El Nido’s one of my favorite things to write about because it’s one of my favorite places on Earth. So when I was approached by the wonderful editors of Mantle Magazine (oh hai friends Rej and Dante) to write about the El Nido experience, I quickly accepted. The catch? I had to write about El Nido’s development as a tourism destination.
Writing this was both easy and heartbreaking. Easy because it’s a topic I know well and once I got the outline and supporting statistics figured out, I hammered out the thing in two days. Heartbreaking because I had to put my experience to paper (err, keyboard?) and describe both the good and the bad that comes from increased tourism to a place that isn’t ready for it.
Tourism is often trotted out as the solution for funding protected areas, but that’s a simplistic answer. A destination can go after fewer but higher spending tourists, but that means only the rich get to experience the personal growth and satisfaction that comes from traveling and learning. But lower the price too much and you overwhelm the destination with an unsustainable number of visitors. How do we ensure that the local community benefits from increased tourism? How do we ensure that the proper infrastructure is in place? In short, how do we ensure visitor satisfaction and safety while protecting the environment that they came here to see?
There are no easy answers, but answering it needs the cooperation of the local government, community, businesses, and the tourists themselves.
I finally returned to El Nido, Palawan last June 2018 after three years away. The last time I was there was back in 2015 when I helped train DENR personnel in coral reef monitoring methods. At least this time, I was back for a vacation with the husband and some of our friends ❤️
I’d like to credit AirSwift’s New Year’s Day sale as the reason we were able to afford to fly directly into El Nido. Yes, the sale started at 12:00 midnight on January 1, 2018. Thank you also to our hosts, Patrick and Cindy, for understanding why I brought a laptop to their NYE party.
In all honesty, it’s taken this long to write about the El Nido trip because I wasn’t sure what to write. Coming back after practically living there for six years then being MIA since 2015 meant that I watched El Nido change through a screen, with my Facebook feed filled with posts from friends who had grown up there and friends who decided to move there. I watched El Nido turn into a crowded tourist destination, with all the good and ilk that comes with it. It was conflicting to see friends proudly start their own businesses alongside seeing the trash and pollution piling up in an unprepared town. I wasn’t sure how I felt then, and I’m not sure how I feel now. Continue reading “El Nido, after all this time”
“The City That Never Sleeps” certainly showcased why it got its nickname in the scant few days that I was in New York City for work. For three nights (I don’t count the first one because I arrived at my hostel at 9pm, dead-tired from a trans-Pacific flight), I returned to my hostel past 9pm because there was always something to see, even at the late hour.
First night: outside Grand Central Terminal, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral
We started walking from Instituto Cervantes on E 40th St towards Times Square (where a co-delegate was meeting his aunt) on W 46th St, but with a slight detour to pass by Grand Central Station on E 42nd St. It sounded near enough in my head, forgetting to take into account the width of NYC’s blocks.
Before I start, please note that allocating only one day to see Manhattan is absolutely ridiculous. There’s just so much to see and do that you can easily spend three days or more just in Manhattan, not to mention the rest of New York City. However, I was in NYC for work and had only one free day between meetings and had no way to extend my stay, so making the most of that one full day was imperative.
Part of what made this itinerary work was basing out of Manhattan already. I stayed in the Vanderbilt YMCAand had a mostly good experience, except for a major grievance that resulted from Front Desk not talking to Security. I started this itinerary at 9 am, but I would have had to start it much earlier if I weren’t in Manhattan already.
I passed St. Patrick’s at night on my 2nd day and took photos (of course), but it’s still something else to see it in the daytime. The architecture just amazed me. It felt weird to take photos inside the church but the staff said it was okay. Still only took a few though. Also managed to squeeze in some quiet time.
Tourism is the biggest industry in the world, providing 10% of global GDP and 1 out of 10 jobs in 2016. It’s also big on GHG emissions, producing 5% of global GHG. Considering that tourism contributed 8.6% of the Philippines’ GDP in 2016 AND the Philippines is one of the countries most affected by climate change,WWF-Philippines’ Green Wanderer travel fair held last August 11-13, 2017 at Bonifacio High Street Central Square Mall couldn’t have come at a better time. And yes, this also means that this blog post is very, very late.
