award” in the 2014 World Travel Awards-Asia.

“Because of our sustainable resort operations we made it a necessity to procure locally.  This brought about a wide range of livelihood available for the local communities of El Nido and Taytay, and even on nearby towns,” says Samson.

A bedroom at Pangulasian
Island Resort
“We purchase our meat and seafood from local suppliers.  El Nido Resorts also helped put up cooperatives and learning centers to teach livelihood programs, including resort skills such as F&B, housekeeping, spa/massage services, etc. for manpower pooling and employment opportunities for the locals,” she says. 

“We also teach skills in producing hand woven crafts to supply our resorts and hire ladies to serenade arrivals at El Nido airport. Local delicacies are also served at El Nido airport. We partnered with local farms to supply the required fruits and vegetables on regular periods and quantities. The boats for island hopping tours are serviced by local owners,” says Samson.

Samson says to promote responsible tourism, “we offer non-motorized marine sports equipment which complement a wide array of nature- based activities and tours from soft adventure such as snorkeling, trekking and island hopping  to extreme adventure  such as caving, scuba diving, rappelling, rock-climbing, kayaking, hobbie cat sailing and wind surfing as well as leisure activities such as beach sun-bathing/relaxation, massage, spa, nature walk, swimming,  picnic lunch, island dining and many others.”

“Ecological preservation is necessary to sustain not only our business, but the security of the jobs and the livelihood of the local communities within and the surrounding towns of El Nido and Taytay municipalities.  Through various campaigns, we have minimized illegal fishing activities, irresponsible docking of boats on reefs, maintained cleanliness of the ocean,   educated visitors of the environmental policies in the area, implemented the environmental fees for the preservation and management of the bay,” she says.

Aside from sustainable tourism, El Nido Resorts are known for providing an exclusive environment to guests who can afford the cost of best leisure.  While Pangulasian Island has the highest rates among El Nido Resorts, the other facilities are also in the luxury category, with rates starting at over $500 or more than P20,000 a night, easily eclipsing the rates for suites at the finest five-star hotels in Metro Manila.

Lagen Island, known for its lush four-hectare forest and a calm lagoon, offers a spectacular view of Bacuit Bay and the El Nido sunset.  The cottages and rooms were built, with the beautiful forest and limestone cliffs as the stunning background.  Lagen Island Resorts has 50 rooms and cottages and a conference room for up to 70 people.  It has a large swimming pool and its own charming lagoon fronting the Bacuit Bay.

Overnight rates for two range from P22,000 to P27,000 per room, with an additional charge of P3,500 per adult.  A water cottage, normally with a 53-square-meter size, offers free WiFi and  satellite TV.  The resort also offers a full package supplement of P2,500 a night, including lunch and dinner and standard resort-guided activities and tours.

Miniloc renovation

Miniloc Island Resorts, the first facility of Ten Knots, is now under a two-month renovation and is prepared for opening at the start of the peak season in October.  Miniloc is the most photographed island in El Nido, because of the big and small lagoons.

Samson says Miniloc Island’s garden rooms, pier and Clubhouse restaurant are currently being renovated.  “We chose the August- September season when occupancies are forecasted to be lean so we can go full blast on repairs needed by the rooms and facilities.  We need to ensure that come busy period, the resort is ready and the rooms and facilities are comfortable and enjoyable for the guests,” she says.

Miniloc Island Resorts has 51 cottages and rooms, where rates range from P22,000 to P28,000, plus P6,000 for an extra adult per night.  Rates include roundtrip regular boat transfers, full-board meals, use of snorkelling equipment, water sports equipment and standard resort guided tours.

Apulit Island, located in Taytay, Palawan, was recently acquired by Ten Knots from another resort operator.  From El Nido airport, guests need to take a 90-minute van ride to Taytay town and a 50-minute boat transfer to get to Apulit Island, which boasts of 50 cottages, where rates range from P20,000 to P21,500 per night, plus P5,500 per extra adult.

It is best to visit El Nido and Taytay during the dry season, as strong rains and winds impede boat trips and island exploration.

Other interesting spots in El Nido-Taytay area are Cadlao Island, Dibuluan Island, Dilumacad Island, Entalula Island, Paglugaban Island, Palawan mainland, Pinagbuyutan Island, Pinasil Island, Tapiutan Island, Vigan Island or Snake Island

Rewarding experience

Samson, who works in an office in Makati City but visits the island resorts frequently, describes her job as rewarding.  “Working for Ten Knots has both been purposeful and rewarding.  I have witnessed its growth and change of hands of owners, yet the respect for continuity of environmental preservation and community engagement has always been given utmost importance,” she says. 

“I take pride that El Nido Resorts is a Filipino brand and yet it has become known worldwide because of our resorts’ unique setting and operations, and through various awards and recognitions.   Sustainable tourism is more than just a business proposition. For us, it has become a lifestyle,” says Samson.

Although El Nido Resorts specifically targets the upscale tourism market, Ayala Land’s entry and investment plan is expected to bring more tourists to El Nido and help the Tourism Department achieve its target of drawing 10 million international visitors into the country, on top of 56 million domestic tourists, by 2016.

A local says all tourists should be given a chance to witness the beauty of El Nido, which has the power to motivate people to cherish and protect God’s wonderful creations. rtd

Topics: El Nido , Palawan , exclusive resorts
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