PANGLAO ISLAND—Bohol’s homegrown conglomerate, the Alturas Group of Companies, began as a sari-sari store 50 years ago in the provincial capital of Tagbilaran.
Now it is expanding its beach resort here into a 50-hectare, mixed-use estate at a cost of P25 billion. The expansion is a vote of confidence in the prospects of tourism on the island off the coast of Bohol, as the world further eases pandemic travel restrictions. (See map.)
Alturas Group, owned by the Uy family, launched Panglao Shores on Jan. 12 at its South Palms Resort, a 9.3-hectare property in Barangay Bolod on the southern coast of the island.
It said Panglao Shores, which is just minutes away from the Panglao Bohol International Airport, “is perfectly poised to become the Philippines’ most exciting new destination.”
Taking the lead, Alturas Group is the first locator in the estate, building South Palms’ three-story hotel that would add 188 more rooms to the resort’s 76 rooms now enjoying 95% local and foreign occupancy.
The experience, not the beach
Panglao Shores will also extend South Palms’ 700 meters of natural “white sand” beach to a kilometer, the longest on the island. It is an attraction in itself for many visitors, but to Hope Marie Uy, managing director of the resort, it is “never about the beach but the experience.”
The boutique hotel is estimated to cost P2.77 billion, according to Hope’s sister, Anna Roxanne Uy-Deaño, South Palms’ financial controller.
“It is our biggest investment so far,” Marlito Uy, father of Hope and Anna and one of the founders of Alturas Group, said of the hotel scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2024.
Based on feasibility studies and highest and best use, Anna placed the development cost of the land and Phase 1, which includes the hotel and road network, at P25 billion as of 2023.
Local supplies, native trees
Conscious of reducing its carbon footprint, Panglao Shores will bank on local supplies as much as possible. Thus, within the community are “villages” for fishers, farmers and artisans supplying marine products, agricultural produce and handicrafts, respectively, to the estate.
“For suppliers, no deliveries wrapped in [single use] plastic,” Hope said at the launch of the project, adding that “sustainable development is a lifestyle” that starts with educating the people first.
Roads in Panglao Shores will be lined with indigenous trees and plants that require less water. Bike lanes, footpaths and jogging trails will also be set up. A green corridor will connect residential villas and condominiums with the commercial area as an alternative to the main road.
To come up with an overall plan for Panglao Shores, South Palms studied developments in Bali, Indonesia, and Phuket, Thailand, as well as in Boracay, Cebu and Palawan in the Philippines.
But the germ of the idea that would make Panglao Shores an integrated community stemmed from South Farm on the 50-ha property that Alturas Group employees, whom the conglomerate retained even at the height of the pandemic, cleared and slowly built to support the neighborhood.
The possibilities offered by South Farm were “an epiphany for us,” said Hope.
“The realization was that here was an opportunity to create a generational product, inspired by Bohol, on a scale that would enable a fully integrated community to flourish with sustainability at its core,” she said.
The blueprint for a low-density, mixed-use resort estate was crafted with the help of sustainability experts from the London-based XCO2 and master planners SCSY in Singapore.
The highest buildings will stand at four stories.
The project has incorporated international eco-building standards and materials, such as high-performance glass, natural ventilation, and solar harvesting, along with smart technologies, electric transport, water treatment and waste reduction.
Panglao Shores also has rainwater catchment ponds that supply water to a lake where fish can be caught not only for diners at the restaurant beside it but also for other resort visitors.
Envisioned to serve as Panglao Shores’ social hub is the Town Square, a 37, 000- square-meter retail and commercial space that will have a mall, a night market and performance areas, as well as a large courtyard and garden walkways.
“We are creating a commercial resort mall soon because that’s our background,’’ Hope said, alluding to the five malls that Alturas Group has built in Bohol.
More than 1,000 residential units are also planned to be built on the estate. “We are very keen on [forging a] partnership with residential [developers] because that’s not our cup of tea,” Hope said.
Asked how Panglao Shores would entice investors to the estate, she said: “We have carefully designed the property to cater to partners’ needs… So, we made this very flexible master plan [in which] the infrastructure and water system are in place.”
Marlito Uy said the estate could attract locators by offering them joint ventures and land-lease arrangements. “If a hospital wants to buy a lot, we will look into the benefits and decide whether to sell it the land,” he said.
Facilities and amenities, such as an international convention center, co-working spaces, integrated parking and a beach club, are part of the master plan.
Panglao Shores is open to partnering with other hoteliers to develop luxury and affordable segments to complement South Palms’ boutique hotel, Hope said.
How is Alturas Group financing the project?
“For [the existing] South Palms, we did not even [tap banks],” Hope said. “But for the new property I think we are doing 50-50 with a bank.”
It was Panglao Bay Premiere Parks & Resorts Corp., a subsidiary of Alturas Group, that conceived of Panglao Shores and registered it as a flagship project with the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza). A project is considered a tourism flagship if it delivers outstanding economic and social benefits to the area.
The flagship status confers the project a six-year income-tax holiday and duty-free importation of equipment, and allows it to employ foreigners, said Karen Mae Sarinas-Baydo, assistant chief operating officer of Tieza’s Tourism Enterprise Zone Management Sector.
Another incentive enjoyed by Panglao Shores is the issuance of special resident visas to foreign investors.
For the huge cost of developing the estate over a 10-year period, Panglao Shores is open to taking in a foreign partner. A Korean company is one of the foreign parties most interested in investing, according to Hope.
When the Uys acquired in 2012 part of the Bohol Beach Club that was developed into South Palms, the property was about 46 ha. “So we bought, bought and bought [contiguous] parcels of land until it became 50 ha,” Hope said.
What drove the Uys to expand South Palms?
“The opportunity is there. Why not? We need to maximize the space. We need to multiply the experience for other people,” Hope said. In addition, she said, the sheer size of the property “somehow encouraged us to take a long-term view.”
Hope acknowledged that the opening of the Panglao Bohol International Airport was a “big driver” of the expansion of South Palms and the development of Panglao Shores. “Although the airport has been in the pipeline for 20 years and was finally realized in 2018, it was a big encouragement to everyone,” she said.
The old airport in Tagbilaran is 30 minutes away from South Palms; the international airport is a mere 5-10 minutes away.
Certain airlines bring visitors to and from Manila, Davao, El Nido, and Incheon and Busan in South Korea on 14-16 flights daily, according to an airport guard of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines.
Tieza expects tourist arrivals in the country to hit the pre-pandemic level of 8.4 million by 2024.
Climate change adaptation
Panglao Shores is being developed amid climate change that, among others, has ushered in fiercer storms and rising seas.
In the face of these environmental forces, Hope said, Panglao Bay Premiere Parks & Resorts Corp. consulted with experts and also with her father, who has lived all his life in Bohol and observed the drastic changes in the climate.
“So, for example, our easement [from the shore] is now 30 meters. It’s supposed to be just 20 meters,’’ she said, adding that the new buildings would be positioned in consideration of wind directions.
“Let’s do it the right way,” said Hope, who called the estate “a family dream, a pure love project.”