I attended the second day specifically for the Sustainability Forum (yes, I woke up at 7am on a Saturday) and the talk by Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort . The panelists for the Sustainability Forum were Joel Palma (WWF-Philippines President and CEO), Josephine Alcantara-Cruz (mayor of Donsol, Sorsogon), Anton Diaz (founder of the travel blog Our Awesome Planet), Deanne Bibat (Executive Producer of the travel show Biyahe ni Drew), and Alexa Cancio and Nikki Huang (WWF-Philippines National Youth Council members).
My favorite part of the forum was Mayor Jo sharing Donsol’s keys to success. During his presentation, Joel Palma said that for sustainable tourism to succeed, it needs visitor satisfaction (no one’s going to come back or recommend it to their friends if they aren’t happy with it), environmental protection (no protection means you’ll lose what tourists come to see in the first place), and benefits to the community. This was seen in Donsol, as Mayor Jo credits their success to their whale shark ecotourism being Community-Based, Legislation, Environmental-friendliness, the Adaptability of the community, and iNnovation (CLEAN). In Donsol, the community receives 85% of the tourism revenue. The definition of “ecotourism stakeholders” was also expanded to include transportation companies and businesses, not just the boat operators, tour guides, and hotels. Legislation means that everything is controlled and institutionalized. In the worlds of Mayor Jo, the LGU is the “taga-puna” (the critic) and “taga-puno” (the one who fills [needs]). Any new tours or activities in Donsol are screened to ensure that they don’t harm the environment. The community was also able to adapt to tourism as an alternative livelihood, with assistance from WW-Philippines. And lastly, innovation means that they never stop learning.
As for the challenges that Donsol faces, Mayor Jo mentioned three: nature, politics, and culture. Whale sharks are migratory so they’re only in Donsol for six months of the year [me: that means they need to develop another product for the off-season]. Politics also factors in because projects implemented by the current administration aren’t always continued by the succeeding administration. As for culture, Donsol is fighting hard to maintain its culture despite the influx of foreign visitors. An example of this is the increasing demand for nightlife spots, but the LGU has consistently shot down those requests in order to keep the town quiet at night.
Anton Diaz shared some tips on how to be a sustainable traveler. Did you know that Oslob, Cebu (where whale sharks are fed) has 10x the tourism income as Donsol? THAT SUCKS. As for why that sucks, let me enumerate everything that’s wrong with Oslob’s model:
During the Q&A, Mayor Jo was asked what she would change about Oslob should she become mayor there. Her response? She’d change how tourists interact with the whale sharks. Bravo Ma’am!
Anton Diaz shared his tips on how to become a sustainable traveler. They were:
Support social enterprises.
Book sustainable accommodations.
Patronize products from the community.
Experience sustainable adventures.
Choose stand-up paddle tours.
Use electric tricycles.
Eat in local places.
Explore cultural heritage sites.
Fight against animal abuse.
While this list is a good starting point, I feel like it lacks context in some parts. Things are not black and white.
Small businesses and social enterprises are not necessarily sustainable in the same way that big businesses are not inherently unsustainable. A large resort with its own sewage treatment plant is more environmentally responsible than a dozen mom-and-pop inns that discharge their sewage straight into the ocean. A restaurant chain with a firm and fully implemented “no sharks’ fin” policy is more sustainable than a social enterprise that makes sharks fin dumplings.
While vehicles are the largest source of air pollution in the Philippines, using electric tricycles would only contribute towards decreasing pollution if they were charged using renewable energy sources, like solar, wind, and geothermal. If they’re powered using coal, you’re just moving the pollutants from the road to the power plant. Burning coal to produce electricity also produces more CO2 compared to just burning gasoline directly.
As with all things sustainability, one should look at the whole picture and not just one angle.
I was supposed to stay until the afternoon for the talk by Daluyon Resort but since I was lucky enough to get a mini one-on-one interview with Kim, the Marketing Head of Daluyon at their booth, I decided to skip it.
I haven’t been to Daluyon but what Kim showed me was impressive. They’ve invested in an MRF, solar power (not all of their rooms have them, though), an organic vegetable farm, and bicycles available for guests to use. They also offer a bike loan program to the staff, where staffers can avail of an interest-free loan for one year to buy a bike for commuting to work. They’ve also made an effort to promote eco-friendly tours, such as a mangrove tours and nature hikes. Though since I haven’t been there, I don’t know how good their guides are.
