By Gerard Ramos / Lifestyle & Entertainment Editor
IN a story that was published last month on CNNPhilippines.com, the writer Paolo Taruc reports: “A Japanese government agency is sounding the alarm of an ‘imminent loss’ of Boracay’s marine and coastal ecosystems if the status quo prevails. In a five-year study of the tourist spot, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and a group of Japanese and Filipino scientists discovered that the island’s coral reef ecosystem has been seriously degraded by tourism-related activities.”
Having visited this so-called strip of heaven-on-earth in Aklan intermittently over the past decade, this bit of recent news came as no surprise to me.
In 2005 FOMO finally got the better of me and I took a flight to this strip of resort living that had everybody oohing and aahing over its powder-soft white-sand beach and its crystal-blue water. Walking the shoreline that late afternoon of my arrival, as I channeled my inner Jane Fonda, circa Julia, it felt like I was traipsing on powder alright—but overall, the experience fell way short of the sublime. All kinds of detritus carelessly left behind by tourists were everywhere, stretches of water were darkened by kelp, and the long stretch of beachfront reverberated with the mind-numbing din of mindless commerce.
So much for heaven on earth. When I returned to Manila and friends eagerly inquired about my Boracay experience, I invariably told them it felt like being in Malate in the 1990s on a weekend—minus the charm and character.
Of course Boracay is still on the map—and still cited as one of the “best beaches in the world.” Nonetheless, if the growing buzz being generated by destinations not found in Aklan is any indication, it would seem that no small chunk of tourists, both local and foreign, perhaps reeling from Boracay fatigue, are ready to move on.
One such destination is Bohol, in the Central Visayas region and the country’s 10th largest island which made international headlines in 2013 after an earthquake that measured 7.2 on the Richter scale shook the province and the entire region. The earthquake claimed hundreds of lives and damaged thousands of structures, including centuries-old churches.
Today, as Boholanons continue to rebuild from the devastation wrought by the 2013 tremblor, the province is enjoying a renaissance as a tourist destination rich with offerings that go beyond lovely beaches and dazzling blue waters, from sublime churches that date back to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines (Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon, Church of San Pedro in Loboc) to a river of such poetry (Loboc River), from mystifying geological formations (Chocolate Hills) to one of smallest primates in the world (Philippine tarsier).
This renaissance in tourism has prompted top leisure property developers to open resorts/hotels that would accommodate the influx of local and foreign tourists looking to sample the offerings of the province. These include the ultra-luxurious Eskaya Beach Resort & Spa, and the excellent Bellevue Resort by the Bellevue Hotels & Resorts (the same company behind The Bellevue Manila in Alabang). Both are in Panglao, southwest of Bohol.
Joining the Bohol party in Panglao is the Henann Group of Resorts, which has made a name for giving Boracay some of the best accommodations to be found in that island. The developer breaks another record in the hotel and tourism industry with the opening of Henann Resort Alona Beach (www.henann.com/bohol), the largest resort in Panglao.
“We consider Henann Resort Alona Beach a milestone in our company’s 17-year history, as this is our first property outside Boracay. It has always been my personal goal to expand nationwide and bring the Hennan brand of service to the four corners of the Philippines,” said Dr. Henry O. Chusuey, chairman of the Henann Group of Resorts.
Welcoming guests beginning in April—and a group from the lifestyle and travel media in May, myself included—Henann Resort Alona Beach boasts of the longest and widest beachfront along Alona Beach, a 1 1/2-kilometer stretch of pristine white sand and overlooking rocky cliffs. The 6.5-hectare property has an initial 100 rooms on offer to tourists, with an additional 300 rooms nearing completion along with a luxury spa (Kai Spa) and a three-story, 2,160-square-meter convention center that can house up to 1,000 guests. Its room types range from deluxe, premier and suites to family, premier with pool access, plus presidential and beachfront villas.
Anybody who has stayed in the Henann resorts in Boracay will find that its Bohol property echoes the brand’s signature architecture and aesthetics. The rooms feature coastal-inspired modern interiors. Each has a private terrace, wireless Internet access, bath tub with separate shower area (for premier room only), individually controlled air-conditioning, cable TV, direct dial phone, in-room safe, coffee- and tea-making facilities and personal refrigerator.
“We build resorts with our clients first in our minds. We make it worth their stay whether they are with us for the short or long term. We always give our guests the best possible service as the goal is to make them happy from the moment they check-in until they leave,” Chusuey said.
Also like its Boracay properties, Henann Resort Alona Beach has three pools with a sunken bar for each. Other amenities include an open-air venue for weddings, VIP lounge, fitness and business centers, and a mini shop. The brand’s famous F&B outlets in Boracay will also find a second home in Bohol by the second quarter of the year, including Sea Breeze Café (an all-day buffet restaurant) and Christina’s (Western fine dining). Already operational is the Coral Café, also an all-day buffet offering popular international fare.
The opening of Henann Resort Alona Beach couldn’t have come at a more fortuitous time. To attract more travelers both here and abroad, the Bohol Tourism Board has launched its “Visit Bohol 2015” campaign which highlights the province’s heritage and culture and eco-adventure activities.
The Henann Group of Resorts manages Boracay Regency Beach Resort and Spa (which will be renamed to Henann Regency Beach Resort and Spa), Henann Garden Resort, Henann Lagoon Resort and four more newly acquired properties in Station 1, Boracay. The company will be operating a total of 1,400 rooms in Boracay alone by 2016 and 2017.
With Bohol’s star rising anew as a tourist destination, one hopes that it won’t end up like the sorry mess that Boracay has become.