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Interagency task force to inspect $100,000/a night Palawan resort

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By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo (Special to the BusinessMirror)

AN interagency task force with representatives from the Departments of Tourism (DOT), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Interior and Local Government (DILG) will be inspecting Banwa Private Island in Roxas, Palawan, tagged as the “most expensive resort in the world.”

DOT Assistant Secretary for Tourism Regulation Coordination and Resource Generation (TRCRG) Ma. Rica C. Bueno said in a text message to the BusinessMirror, “[Banwa] is still fixing their documentary requirements.”

The three agencies form the core task force that had recommended the closure of Boracay Island, another popular beach destination in the Philippines, for six months in 2018 from April 26. The inspection team for Banwa will come from the three agencies’ regional offices, said Bueno.

DOT Regional Director for Mimaropa (Southwestern Tagalog region) Daniel B. Intong, whose office covers the Palawan province, also explained: “Banwa submitted documents for accreditation a month or so ago, but our office requested them to request for star rating so that it gets a premium accreditation.” The star-rating system is aligned with global hotel rating standards ranking tourism establishments from one to five stars.

After their global multimedia publicity splash announcing their opening and tagging it the most expensive resort in the world, Banwa abruptly stopped accepting bookings after it was discovered they had yet to secure accreditation from the DOT. (See, “No DOT accreditation for costliest resort,” in the BusinessMirror, May 21, 2019.)

In an e-mail to this paper, Banwa General Manager Rochelle Kilgariff said the resort’s owners are “committed to complying with all government requirements, applicable laws, rules and regulations,” adding that they have been able to secure “the relevant permits from the local government and an ECC [environmental clearance certificate] from the DENR.”

The owner, Ecoresort Development Corp. (ERDC)—not the Aquos Foundation Inc., as an Aquos official earlier claimed—filed its application for accreditation with the DOT in February 2019, according to Kilgariff, and is readying for the task force inspection next week.

She stressed, “pending the actual issuance of the DoT accreditation, ERDC has not commenced actual operations and accepted any bookings from paying guests.” Industry sources, claimed, however, there have been a number of guests that had already stayed at the island resort, said to cost $100,000 (P5.2 million) a night, for a minimum of three nights or $300,000 (P15.6 million). The amount covers the nightly accommodations in villas, food and other amenities for 48 persons.

After its worldwide publicity promotion in a number of international publications, would-be guests were encouraged to call the resort’s private concierge and sales staff listed on its web site. The site now has notification saying, “Banwa Private Island will become wholly available for charter upon finalization of pending regulatory documentation, which is expected imminently.”

The Duterte administration, through the interagency task force, has tightened its regulations on the opening of hotels and resort establishments, after indiscriminate building on Boracay Island was partially blamed as the cause of overtourism on the island, leading to environmental pollution. The task force has been monitoring other island destinations in the country for possible pollution and easement issues, as well as accreditation problems. Among these are Panglao Island in Bohol, Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte, El Nido and Coron in Palawan.

DOT sources said Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat was incensed that the resort had opened sans accreditation, quickly instructing the agency’s TRCRG department to make sure Banwa’s papers were in order.

The DILG has also investigated why the local government of Roxas, Palawan, allowed Banwa to be issued a business permit to operate without the DOT accreditation. (See, “‘Most expensive resort in the world’ under DILG probe, faces closure,” in the BusinessMirror, May 24, 2019.)