Years ago, lodging houses in El Nido, Palawan used to wait for days for tourists to find them.
“Before, we used to wait for them to come in,” says Mayflor Dasalla, owner of Inn Go Tourist Inn in Brgy Masagana, El Nido. “But that’s a thing of the past now—today, we know exactly when they are coming, and we can already prepare their rooms for them in time for their arrival.”
Technology and online booking and review sites like Booking.com, Agoda and TripAdvisor have all played a big role in putting establishments like Dasalla’s Inn Go on the map—and at the fingertips of tourists from all over the world.
“Currently, we have 35 rooms, and during the peak months of November to June, we’re at 90 percent occupancy,” Dasalla says. “For payment, technology has also made it convenient both for the tourist and the hotel owner—the tourists pay online even before they come here.”
According to Alona Vargas, owner of Vargas Apartelle in Lio, most of their visitors discover their place on Facebook. “Some of them stay for a month or six months, some for a year. We post about our place on Facebook, and we answer inquiries there,” she says.
The influx of tourists in El Nido – about 200,000 in 2018, or about five times the town’s population of roughly 40,000 – has improved business in the town. Dasalla, who also owns Inggo Sari-Sari store in El Nido, says from earning P500 a week in 2003, when she first started out as a load retailer, her now-expanded business currently earns as much as P50,000 a month.
“Foreign tourists really need mobile data while they’re here vacationing,” says Dasalla, who added that after Smart recently fired up Long Term Evolution (LTE) in their town, sales are as brisk as ever. “It’s not just the tourists—our local students here also need mobile data too for their research and school work,” she adds.
El Nido Mayor Edna Gacot Lim says aside from the natural beauty of their place, tourists can also expect good connectivity while they are in the island.
“El Nido is a tourism destination and a protected area. The beaches are good, and that’s why the tourists come here. But more than that, our tourists also look for good connectivity when traveling. That is also important to them,” said Lim.
To address the data needs of the growing number of tourists in Palawan, PLDT and Smart are currently upgrading their fixed and wireless facilities in the islands.
Smart has ramped up the rollout of LTE and LTE-Advanced across the island group, particularly in the capital Puerto Princesa, and in popular areas of El Nido, San Vicente and Coron.
Smart is also set to rollout new sites across the island group to cover priority areas such as major roads, points of convergence such as tourist areas and airports, and populous barangays, among others. PLDT-Smart is also upgrading its transmission infrastructure in the islands to fiber.
“We are continuously upgrading our fixed and wireless facilities in Palawan to enhance the experience of tourists and residents alike in El Nido and across the island group,” said Mario G. Tamayo, PLDT-Smart senior vice president for Network Planning and Engineering.
“This is part of PLDT-Smart’s commitment to improve the digital experience in Palawan for everyone—whether they are tourists who want to share their experiences to the world while island-hopping across El Nido; students who are using the internet for school; or local entrepreneurs who have been using online services such as social media and mobile banking in their respective businesses,” he added.
These upgrades are backed by a historic-high capital expenditure of P78.4 billion this year. The capex investments are to further expand coverage and to increase capacity to handle the exponential growth in data traffic, with the ultimate aim of delivering the best data customer experience. PLDT’s fiber optic transmission and distribution network, the most extensive in the country at more than 260,000 kilometers, also supports Smart’s mobile network by providing high-capacity fiber connections for LTE base stations.