Summer 2019: Sustainable tourism guides development of El Nido estate

Shiela Reyes, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 21 2019 05:02 PM | Updated as of Apr 21 2019 05:11 PM

EL NIDO, Palawan – El Nido in Palawan has been recognized as one of the rising top destinations in the world.
Blessed with natural wonders, from powdery white beaches to stunning limestone cliffs, the island has consistently been one of the top getaway choices not just among locals but also international tourists.
In fact, tourist arrivals in El Nido last year reached 300,000.
To prevent a similar scenario that happened in Boracay that led to its six-month shutdown last year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has already expressed its plan to also rehabilitate El Nido.
But even before that, Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) has already been ahead in ensuring sustainable tourism in the popular destination. This is in line with the ultimate goal of the government agency.

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Lio Beach sign at El Nido. Handout

In developing the Lio Tourism Estate, the Ayala-led company was guided by “principles of sustainability and inclusive growth ensuring least impact to the environment while benefiting the local community.”
ABS-CBN News and other journalists got the chance to talk to Brett Hickey, the general manager of Seda Lio Resort which is the biggest and latest ALI development in the large-scale tourism estate.
He enthusiastically talked about the brand’s efforts in preserving the paradise and its sustainability designs.
“The board of directors have this real sense of what they want to accomplish, and unlike working for other large multinationals, these people really walk the talk. They really want to make the world a better place,” he said.
Hickey said it is important for them in Seda to integrate itself into the site’s natural features and do minimal changes as much as possible.

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Seda Lio’s infinity pool with beach view. Handout

“When we built this resort, it was difficult seeing the ocean. So I said what do we do? We got to start trimming the trees but we can’t take the trees out. I think nine out of 10 other companies that’s going to come in, they are just going to bulldoze the trees down and make way for the view. We don’t. We kept every single tree we could… We spent a lot of time climbing up the ladders, cutting down branches but all the trees are still standing,” he said.
ALI’s intention was for tourists to feel that they are still flying into nature. But achieving this did not come easily as there were challenges it encountered along the way.
“You have to be able to realize that the shortest route and the easiest route is not necessarily the best route. It’s difficult to build a sewage treatment plant onsite and get the proper approvals from the DENR. That’s difficult. What’s the easy route that everyone else does through town is they build secret pipes to go and drain to the ocean,” he said.

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Seda Lio beach view. Handout

In addition, they had to instill a culture of sustainability among their employees, contractors, merchants as well as the local community through holding “Be GREEN (Guard, Respect, Educate El Nido)” trainings.
“All of a sudden, you build this beautiful, environmental resort. Now you’re opening up to the public coming from all different countries globally with all different awareness to the environment. Different people.
“You want to be able to provide this type of retreat without cramming the environment down people’s throat that aren’t necessarily aware of it because they never grew up with that either. So you’re trying to piece a large market of people with varying degrees of ideas, philosophies and education about the environment,” he explained.
Also part of the brand’s sustainability efforts in Lio is they encourage merchants to source locally farmed products for whatever they would include in their menu.

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Seda Lio’s Misto restaurant. Handout

They also employ locals with 80% of Seda’s workforce coming from El Nido town.
“I think [we want to] enrich the lives of the local people, giving them options, just enriching their life and giving them more opportunity that what they have had before,” Hickey said.
Aside from Seda resort, Lio also houses three other environment-friendly hotels such as Casa Kalaw with 42 rooms and Balai Adlao and Covo, both with 20 rooms each.
With its green advocacy, Lio Tourism Estate was awarded a spot just last March in the prestigious “Sustainable Destinations Top 100” list at the ITB Berlin, the world’s largest tourism trade fair. It cited the estate’s “overall sustainability and its success in destination management.”