The leisure sector gets a green thumb

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My work as an architect and urban planner has given me the privilege of traveling all over the world and experiencing other cultures and all that the city offers to become worldly-wise, with a refined knowledge of the world through my experiences, which I readily share with my colleagues and employees while encouraging them to do the same. It is these experiences that have helped my firm, Palafox Associates, maintain its competitive edge in the global market by putting the best practices we’ve learned from around the world into our projects, especially in the leisure sector.

Out of the 1,000 plus projects the firm has done since its inception in 1989, 60 percent of them have been for leisure sector.  In fact, our firm garnered the eighth spot in the top ten architecture firms in the world in the leisure sector in the 2012 BD World Architecture survey, sharing the top ten with big architecture firms like Aedes and Gensler.

In the Philippines, tourism is being viewed as one of the key prospects of sustained economic growth, contributing to foreign exchange receipts and jobs generation. With the Department of Tourism’s unrelenting enthusiasm to promote our country’s destination gems, the leisure sector has never looked better.

Today’s travelers want vacations that will not just allow them temporary respite from their busy lifestyles, but also provide them with a sense of purpose through leisure and recreational activities that will allow them to engage with their community and the environment. However, planning for sustainability in tourism destinations is a challenge: how do we describe a sustainable resort development, and how can we integrate the different demands for sustainability in planning and architecture?


Ecotourism has been growing by over 20 percent a year, tourists ranging from 35 to 54 years old, and have helped many governments mandate ecotourism-based zoning and policies. In fact, a number of international ecotourist-related organizations have even published guidelines that range from building design and materials to water conservation.

From working with the provincial government in developing an entire region into a tourist spot, to eco-friendly resort developments scattered around the country and elsewhere in the world, Palafox Associates makes sure that every project follows the firm’s development principles and approach towards sustainability.

Sustainable leisure
Creating places that address those wishes requires imagination, and succeeding in this can be rewarding both financially and emotionally. Resort development in particular caters to people’s dreams rather than their needs, so developers must keep abreast of evolving notions of what constitutes luxury, excitement, and diversion from the everyday. According to the ULI development book on Resort Development, there are three primary characteristics of resorts: Real estate projects that have been developed and planned by a master developer, resorts that offer proximity and easy access to significant natural, scenic, and recreational amenities, and those that include lodging accommodation, timeshare ownerships, and/or residences used largely by tourists, vacationers, weekend travelers, seasonal residents, and/or owners or users of second homes.

One of the travel industry’s strongest trends continues to be ecotourism, which has been growing by over 20 percent a year. Ecotourism combines specialized leisure travel with a focus on environmental protection and visitor education and generally takes place in environmentally distinctive destinations. The “ecotourists”—as stated above—generally range in age from 35 to 54 years old (the baby boom generation and younger). Ecotourists have a high level of environmental awareness and a philosophy founded on protecting the environment. Ecotourism and the principles behind it are regarded as important to the hospitality industry primarily because a number of governments now are mandating ecotourism-based zoning and policies. The World Tourism Organization, the International Society of Ecotourism, and a number of other ecotourist-related organizations have published guidelines that range from building design and materials to water conservation.

As stated above, out of the 900 plus (or 1000) projects the firm has done since its inception in 1989, sixty percent of them have been for the leisure sector. From working with the provincial government in developing an entire region into a tourist spot, like what we are doing for Ilocos Norte, second-home golf course communities in Laguna like the Santa Elena Golf Course Community, to eco-friendly resort developments scattered around the country, Palafox Associates makes sure that every project follows the firm’s development principles and approach towards sustainability.

Sustainable developments by Palafox Associates
For our Metro Ilocos Master Plan for Tourism, the firm emphasized five tourism assets of the region to shape the socio-economic development that will redefine their cultural footprint and help sustain its natural treasures as a contemporary tourism hub on par with global tourism trends. The firm closely coordinated with the local government units by educating the local community on the benefits and maintenance of ecotourism and the importance of heritage conservation.  Among the areas that have undergone and will be undergoing development are the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, the Pasuquin Mangrove forest in Davila (the only 118.5-hectare mangrove forest in Ilocos Norte), Kapurpuraoan Rock Formation, and the UNESCO heritage site of Paoay Church.

Benchmarking sustainable resort developments are the firm’s island resort projects in Coron, Palawan and Puerto Galera, Mindoro. In both resort developments, only 10 to 20 percent of the islands were developed, and blended with the island’s natural environment. The island resorts both used water saving technologies and on-site energy generation. The architecture for the resort villas were designed in tropical architecture style, and used indigenous materials such as abaca, bamboo, and solid woods.

A joint understanding and cooperation between architects, planners, local communities, and the government is needed so that our leisure sector can attain its tourism targets and add immensely to inclusive growth and employment generation, promote the Philippines as a major tourist destination and increase our country’s tourism competitiveness.

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