The following blog post is the third in a month-long series about our fishing partners in El Nido. You can read the previous blog post here.
Stay at any of El Nido Resorts’ jaw-droppingly picturesque locations, and you are guaranteed to meet the boisterous Banca Boys, a group of boatmen hailing from El Nido Town. We met them virtually, but their bouncy personalities were easily seen through the computer screen. Logging onto the call, they had woken from a night’s sleep on their boats and were already joking around and laughing with each other.
As the resort guests’ main method of transportation is by boat, a group of 15-20 boatmen are necessary in order to ensure guests can hop from one idyllic island to another at any time. These boatmen belong to a larger group called the El Nido Boat Owners Association. This five-year-old organization is made up of around 500 boats who operate tourist boats around El Nido Town.
The members of this association who work with El Nido Resorts are particularly enjoyable to interact with and one can only imagine the joy guests must have while being transported from island to island by these men. As I chatted with Errol, Mario, Ronel, Gestoni, Raul, and Rjay, I realized how passionate and dedicated they were to their job and how much they took their guests’ needs to heart. When asked how they would like to be portrayed to potential resort guests, they answer that aside from being just boat captains and crew, they strive for guests to see them as funny and approachable and as giving quality service through their photography.
And boy, there is absolutely no doubt that they deliver on this promise. Chuckling, they recounted a story where one of the boatmen, RJay, has a tourist tell him she was hungry. He responds by exclaiming he is hungry too, not for food, but for love. The guest burst into laughter and immediately embraced him.
All the boatmen express sadness at how these interactions have been limited by the pandemic. Covid-19 rapidly affected tourism in the Philippines to the point where the Banca Boys had to begin fishing and working in construction in order to make ends meet. Currently, tourism is still not back to pre-pandemic levels and the lack of guests due to travel restrictions means that instead of their usual $714 a month, they only earn $285, less than half their typical salary.
The lack of tourists also resulted in an increase in illegal fishing activities, which the Banca Boys have seen. Having worked the same seas for years, they bear witness to long-term impacts of destructive fishing, as well as irresponsible tourism, noting with some sadness that through environmental degradation, marine life and corals have become more bleached and less vibrant over the years.
The Banca Boys, however, are thankful for the work that El Nido Resorts brings them since they not only get employed but are educated in and even become partners for sustainability.
They are still praying for a return to normal as soon as possible, in order to again be able to interact with the tourists with whom they love to bond. At the moment, the tourists who are able to make their way to the beautiful islands of El Nido Resorts are able to enjoy the seas with fewer boats and less crowds in lagoons and on beaches. This makes for a more exclusive feel of El Nido, with the Banca Boys still able to display their talents and share antics with the tourists.
No matter the circumstance, one thing is certain: the Banca Boys will always have smiles on their faces and jokes in their hearts.
Izzy George is a rising junior at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. majoring in Science, Technology, and International Affairs. Originally from North Carolina, USA, she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and backpacking in her free time. In the future, she hopes to unlock the synergies between sustainable resource management and economic development to address challenges surrounding food security, gender equity, and climate change.
Carsten Schoer is an International Business and Finance major at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. On campus, he is part of Zeeba Investment Fund and the Compass Fellowship among other organizations. With a passion for social impact, DEI, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability, Carsten strives to improve any environment he finds himself in.