Tag Archives: Manila

With distinctive square contours, resembling New York’s Empire State Building, the newly opened, ultra-luxury Grand Hyatt in Manila is already gaining a reputation for being a venue for brilliant, atypical MICE events, say its operators.

The hotel has been a year late in opening, but for PCOs already seeking bookings out beyond the year, it will be worth the wait, they say.

Why? For one thing, according to Director of Sales and Marketing Mellissa Ledesma (pictured below with Gottfried Bogensperger, General Manager of Grand Hyatt Manila) it’s set in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), a booming grid-style urban precinct once owned by the American military that features great shopping, entertainment, clubs, dining and museums within walking distance of the hotel.IMG_1590

“Because of all the action happening in the BGC area, it’s a destination on its own,” says Mellissa in an exclusive interview with The Siteseer. “That’s what we want to project to the world; it’s hugely exciting.”

Second, the building in which the hotel is located is a talking point in itself. It’s said to be the tallest structure in the Philippines at 66 storeys. From the ground to the sixth level is the podium level of the hotel.

The seventh to the thirty-fourth floors house the financial group that owns Grand Hyatt Manila. The hotel itself occupies the thirty-fifth to the sixty-sixth floors, with all 461 rooms having floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views of Metro Manila and the blue waters of Manila Bay. “This is also a unique selling point,” says Mellissa.

Third and not least, the events and associated facilities – 2,281 square metres in total – are genuinely enticing, at the kind of competitive prices for which Manila is gaining a reputation. The pillarless grand ballroom, flanked on one side by a show kitchen, is the only one in the city with natural light, a singular architectural feat considering that it’s a 1,240-square-metre space.

“If they choose to, guests can watch chefs cooking to lights and music, with videos of what they’re doing screened around the ballroom,” Mellissa explains.

Ballroom seating for 900

The ballroom’s capacity is around 900. Its great advantage is that with so many guest rooms, which include 52 suites, for most events everyone can stay on site, Mellissa says. Moreover there are plenty of options for plenary and breakout sessions. “For conferences the ideal booking size is about 100 rooms and 200 people.”

The lobby lounge is set over three tiers. The top tier houses the Grand Kitchen, an all-day dining venue where, in a departure from typical buffets, food is cooked à la minute. “Everything is prepared fresh so you have no situation where food is sitting around in a serving dish for hours,” says Mellissa. “Everything’s served to order so if you have a dietary issue, like you want salt taken out, it’s easy.”

On the fifth floor is a soon-to-open restaurant, No 8 China House. And at the Cellar, a welcoming bar and eatery serving tapas-like meals, The Siteseer’s representative sampled savoury ham-and-béchamel croquettes here, followed by a fragrant, seafood-rich paella. The Cellar is open for lunch and dinner and in the afternoons and is available for drinks throughout the day. Guests here can enjoy craft beers and a vast selection of good wines, which they can select from a digital sommelier, Vinu.

Grand KingThe peak of public spaces

Perhaps the highlight of the public spaces, to open soon, will be The Peak at the top of the building, where an entertainment centre will occupy two storeys, with a grill restaurant, bars, a band venue, club, and, like the Empire State building, an al-fresco area where visitors can drink and dine at a dizzying height.

“One of the strengths of us being a MICE property is that any of the public spaces in the hotel, including restaurants, can be converted to events venues,” Mellissa explains. “On the sixth level where the pool, spa and gym are located we have a pavilion that can seat a hundred and which opens up to a garden. Or the area can be closed off for an evening event.”

Significant MICE business is already being booked from the US, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia, says Mellissa. “We’re developing China, and tourists from China have tripled recently, with a number of enquiries for events. We had one last week from Beijing. In addition there are new markets emerging that were never previously on our radar, like the Czech Republic and Italy.”

Earth tones

An attraction for guests, too, is the fresh-looking guestrooms and suites, which have been set up with honeyed wood walls and maple-plank floors. Bathrooms are finished in veined grey-white marble and have a spacious glass enclosed shower stall and deep soaking tub. There’s a sizeable lounge area with a desk, plush couch, walk-in closet, safe and floor-to-ceiling mirror walls.

IMG_1597

Value proposition

Compared with, say, Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore, Manila is widely known for being a low-cost city, especially in relation to luxury properties. Still, it depends how you define value, Mellissa observes. “We ensure our guests get what they need and what they want.

“When you compare this hotel to other destinations in Asia, it’s much more competitive. In the past Manila hasn’t generally been rated that highly as a MICE destination; now there’s growing interest.”

