El Nido's tourist boom in the eyes of locals

Mar 13, 2018

How a chain of island resorts helped turn a fifth-class municipality into a world-renowned tourist destination

Ten Knots Development Corporation  sources buri bags and other products from women weavers in El Nido, providing them with an additional source of income. These items are part of the resorts' amenities, ensuring continuous demand. 

In 2017, readers of luxury and lifestyle travel magazine Condé Nast Traveler ranked Palawan's El Nido as the fourth most beautiful island beach in the world. While El Nido is home to nearly 50 white sand beaches set around majestic limestone formations, the island's locals used to know a different side to this paradise: a fifth class municipality without a hospital and sufficient power and water systems.

Most of the locals used to make a living through birds' nest gathering, fishing, and cashew farming, which were not enough for them to make ends meet. In 1992, the opening of Ten Knots Development Corporation (TKDC) created opportunities build on the skills and provide livelihood for the members of El Nido's communities. Now that El Nido is a first class municipality and a booming tourist destination, most residents are now part of the tourism supply chain that TKDC helped put in place.

TKDC operates resorts in El Nido's Miniloc, Lagen, and Pangulasian Islands. Another resort, the Apulit Island is located in Taytay in Northeastern Palawan. Collectively, the four resorts known as El Nido Resorts, have a presence in 14 out of 18 El Nido barangays and three barangays in Taytay.

The resorts promote environmental sustainability, engage local community members, and foster their personal and career growth, while being financially profitable. To hit all these targets, TKDC implements an Inclusive Business model that taps partners, suppliers, and employees from local communities. By engaging the members of these communities, improving the quality of life and providing livelihood opportunities become central to TKDC's business.

Skills-building, opportunities provided

Nearly 90 percent of TKDC's 341 employees come from local communities. To ensure that employees receive opportunities for promotion and that their skills remain relevant to the hospitality business, TKDC targets to provide 15,000 hours of training annually, a number that they always exceed.

One of the training programs they receive is the American Hospitality Association's Certified Gold Service Provider for improved customer service. The in-house Be GREEN program, which stands for Guard, Respect, Educate El Nido, trains the staff on managing ecological waste, conserving water, energy, and biodiversity, and upholding environmental laws.

TKDC also exerts effort to source inputs from local suppliers such as the Sibaltan Women Weavers' Association, a group that includes 60 women from El Nido's barangays. These women receive training on weaving buri bags and slippers. These items are constantly in demand as they are part of the resorts' amenities.

Even the local fisher folk find opportunities with El Nido Resorts. Danny Lopez, a seafood supplier for more than 25 years, would receive orders for as much as 50 kilos of crabs, 200 pieces of oysters, and 200 pieces of clams in a day. He was able to save up and buy a pump boat for faster deliveries. He said that becoming an El Nido Resorts' supplier has given him an opportunity to have a stable source of income.

Employees and locals are also trained on organic farming to help produce the meat and vegetables for the resorts' food and beverage requirements. Sixty percent of vegetables used in the resorts' kitchens are locally and organically produced, while 90 percent of livestock used in the resorts' kitchens are locally reared.

Increased resort occupancy has increased the demand for local produce. To meet this demand, TKDC's organic farm continuously seeks farmers and interns who can help grow more organic vegetables. A technical project called Capturing Coral Reef Ecosystem Service was also designed to forecast how fisheries and food security will be affected.

Investment priority

TKDC believes that its inclusive business model that hits the quadruple bottomline is worthy of replication across the country. This is because their business model is financially profitable and creative in the ways it engages communities, protects the environment, and upholds employees' welfare.

Inclusive Business models in the tourism sector are preferred investment activities priorities under the 2017-2019 Investment Priorities Plan (IPP). Under the IPP, inclusive business models in the tourism sector who integrate micro and small enterprises (MSEs) in their value chain may receive five-year tax holidays.

For a tourism enterprise to qualify for incentives, they should source at least 25 percent of total goods sold from MSEs. They should provide at least 25 direct jobs for individuals in select government databases such as DSWD Conditional Cash Transfer Graduates, Department of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, and the like. There should also be a 20 percent increase in the average income of individuals engaged from MSEs. All of these requirements should be met within three years of operations.

“We are encouraging the creation of inclusive business models in the tourism sector because of their capacity to generate employment in local communities. Aside from providing jobs, they can also engage the communities in ways such as promoting sustainability and engaging local suppliers," said Trade Undersecretary and Board of Investments Managing head Ceferino Rodolfo. “Given the tourism boom that we see in the country today, Inclusive Business gives local communities opportunities to benefit from this growth."