A 90-minute flight south of Manila in Bohol province, Panglao Island has long been a getaway known for its pristine diving sites and laid back vibe, a relaxing alternative to nearby Cebu and other high-profile beach destinations like Boracay and Palawan.
While Panglao lays plans to attract more visitors, the island also wants to preserve its low-impact way of life.
The island’s green gateway
Bohol-Panglao International Airport bills itself as the Philippines' first eco-airport and as the “green gateway” to the province. Opened in 2018, it derives a third of its electrical needs from solar panels, while natural ventilation means significant reductions in air conditioning.
The building also makes use of sophisticated water and waste management systems.
With a 2,500m runway (due to be extended to 2800m to accommodate larger planes), the airport welcomed 357,000 tourists in 2022, according to the Bohol Provincial Tourism Office. The office expects that number to double to 700,000 in 2023, in an airport that has a total capacity of two million passengers a year.
Most of those arrivals are domestic and will remain so. There are just two daily flights from Seoul currently on the books. Before the pandemic, the airport had a scheduled service from Chengdu.
Long-terms plans to attract tourists sustainably
At the heart of Panglao’s future development is Panglao Shores, a project that includes five hotels plus hundreds of residential units, a green track for sports and a medical centre, to be rolled out over the next ten years.
Backed by Alturas Group, a local business that got its start as a grocer 50 years ago, the 25 billion PHP (US$459 million) development will also include a retail space that aims to transform the expertise Alturas has acquired in supermarkets and malls into a destination lifestyle space.
CEO Hope Uy, the second generation of the Uy family at the head of the group, is proud of their homegrown project. “Panglao Shores is a place to live,” she said, stressing that the scope of the project goes beyond bringing in tourists.
The first 188-room hotel will be managed by an as-yet unnamed international brand. But everything else will reflect the area’s rich resources.
Much of the building material is locally sourced, like repurposed wood and limestone found on the building site. The landscaping will use only plants that are indigenous to Bohol. The low-rise architecture and design, overseen by studio SCSY with features from Enter Projects Asia, also embrace elements that are inspired by the location.
Panglao Shores will ultimately create 15,000 jobs on an island with a current population of roughly 92,000. It’s not just labour. Panglao Shores also makes good use of local knowledge and skills from this largely rural and agricultural island.
An organic farm and other nearby attractions
When the pandemic hit, the cloud over Panglao Shores had a silver lining. With hotel staff from the group’s two existing hotels out of work, many turned their attention to South Farm, a 9-hectare site that now provides organic produce to the hotels but also showcases local crafts and culture.
Staff contributed their knowledge from farming to fishing to weaving. Guests can now participate in a wide range of activities on the farm and dine on produce where it is grown.
In addition to its white sandy beaches, Panglao is also the departure point to reach the prime diving sites off Balicasag Island. Other attractions include the Cadapdapan terraced rice paddies and the endangered tarsier sanctuary on the big island of Bohol, as well as Bohol’s best known natural attraction, the Chocolate Hills, which owe their name to their colour in the dry season.
“We’re proud that Panglao Shores is being led by a family and a business from Bohol,” says Uy. The first hotel is scheduled to be delivered at the end of this year, with an opening in early 2024.