 

From USD182

Grand Hyatt has been offering introductory rates on rooms, along with other special offers and arrangements. Going rates for the Grand King room start at USD182++ (PHP9,500++). The MICE rate for a Grand King room with buffet breakfast, morning snacks, afternoon snacks is USD229++ (PHP12,000++) for single occupancy and USD305++ (PHP16,000++) for double occupancy.

Hyatt has been in the Philippines since the ‘seventies, and was one of the earliest international hotel chains to set up in the country. Yet this is the first time an ultra-premium Grand Hyatt has been located in the islands. The brand is in a bold expansion phase, with six Grand Hyatt hotels currently in the pipeline round the world, including the one in Manila.

“By giving guests our full attention and making them feel celebrated, we hope to build an emotional connection with them to ensure their stay with us is unforgettable,” says Gottfried Bogensperger. “We want them to keep coming back, not just for the hardware, which is the hotel, but for the warm and authentic people working behind the scenes.”

More information, click here.

IMG_1571

Shortly after taking off from Sydney on Philippine Airlines flight PR 214, I dropped my mobile phone down the side of the business-class seat. Nothing, absolutely nothing, the cabin crew or I did could get it out. It was lost in the works, down there somewhere.

This was worrying. Like everyone else in the digital age, I need my phone. The purser and his sympathetic team said they’d call a mechanic to help extricate it when we arrived in Manila around noon. But obviously no one could say exactly how long this recovery process would take. And while I waited on the plane after everyone else had got off, my bag would end up on the carousel in Manila Airport’s Terminal 2, alone. Then what? Would someone pinch it?

Ian Robinson_ppAs it turned out I needn’t have worried. After an eight-and-a-half-hour journey, during which I napped under a blanket on a flat bed, watched movies and was served outstanding food and drinks with pristine white linen and silver cutlery, the door opened.

Within minutes, while other passengers were still disembarking, a technician had arrived, dismantled the seat and presented me with my phone. I offered him a gratuity. “No sir,” he said, “it’s my job, and welcome to the Philippines.”

For me this was one of many reminders why group and MICE people travelling from Sydney to the Philippines should consider the national carrier (PAL). It should be considered by anyone seeking good deals for air travel to Asia from Australasia – and not just to Manila. From the capital the airline flies onwards to some 30 domestic and 40 international destinations, at competitive full-service prices.

 

Full service to Asia

Indeed flight frequency and direct full-service flights from five Australian gateways – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin and Cairns – ensure the airline is the best option for travel between Australia and the Philippines, says Ian Robinson (pictured above), the airline’s ebullient Regional Manager Australia and New Zealand.

This is particularly true for Australasian corporate and group clients seeking a good value-for-money experience, says Ian. “The year-round PAL fares are consistently much lower than those of our competitors on these routes,” Ian says. “In fact our current promotional fare for two passengers travelling together is quite easily the best business class fare to Manila in the market.”

Business class passengers get priority boarding, lounge access (the Singapore Airline lounge in Sydney), an exclusive menu and wine service on board, flat beds and a 40-kilo checked baggage allowance.

3. BUSINESS CLASS A330The experience is set to become even better. Newly refurbished A330-300 aircraft will introduce a level of service and product that PAL has never offered before in the Australian market, says Ian. These planes are already flying from Melbourne and will be in service on the other Australia-Manila routes by September 2017.

A special feature of these “tri-class” Airbuses, which have a new premium economy option, is high-tech Vantage XL seats (pictured left) made in Ireland by aircraft seat specialist Thompson Aero Seating.

What do you get with these? More comfort. Each seat has an adjustable air cushion system and full-flat bed mode, with lots of “living space” to eat, relax or work in enhanced privacy. Each also has direct aisle access, a massage function, adjustable mood lighting and other gadgetry.

Easy upgrades

It’s worth noting that PAL offers some of the most easily “upgradeable” options for group and leisure travellers. There are two options to upgrade from economy to premium economy or business class from Sydney and Melbourne to Manila at present, Ian observes.

You can buy a business class upgrade on departure at the airport, with some exclusions and conditions, depending on seat availability on the day. The deal comes with lounge access and the 40-kilo baggage allowance. (Overall, it’ll still be a cheaper business class fare than those of other carriers.)

But another choice allows you to bid for upgrades to business online. The airline launched the program recently in partnership with technology service provider Plusgrade. It invites eligible passengers via email to submit upgrade bids up to 36 hours before the flight. (Or you can visit the “myPAL Upgrade” web page to check if you can bid for a better seat.)

A pre-determined minimum and maximum price is defined by destination. You then, with the click of your mouse, simply choose within the defined range how much you’re willing to untrouser for the upgrade.

