Dispatches from #GNW2014: What Makes a Successful Ecotourism Destination?

October 15, 2014

Former Philippine energy minister Vincent Perez talks ecotourism strategy with students at AIM.

After two days in the field, the Asian Institute of Management’s ecotourism module returned to the classroom today to hear from Vincent Perez, a banker, investor, and the former energy minister of the Philippines. Perez, who was a 2005 Yale World Fellow, spoke about his experience as a founder of Asian Conservation Company, which manages the well-regarded ecotourism destination El Nido Resorts. He shared some of the strategies that he recommends to investors around the globe funding new ecotourism destinations:

  • Understand your stakeholders: Opportunities present themselves when resort managers pay attention to what local and national governments are looking for. In the Philippines, ecotourism is part of a decade-long plan of development designed to boost tourism in the country. “You have to combine business interests with the environment,” Perez said. “Natural capital is valuable and you need to give value to nature to protect wildlife.” 
  • Train, train, train your staff: Local staff are always best when it comes to hiring guides, Perez said. El Nido hires local guides for kayak tours of the lagoons in the Philippines’ Palawan region—and then educates them on how the rest of the business is run, with talks on recycling and wastewater management. “We want our employees to be familiar with the philosophy of the entire resort,” Perez said. “For the most well-trained, they have to pass a test. If they pass, they get a badge showing that they know the resort’s systems.” 
  • Encourage guest participation in green initiatives: When El Nido guests snorkel or scuba dive, staff teach them to how to identify the whale sharks, manatees, and other wildlife they see—and that information can help inform conservation efforts. “The guests become monitors,” Perez said. “They can survey what they see and a well-trained guide will notice patterns that could be reported over time.” 
  • Present internal eco-challenges to staff: When employees have a stake in the company’s success, they will work harder to achieve internal goals. El Nido staff came up with an idea to use discarded water bottles to keep kayaks buoyant. “You want employees to come up with their own concepts and then promote that proposal,” Perez said. 
  • Be green behind the scenes: It’s not enough to simply brand a resort as an ecotourism location. Steps by each resort must be taken to ensure that the location is as green as possible. Perez’s company created wastewater treatment plants on site to treat sewage and desalinate water for use in showers. The resorts use green energy too, relying on solar power for their electricity needs. “You need an environmental management system. You can’t have tourists snorkeling in the water if it’s the same spot where you’re dumping all of your sewage.” 

Watch an excerpt from Vincent Perez’s talk:


Matthew O’Rourke is blogging this week from the Asian Institute of Management’s Global Network Week module on ecotourism.

View photos from Global Network Week at the Asian Institute of Management.