A Blueprint for Sustainable Tourism in SE Asia

Kiripost visited the island of Bohol in the Philippines for the launch of a multi-purpose project that aims to become a role model for the future of sustainable tourism development across Southeast Asia
Panglao Shores masterplan. Kiripost/supplied
Panglao Shores masterplan. Kiripost/supplied

Bohol, the Philippines - “When we started this project, the international airport was coming and we said that will change Bohol. It will change it for the good, it will change it for the bad. We’ll see mass tourism and perhaps what happened in Boracay,” said Hope Uy at the launch of Panglao Shores, a mixed-use development on the Philippine island of Bohol.

“Projects like this hopefully set a better tone and show other developers what can be done. We’re a family business who are building this for future generations. We’re taking a long-term view,” added the 35-year-old CEO of Panglao Shores, a 10-year development that aims to reshape the future of tourism in Bohol and beyond, as she unveiled her grand vision for the 50-hectare site.

Perched on the startling white shores of Panglao, a small island connected to Bohol – the Philippines’ 10th largest island, the 25 billion pesos ($545 million) development aims to position the island as the Philippines’ go-to destination, with sustainability, local culture and the community sitting at its heart.

Hope Uy at the press launch of Panglao Shores. Kiripost/supplied
Hope Uy at the press launch of Panglao Shores. Kiripost/supplied

“These are three key factors that all developers should be considering from day one if we are to create a sustainable tourism industry into the future,” Hope added, as she explained how these elements have proven integral to planning what is slated to become Bohol’s first and largest township.

Panglao Shores will feature a minimum of three hotels, with at least 1,000 keys, along a one-kilometre stretch of white sands; 37,000m² of indoor and outdoor retail and commercial areas; 1,000 condominium and residential units; green areas and medical facilities. Hopes are also high it will serve as a blueprint for future sustainable tourism development across Southeast Asia.

Planting the seeds

Born and bred in Bohol, Hope recalled her parents taking her and her siblings to a “beautiful beach” in Panglao. “It’s always been in our family,” she said. “The white sands and palm trees; it was a beautiful family experience.”

A decade ago an opportunity arose to redevelop a beachfront property on the beach the family frequented. The Uy family-founded Alturas Group, a conglomerate of businesses with a portfolio in the agriculture, aquaculture, and manufacturing industries, snapped it up and started their venture into hospitality, transforming the property into the current South Palms Resort.

“After we redeveloped South Palms, we thought, “What’s next?”. We travelled to see what the opportunities were in Bali, Phuket, Boracay and Cebu, but all the while what we actually wanted was right here in front of us in Bohol,” Hope said.

“Five years ago, we started planning what would be our next Bohol development for this island. We looked at what our core is. We’re a family-run business with family values instilled in our hearts, alongside the culture of Bohol. That is what is at the heart of the Panglao Shores development.”

Keeping it sustainable

“The development from the start was built on the principle that this is a project that will last generations, so it needs to be sustainable and planned with a long-term vision,” said project consultant Bill Barnett, managing director of C9 Hotelworks.

From day one, the project has engaged with sustainability experts to ensure minimum impact on its surroundings, while serving as a sustainable addition to the island. “This is much better than other projects that work backwards and say, “how can we save energy later on?”,” Bill said, adding elements such as solar, natural ventilation and Filipina vernacular design, have been integral features from the start.

“Considering energy from the beginning makes sense for all developers from an economic standpoint. One of the top costs in hotels is energy, so we’re looking at energy saving measures that are integrated into the project in a meticulous way. We’re looking at how to conserve energy and not suck it all up here and leave nothing for the local community,” he said.

Having a solid water management strategy in place is also key, with a one-hectare area that collects rainwater set to supply the development. In addition, water drainage measures need to be considered to protect the precious coral reefs that Bohol is famed for.

“There is a coral reef issue in the Philippines that comes from large water drainage problems, often caused by deforestation,” Bill said. “A water strategy needs to look at drainage into the ocean that creates damage to coral reefs. Design efficiency is essential for projects like this.”

The planned retail space and town square at Panglao Shores. Kiripost/supplied
The planned retail space and town square at Panglao Shores. Kiripost/supplied

A blueprint for future tourism development

While coming up with the concept for Panglao Shores, developers drafted a set of building and design guidelines that lay out the foundations for sustainable development. It is hoped that these will provide the blueprint for future tourism projects, not only on Bohol but across Southeast Asia.

“We want other projects and developments to follow these guidelines that take into consideration building restrictions, as well as the local community,” Hope said, adding Panglao Shores strives to be a “perfect neighbour” that develops rather than destroys the island.

In line with this, the development will be low-rise and low-density, with the highest beachfront building sitting at four storeys tall. While the developers are seeking international investors, the strict guidelines put in place will control what is given the green light.

“We don’t want 20-storey buildings. People want to look at the beachfront, it’s the jewel of Panglao Shores. We understand density. We look at the loading capacity and how many people can live in this kind of community,” said Bill.

“Our guidelines take care of the natural environment, they take care of the ocean, they take care of the land, they take care of the people,” Hope added.

Creating a community & keeping it local

“Tourism today isn’t just talking about visiting a destination, it’s about engaging with the community. Today, creating residential areas isn’t just about creating a place to live, it’s about creating a lifestyle. That’s what makes Panglao Shores different,” said Bill.

With this in mind, a town square forms the beating heart of the project. Centred around retail space, this will be a hub of activity, hosting festivals, markets, community events, live performances and other activities - all celebrating local culture and heritage.

“Boholanos love fiestas, so it’s inspired by our rich fiesta and hospitality culture, and will give a taste of that to visitors and residents alike,” Hope added.

Creating a sense of place is also essential in modern developments. “So many projects have no sense of place. They could be in Dubai, Thailand or America. Today with hotels, we need to add a sense of place. Having that sense of place and connection to the land and everything else is so important. Not everything has to be new,” Bill said.

This includes incorporating natural elements into the design. The developers discovered the site sits on limestone, so will use it in construction. Three years have already been spent scouring the island for reclaimed wood from unused buildings and other structures. This will also be woven into the development’s design.

The beachfront where Panglao Shores is slated to be developed. Kiripost/Marissa Carruthers
The beachfront where Panglao Shores is slated to be developed. Kiripost/Marissa Carruthers

For example, the first phase of the project will see each of the new South Palms Resort’s 188 rooms kitted out with fixtures carved from the reclaimed wood. The resort is slated to open in Q1 2024. “There will be a piece of Bohol’s history in every single room,” Bill said. “The idea is to use local materials as much as possible, so we’re not importing things from China, or even Manila.”

The development’s design elements also celebrate Bohol’s rich agricultural history – with a hefty percentage of its produce planned to be supplied by nearby South Farm to further cut down on its carbon footprint. The island’s talented artisans will also be recruited to add a true taste of Bohol heritage to the décor.

A total of 100 percent of the development’s flora will also be Bohol-sourced plants. “We can immediately eliminate any carbon footprint from shipping plants to Bohol. We have a beautiful landscape here, let’s use that. If you use native species, they don’t need more water or more resources to maintain,” Bill advised.

“The development is talking about nature, using the culture and history of Bohol to create a sense of place, the community and sustainability. Moving forward, these are all elements that are essential to design.”