IMG_1135If your bid’s a winner – and much evidence suggests that chances are usually good – you’re notified via email at least 24 hours before departure. In these instances it could cost you as little as around AUD 1,000 to travel business class for each leg of the Australasia-Manila journey.

At present the upgrade bidding program applies to international flights including Auckland, Bali, Bangkok, Beijing, Brisbane, Cairns, Canton, Darwin, Fukuoka, Guam, Haneda, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Jakarta, London, Los Angeles, Macau, Melbourne, Nagoya, Narita, New York, Osaka (Kansai), Port Moresby, Saigon, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Toronto, Vancouver, Quanzhou (Jinjiang).

The program will later be expanded to cover domestic routes and Middle East destinations.

PAL celebrates 76 years of service in 2017 and has been flying to Australia since 1965. It recently set itself a target to become a five-star airline by 2021, and the introduction of the refurbished A330s (and more new planes on a variety of routes) is a step towards this goal, Ian says.

“For those who haven’t visited the Philippines for some time it’s worthwhile to reacquaint themselves with what the islands have to offer the MICE market,” he adds. “Manila’s one of Asia’s most vibrant and colourful cities with expansive MICE facilities and excellent pre-and post options in the idyllic archipelago.”

He recommends customers talk to their specialist MICE agent or PCO when sourcing fares or beyond on PAL. A groups desk and agents support team located in Sydney can assist agents with fares and other related services. Ph 1300 887 822 or email agent@philippineairlines.com.au.

Siteseer says:

I recently flew Sydney-Manila return, in business class. Here are some of my impressions:

The flight PR 214 departure time of 6am on a weekday morning meant getting up seriously early, but I vastly prefer this than having to wait an hour or more in the frustrating runway queues that occur at later times on Sydney’s ridiculously clogged airport.

This flight was on time. Not only that, it got in to Manila around midday, leaving time for work in the afternoon and less exposure to the city’s infamous rush-hour traffic.

Before boarding I had an excellent light breakfast – good coffee, fruit, smoked salmon – at the lounge in Sydney.

It sounds like a cliché, yes, but the Filipino crew were wonderfully obliging and considerate in their on-board service. There was (more) breakfast shortly after take-off: smoked ham, salami, cobram and goat’s cheese served with celery, grapes and fresh breads, followed by heartier options including chicken adobo, pork in ginger-onion sauce and veal chippolata and beef patty. Even at that time of the day there was champagne and plenty of other booze for those who wanted it.

IMG_1113 newSoon the lights were dimmed and I napped comfortably for a couple of hours while my kindle charged via the in-seat power port. (And, as mentioned, while my phone languished somewhere below in the electronic workings of the seat.)

Later, before more food was served, I accessed the “myPAL” entertainment system, which on this flight involved the use of an airline iPad, to watch a movie, of which there was a reasonable choice. Like many carriers these days, PAL has no individual entertainment screens – “embedded systems” – on many of its planes, an arrangement that cuts the aircraft’s weight. (The airline is apparently reviewing in-flight entertainment options.) For me, not having an embedded screen was no bother; I prefer reading anyway.

Coming home to Sydney from Manila, the experience was equally good. The flight was almost on time, I had plenty to eat and drink in the Mabuhay Lounge at Manila airport, the fare, drinks choice and service aboard were splendid, and it was another day flight.

Flight PR 213 left Manila at 11.15am and got to Sydney shortly after nine that evening, when the baggage hall ws almost deserted. For someone who dislikes overnight flights from Asia to Australasia, this was yet another bonus for travelling on the islands’ efficient, value-for-money carrier.

agent@philippineairlines.com.au A330-w-Clouds-2

 

Hotelier Marlon Hirsh, General Manager of the Crown Towers and Nobu Hotels in Manila’s City of Dreams gaming, events and leisure complex, has a long pedigree in Asian luxury properties. Having been in his current role since the resort’s opening almost three years ago, he predicts a stellar future for the booming Bay district – which is helping transform the way potential visitors view the city, he says. In an interview with The Siteseer, dapper, quietly-spoken Marlon shared insights into his events and leisure businesses and outlined his vision.

Siteseer: There’ve been press reports in Bloomberg and elsewhere recently that Melco Resorts Philippines [owner of the City of Dreams complex] is the world’s most successful casino stock, mainly as a result of expanding business from China. How important is the Chinese gaming market for you?

Marlon Hirsh: Well obviously extremely important. The market continues to grow as the Chinese gain more discretionary income and are starting to travel, not just to southeast Asia, but to Europe and America, really expanding their horizons. It’s vital that we capitalise on it.

If you look at issues like visa processing, proximity and travel costs, the Philippines is a great destination and source of business. The country has a tremendous amount to offer, and not just to the Chinese.

