Bejewelled retreats

Palawan is seeing a spike in corporate interest for incentives and teambuilding as international borders have opened, and its coveted destinations are ready to get back to business. By Rosa Ocampo

Palawan hardly needs any introduction – it regularly picks up global accolades for its incomparable natural beauty and rich biodiversity.

Its three most-coveted destinations – the city of Puerto Princesa and the towns of El Nido and Coron – have varied offerings further boosted by the reopening of Philippine international borders and full capacity operations for business event venues since February this year.

Puerto Princesa, which is also Palawan’s capital city, is still the leader for business events. Its edge, according to Arfel Travel and Tours president, Fe Abling-Yu, is its airport that can handle bigger aircraft like the A321, while the city also has hotels with facilities for medium-sized events.

landscape makes it ideal for adventure-led teambuilding activities

Abling-Yu said that while there are frequent commercial flights to and from Coron, its short runway cannot accommodate large aircraft. A mountainous area, Internet signal and connectivity can pose a challenge at times. But as Coron aspires to capture more events, it has a growing number of new accommodation and the latest, TAG Resort, has event facilities for up to 500 pax.

Bustling El Nido has been expanding its cache of hotels but its slim airstrip can only accommodate small turboprops. For now, only Airswift flies to El Nido from Manila, Abling-Yu pointed out.

However, El Nido has a number of accommodation and at Lio Tourism Estate, a sustainable, low impact lifestyle destination, there are six quaint hotels of various categories to choose from.

If implemented, the proposal to develop the province’s second airport – in Taytay in north Palawan less than two hours’ drive from El Nido – will certainly enable the province to attract more passengers and host bigger corporate groups.

Taytay and Culion are being eyed for further tourism developments, as are various areas within the province that are still undiscovered by tourists, in what is known as the Philippines’ Last Frontier.

The town of San Vicente, known for its long stretch of pristine white sand beaches, was touted to be the next destination after El Nido but interest in its development was hindered by the pandemic.

What Palawan lacks in big airport is somehow compensated for by the variety it offers in terms of hotels and resorts, tours and activities, and logistics for bleisure.

For now, corporate groups are starting to find their way back to Palawan, after two years of lockdown. For instance, at the WTTC 21st Global Summit in Manila last April, El Nido and Boracay were the most popular sites for post tours.

According to Bernadette de Leon, owner of Amiable Intertours, Palawan can be a promising events destination as it has the facilities and logistics for such gatherings.

Since domestic and international borders reopened in February, de Leon observed an increase in fam trip invitations for the travel trade to see and experience new hotels and resorts that have sprouted in Palawan in recent years, indicating the destination’s readiness to host business events again.

Indeed, while Palawan is home to luxurious resorts such as Amanpulo and Pangulasian Island, it raises the bar with posh island retreats so exclusive that they can only be reached by chartered and private aircraft.

Curiously, there’s a scarcity of international hotel brands in Palawan. However, homegrown brands, with their architecture and service, are able to hold a candle to their foreign counterparts.

Palawan also offers more variety in tours and activities, being the only province in the Philippines that boasts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the 8.2km Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park and the 97,030-hectare Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Both are coveted for teambuilding adventures.

Kayangan Lake in Coron island is famed for its crystal-clear waters, and is loved by photographers

The province is also the getaway paradise with endless white beaches, secluded islands, coves and lagoons, breathtaking panorama of tall limestone cliffs rising above turquoise waters, unhurried life in fishing and agricultural villages, and exotic and endangered wildlife at the Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary.

Variety is the spice for business events in Palawan, yet new tours and activities are continuously popping up, said eco-tour operator Al Linsangan III, particularly in the Calamian Islands which includes Coron.

Linsangan listed some of them: expeditions, eco-tours, land-based and marine-based adventures, tribal community immersion, gastronomy, urban agriculture specifically in Coron, and many more.
With most of Palawan still untouched and has not yet succumbed to mass tourism, the five-year Sustainable Tourism Development Plan launched in 2020 is out to make tourism in Coron and El Nido sustainable and inclusive.

This focus on sustainability leads the national tourism board to market Palawan for Inspiring Incentives, with emphasis on programmes and activities on sustainable tourism efforts, CSR, nonexploitative rather than staged activities, and slow food and slow travel concepts.

While Palawan undoubtedly has huge tourism potential, it should also prioritise its airport infrastructure if it were to optimise its business events potential.

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