Out of all the things that Kim said and promoted about Daluyon, what stood out for me was what she didn’t say: education. Daluyon doesn’t seem to have an environmental education program in place for their guests or staff, which is both a shame and a tremendous opportunity for improvement.
Spent the next two hours looking around the exhibitor booths. I really liked the exhibitor mix, which were mostly homegrown companies offering organic vegetables and sustainable seafood. Of special interest to me was Balangay’s Best.
My biggest disappointment and chief complaint is about the severe lack of actual sustainable travel companies advertising at the fair. The only companies there were El Nido Resorts, Daluyon, and Circle Hostel – places that are already known to practice sustainable tourism.
The travel fair was supposed to introduce me to sustainable tourism companies that I didn’t know of yet.If there were no others to be had in the Philippines, I expected the travel agencies there (who banded together under the Philippine Tour Operators Association, Inc. (PHILTOA)) to suggest options abroad.
Unfortunately, the agents there were unable to recommend anything. They couldn’t assure me that any of the hotels or tours they were offering were handled by responsible companies. If they couldn’t do that, then what was the point of them being there? A travel agency is supposed to cater to what the event is about. If it’s a country-specific event, then you offer tours to that country. If it’s a sustainable tourism event, then you should be offering sustainable accommodations and activities! This fiasco just underscored how much work there is left to do.
Another thing I noticed: all of those who attended Green Wanderer looked well-off. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of the venue (a high-end mall like Central Square) or a reflection of the demographic interested in sustainable travel. If it’s the latter, then we have even MORE work left to do. Sustainable travel should be accessible to everybody, not just those with big bank accounts.
All in all, Green Wanderer was a decent event. My favorite really was the talk by the mayor of Donsol. Still sad I missed the talk by former boss Mariglo Laririt about El Nido Resorts (why was it on Friday?! huhu). Selection of exhibitors could have been better. Since it was supposed to promote sustainable travel, I expected exhibitors to sell items that make sustainable travel possible, like Patagonia and their jackets made from recycled PET bottles and Nalgene and their tough refillable water bottles (no to disposable plastic bottles!). I’m hoping that Green Wanderer will become a regular event with more success stories from the front lines.
We woke up slightly early so we could hike down to the the Kīlauea Iki Crater lava lake before we left for Mauna Kea but it turned out to be a drizzly, windy, AND foggy morning so that plan was canceled real quick.
We did manage to take a few photos of the endangered nene (pronounced “nay-nay”, YES like the song and YES my friends made a ton of corny jokes ) that was hanging out in front of Volcano House.
After that, we went back to Holoholo In to pack our bags and head to Mauna Kea via the long way AKA a scenic drive along the coast. We wanted to get to Mauna Kea just before sunset so the long way, with the postcard-perfect views and casual driving, was perfect.
One last full day, a huge city, and a ton of places to go to.
I organized my Honolulu city tour around three things: the Bishop Museum, food, and Hawaii Five-0. Although I really wanted to dedicate a day to each of these things – the most popular unofficial Five-0 tour takes you to McGarrett’s house AND gives you the opportunity to possibly meet some of the actors if they’re available (past attendees have met Chi McBride (Lou Grover) and Dennis Chun (Sgt. Duke Lukela)) – I didn’t have that luxury 🙁 Next time!
First stop of the day: Wailana Coffee Shop and their macadamia nut pancakes. Wailana was just down the street from the Ilikai Hotel so it was the perfect spot to have breakfast and start the day. McGarrett was right: they do serve the best pancakes. They’re so soft and fluffy!
Second stop of the day: Liliha Bakery. As I mentioned in great detail in a previous post, I mistakenly thought that the Kuakini St. branch would be closed on a Sunday so I ended up at the much-farther-away Nimitz Branch instead. I (somewhat) didn’t mind because hot damn, Liliha Bakery makes amazing coco puffs. Really. These pastry puffs, with their chocolate cream filling and chantilly cream frosting, are my favorite food from Hawaii, which is saying something since I’m picky with pastries and I loved poke too. I bought a box of six pieces (four coco puffs and two cream puffs, about $4 each), ostensibly to share with my friends, but the puffs were so good that I could have eaten them all by myself.