A view of Paradise

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By Zsarlene B. Chua, Reporter

WHEN the first Seda hotel opened in Taguig’s Bonifacio Global City in 2013, Ayala Land Hotels and Resorts Corp. (ALHRC) envisioned the brand as focusing on business hotels located in strategic and bustling cities around the country. But in 2017, the company opened its first five-star property, Seda Vertis North, in Quezon City — with 438 rooms and a grand ballroom — making it the largest hotel in the city.

Now, the hotel chain named after the Spanish word for silk has ventured into another hotel category, this time opening a resort in the 325-hectare Ayala-owned Lio Tourism Estate in El Nido, Palawan.

Seda Lio is a 153-room resort hotel on the shores of the four kilometer-long Lio Beach. Opening in August last year, it is the largest of the ALHRC-owned hotels in Lio — it has much smaller boutique hotels there like Balai Adlao (20 rooms), Casa Kalaw (42 rooms), and Hotel Covo (20 rooms).

The resort is targeted towards business travelers, tourists, and those who want destination weddings (in fact, during a media trip in March, the group encountered a beach wedding), which is why it has function rooms for up to 300 people.

The hotel has three room categories, the Deluxe Room (45 square meters), the Suite room (76 square meters) and a Presidential Suite (148 square meters).

For people who are familiar with Seda hotels, Seda Lio bears the same trademarks of the brand: the cream and wood color palette; walls filled with photos taken by Jaime Zobel de Ayala, who, aside from being the Chairman Emeritus of the Ayala Corp., is also an art photographer; and the all-day dining restaurant, Misto, which is present in all Seda hotels.

Unlike other Seda hotels, it has a game room, a two-level infinity pool, a pool bar and a spa.

“[We’ve been having] a lot of incentive travelers and weddings,” Brett Hickey, Seda hotels group general manager, told the media during the trip.

Currently, Mr. Hickey pegs the market as skewed toward foreign travelers. “We’ve had a lot of tour groups from Israel and Europe here,” said Mr. Hickey.

And it’s easy to see why Lio is becoming a hot, premium destination for travelers with its white sand beach and a more relaxed, quiet atmosphere. In fact, it’s so relaxed that Mr. Hickey can sometimes be spotted watering the plants.

“I love coming here,” he said, adding that it is a place to unwind.

Lio also has its own private airport, located a kilometer away from Seda Lio. The airport is operated by AirSwift, another Ayala-owned company. It offers multiple daily flights from Manila to El Nido via Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 4 and daily flights from Caticlan airport in Boracay to El Nido.

Aside from the convenient location and atmosphere, what Mr. Hickey is proud of is the newest Seda property’s sustainability efforts which serves as the blueprint for similar efforts to be introduced in other Seda hotels.

The hotel rooms nixed single-use bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion in favor of refillable pump bottles; biodegradable materials are used to package other toiletries; and gray water is used to flush the toilets. No plastic water bottles are offered and glass bottles are used instead because the estate has banned the use of plastic.

Curiously, AirSwift offers onboard water bottles to passengers inflight.

Mr. Hickey also said that he is doing a cost analysis in order to replace the toothbrushes and other toiletries for bamboo versions.

“I’m looking at bamboo options [for toiletries] right now, there’s a local supplier [we’re talking to],” he explained.

He added that Lio’s being a premium destination works well with the sustainablility efforts because having higher price points would deter masses of tourists from coming in and compromising the environment.

“In the past 10 years [the number of tourists] swelled: we saw a thousand people on the beach and we thought, ‘well, how sustainable will that be?’” he said, adding that their sustainability efforts in Seda Lio will make their way towards other Seda hotels in the future.

Such is their commitment to sustainability that “no Seda Lio structure [will exceed the height of] the coconut treeline,” and buildings at the beach front are built with “some distance from the water line in anticipation of storm surges,” according to a company release.

Also, only 45% of the entire 325-hectare property is developable and Mr. Hickey noted that when they started the construction for the hotel (and for any other properties in the estate) they tried to lessen the cutting of trees as much as possible.

“The shortest and easiest route [to development] is not necessarily the best route [for the environment],” he said, explaining the need to be careful when developing such a large estate.

Lio beach might have a more relaxed atmosphere than bustling Boracay, but it also has a lot to offer, from trekking trails to touring using bamboo bikes.

One can island hop via small motorized boats, or go big by bringing a group and tour on a yacht as the media did during their trip.

Travelers can book yacht tours with the El Nido Yachting Club and choose from its fleet of speedboats, a 50-foot catamaran sailing yacht, or a traditional wood-hulled boat. Prices range from P4,999 per person to join a boat group tour or P25,000 to charter a speedboat for six people.

Each boat tour includes lunch on board or served picnic-style on a secluded private beach, and the tour lasts from early morning until late afternoon.

The tour, depending on the package, can bring tourists to famed El Nido attractions including the Big Lagoon, the Small Lagoon, the Snake Island sandbar, the Secret Beach, and Shimizu Island.

Those who would prefer staying on dry land can walk along Lio beach towards the Shops@Lio which offer retail and dining options including the vegan restaurant Shaka, which offers big servings of pad Thai, lasagna, and burgers. (The pad Thai is especially good with the well-sauced noodles having a chewy, springy texture.)

Also within the estate is Kalye Artisano, a small artists village that is a pet project of Bea Zobel Jr. and Paloma Urquijo Zobel who came up with the idea of setting up a community-based artisan village.

The village, made up of structures resembling bahay kubo, features a handful of stores selling souvenir shirts, home decor, jewelry, local food products, and artworks.

And if you happen to be in Lio at the right time, you can participate in the Lio Beach Festival (held several times a year), a free music and arts festival for the environment. The festival prides itself in having no trash left behind after its run.