Discovery Trip: Ecotourism in the Philippines

TL;DR: Sparkloft Discovery Trips are an opportunity for education, relaxation and perspective-altering experiences. By taking time to slow down and appreciate other cultures, and their natural and beautiful resources, employees come back refreshed with a new perspectives to continue to grow Sparkloft's global perspective.

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I tend to be a spontaneous traveler and my Discovery Trip was no exception. So spontaneous in fact that just one week prior to my 16-day trek through Southeast Asia, I had booked only one Airbnb. The headline on that booking read, “Paolyn Houseboat: An Ecotourist’s Paradise”

Ecotourism is a trendy buzzword I often see when I scroll through Instagram. This word has piqued my interest more and more as travel in general trends toward sustainability. It means responsible travel to natural areas, conserving the environment, and improving the well-being of the local people.

In the Philippines, ecotourism isn’t just a trend — it’s do or die. Tourism is the linchpin of the Philippines’ economic growth strategy. And all of those tourism dollars are being shelled out for a chance to experience the postcard-worthy views this archipelago has to offer.

In the Philippines, ecotourism isn’t just a trend — it’s do or die.

The Philippine government is taking measures to preserve the land, water and culture that make its more than 7,000 islands so special.

Upon arrival, the country’s commitment to ecotourism was immediately apparent. After landing, flight crews promptly make an announcement, urging guests to leave single-use plastics and trash aboard the aircraft. Additionally, plastic water bottles are now banned from all tour boats in the Philippines. As they explained, once garbage makes its way onto the islands, it’s nearly impossible to get off.

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After 34 hours of traveling, I arrived at a dock where a small double outrigger sailboat, called a Bangka, was waiting. I boarded the boat, unsure of what to expect. After a quick ride, we entered a sheltered lagoon with calm water and several floating structures. As we approached, I joked to a friend that it looked like a floating jungle-gym — a sustainable jungle-gym nonetheless.

Paolyn Houseboat is located in the calm, clear and unpolluted water off of Coron Island, Palawan. Filipino national law recognizes Coron Island (including surrounding waters and reef) ancestral land of the Tagbanua Tribe.

The Paolyn Houseboat employs over 20 local people all while respecting the indigenous heritage and traditions. In order to operate the houseboat, the owner rents the lagoon from the tribe and ensures that the Paolyn Houseboat is totally eco-compatible. All electricity comes from solar panels and nothing is discharged into the sea. Furthermore, in order to protect the coral reef and the marine life, the Philippines encourages the use of natural sunscreen and soaps. It is difficult to find these products in Filipino stores that are not 100 percent biodegradable. Bangkas will be soon banned for transportation of tourists because of the sheer amount of pollution they create in the water.

Within 10 minutes from the houseboat, you can paddle or swim to several famous Filipino attractions. Everywhere you look you see stunning lagoons and impressive limestone landscapes. It feels even cooler to have it all to yourself — the product of ecotourism.

It’s a delicate balance for any destination and we’ve seen some suffer from the effects of overtourism. Yes, more tourism means more money. It also means more trash lining the beaches, more plastic floating in the water and more people crowding the streets.

Just earlier this year, Boracay, a popular Filipino tourist destination for its sprawling beaches, was closed by the government for six months due to overtourism. The incident serves as a reminder that ever-increasing tourism does not always equal an economic boost, especially when a fragile environmental region is involved. Boracay is just one area where tourism initiatives have backfired, but there are also numerous cases of overtourism damaging local communities and environments.

Please be mindful when planning your next trip, or better yet, give ecotourism a try.