PALAWAN, Philippines -- While many of the country's island destinations continue to struggle to adapt to modern sustainable operations, one of El Nido's oldest luxury island resorts is decades ahead in the industry. More than 30 years, in fact.
Since Miniloc Island Resort opened in 1982, it was already touted as an eco-tourism destination with the original owners aiming to protect the natural beauty of the island and its surroundings. The resort proved that sustainable tourism can be achieved during a time when the concept was unheard of.
The resort is famous for its exclusivity and beauty. The island's house reef is a natural wonder, brimming with marine life like huge jack fish, colorful corals, giant clams, and even a resident school of fish of bigeye scad.
The island itself is also a beauty. Aside from being home to Palawan's wildlife like long-tailed macaque, water monitor lizards, and various species of birds, the island is also the site of two of El Nido's most famous spots — the Big and Small Lagoons.
That said, there's really a lot to protect.
Today, the resort continues to uphold its promise to operate sustainably. Recently, it removed all single-use plastic in its operations like drinking straws and water bottles. Instead, its food and beverage (F&B) department uses paper straws and utilizes refillable water bottles in rooms. Guests are encouraged to use reusable water bottles, which they can refill at the resort at anytime.
The filtered drinking water comes from El Nido Resorts' own desalination plant. Miniloc Island Resort has its own sewage water treatment plant as well. The treated water is used in its toilet facilities.
“For garbage, we have a materials recovery facility on a separate island. When you go there it's like a shopping center for trash because it's really segregated. There's a composting area there as well,” explained El Nido Resorts sales and marketing director Joey Bernardino.
The resort group is very conscious of their operations up to the minute details. Even corporate giveaways need to be in line with their green efforts. The group even has biologist Mariglo Laririt to head its sustainability programs. Every resort has its own environmental officers to keep everything in check.
“Ever since, these practices are in place. That's why we're very strict. Everything we do it should relate to what we practice here. Our giveaways for Christmas like calendars are printed on recycled paper. We correlate everything to what we do. We always make sure the measure of sustainability is practiced throughout the company,” he said.
But the resort is not totally carbon neutral because it still uses fuel-powered generator sets to power the resort. They have installed solar panels but these are not enough to fulfill all of the resort's energy needs.
FARM TO RESORT
Sourcing food ingredients can be difficult for an island resort. That is why in 2006, the resort group decided to put up its own farm in the Palawan mainland.
Inigtan Farm is a five-hectare property that supplies most of the vegetable needs of El Nido Resorts.
Miniloc is one of four island resorts of the group in El Nido. They also operate Lagen, Pangalusian, and Apulit, as well as three hotels in Lio Beach (also in El Nido) and Sicogon Island Resort in Iloilo. El Nido Resorts is under Ayala Land Inc.
The farm mainly grows salad greens like lettuce and arugula, and other vegetables like tomato, cucumber, chili peppers, and a lot more. They can grow all these even if farming is a challenge in Palawan in general.
Before, resorts and hotels in El Nido had to source vegetables from Manila, which was not ideal because the vegetables' quality deteriorates during transport. Having a farm in the mainland assures fresh vegetables every time.
“Here in Palawan, the soil is clay so it's soft when it rains and really hard during summer; that is why there's not a lot of vegetables here. We need to amend the soil by adding organic materials like rice hull to loosen the soil and compost. We don't use commercial fertilizer and pesticide,” explaned Inigtan Farm manager Henry Gonzales.
The kitchen waste the resorts produce gets composted then delivered to the farm to be used as fertilizer. The farm has also partnered with the Department of Agriculture (DA) to teach local farmers how to farm the natural way without using commercial fertilizers and pesticides. They are doing this so the resorts also have other sources of produce.
The farm also has livestock like chicken and pigs. The resorts import beef and also source Kitayama beef from Bukidnon. The seafood, meanwhile, are sourced from local fishermen that employ sustainable practices.
“This is really something we want to advocate, farmers come and see us. Right now we have a partnership with DA and 25 farmers or operators. We want to exorcise their dependence on pesticide. First, their margins fall and second, it's really poison. If we're talking about buying from them, we need to make sure that the quality will match our standards. We partnered with a local university and this place is open to anyone who wants to learn and they've come. But we want to know if they've put it to practice. This thing takes a lot of patience,” Laririt said.
Last year, the resort closed for six months (from July to December) for a full renovation. The resort is 36 years old and it was its first major makeover.
The result is a brighter and more modern resort. The outer shell of the cottages, villas, and rooms features a horizontal wood cladding design painted white. The resort also retained the thatched cogon roofing design in keeping with the rustic theme of the resort.
“The reason why we did a full renovation is so that the resort would have a cohesive look, similar to Lagen and Pangulasian. Before, it was mix and match but now we made it more cohesive, it's brighter and more uniformed look. It's an old property so the bathrooms were small and ceiling was low. We had to adjust those and add more square meters to the bathrooms,” Bernardino said.
The white walls continue inside the rooms and offer a stark contrast to the dark hardwood floors. All the furniture is new but still follows the rustic design, a combination of light colored wood and native weave design.
Miniloc Island Resort also retained the number of rooms to maintain the exclusivity. The 51 rooms are divided into several categories including the bestselling Water Cottages, Beachside Cottages, Garden Cottages, Cliff Cottages, Seaview Rooms (loft type), and Deluxe Seaview Rooms.
It has the Clubhouse, which is the only dining outlet of the resort, a beach bar, gym, dive center, and spa.
But one of its newest features is the pool. The resort didn't have a pool before but now it has a beautiful infinity pool that looks out to the sea.