IMG_9527SS: All those beautiful islands within easy flying distance?

MH: Absolutely. If you look at [the Philippine islands of] Cebu, Palawan and Boracay for example, they’re within easy reach of not just China but Korea as well. The Koreans are a strong part of our business mix, as are the Filipino and Japanese – and even the Americans are starting to come. So the City of Dreams continues to grow.

SS: It must be pleasing for you, seeing as the business took a while to build momentum after opening.

MH:  It did take a while unfortunately. But by the time we got our international marketing together, by the tail end of 2015, we started to see things really picking up. We’ll continue to target certain markets, especially the corporate and MICE businesses. Right now we have a pretty good mix; we’re happy with our direction; it’s full-steam ahead.

SS: And the MICE business? How’s that performing for you?

MH: It’s growing. When we opened, somebody asked me to predict what the MICE market would represent at the City of Dreams. Off the cuff I pulled out a figure, said it would probably be around 30%, and that’s where we’re at.

Look, this is a great facility. It’s understated in the sense that we not only have great entertainment, but great ballroom facilities, and the AV and technology to go with them along with a choice of three hotels [with a Hyatt on site in addition to Crown Towers and Nobu] and twenty-plus restaurants to choose from.

any people may underestimate the City of Dreams. It’s much more than just a casino. It’s an integrated resort with world-class entertainment. There are plenty of other single-standing hotels that can offer several hundred rooms around town. Well here we have nearly a thousand rooms between three international-branded hotel properties, and they’re all luxury five-star. Not everyone may realise that.

IMG_9520We have the F&B, the entertainment and DreamPlay [pictured left and below, a family play space with attractions also suited to teambuilding activities] which is a first in the world. Couple that with the service we provide. In my opinion, and of course I’m biased, it’s a no-brainer. Why not come here?

SS: I guess the triangle of good hotels in one location near the airport is a strong selling point?

MH: Yes, especially now that there’s a new, short expressway from the airport that was fully opened in December. We’ve seen an increase in our gaming business coming into the property as a result. It takes ten minutes to get from the terminals to our hotels, and about 20 to 30 minutes to [the key business centres of] Makati and Bonifacio Global City. Manila traffic hasn’t always enjoyed the greatest of reputations. The freeway has removed much of the anxiety about city traffic that [events planners] may have had when contemplating a trip to Manila.

SS: Who mostly makes up your MICE business?

MH: Lots of pharmaceutical companies, sales teams, doctors. As of now much of this business is regional, and we get some [events] visitors from Australia and Singapore.

I believe that will continue to build. People will realise that with 575 guest rooms between the Nobu and the Crown alone, the number of twin double [queen-sized] beds is significantly higher here than what you’d find in other hotels. So from a MICE perspective it’s very advantageous for planners. We can accommodate larger groups and are able to provide, say, 200 rooms for 400 people twin-sharing. That helps overcome a challenge many hotels face. All we have to do is shift our business around internally to be able to accommodate events guests. It’s almost unheard of.

IMG_9521SS: In the general scheme of things is the City of Dreams a value-for-money destination?

MH: One hundred per cent yes. The perceived value for money is overwhelming – [ranging from] the way the sales team engages with clients, accommodating their last-minute requests, to the ease of use and ease of doing business. It’s a winner. Value lies also in the product and facilities and the great team of staff who work in these hotels. Their knowledge of the product, and food and beverage, and their ability to deliver services in the way we’d like our guests to experience them, are outstanding.

We’re in the Bay area of Manila, which is a rapidly developing commercial enclave. So if you want shopping we’re very close to the Mall of Asia, one of the largest in southeast Asia. If you want cultural perspectives, you’ve got Intramuros [the oldest part of the city that dates back to Spanish colonisation].

And if you want to play golf there’s a course at Intramuros as well. Makati is 20 to 30 minutes away. There’s something for everybody.

In addition, in a couple of years from now there’ll be another new, huge mall of 3.8 million square feet right across from the City of Dreams, accessible from us via a pedestrian bridge. It’ll have five storeys of retail space and more restaurants. The foot traffic will be unbelievable.

SS: You’ve talked in past interviews about the passion and engagement of the staff at the City of Dreams. How do they compare with those in the other hotels you’ve worked in?

MH: That belief still holds water. We’re fortunate enough to work in hotels that give new employees ample training, emphasising quality and standards. They have a wonderful attitude. There’s a particular pride and passion among staff to deliver five-star luxury experience.

I’ve discovered there’s something in the theory that hospitality is innate in the Filipino culture. I’ve been an expat for sixteen years, and in southeast Asia for fourteen of them: Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore. Filipinos’ English, widely spoken in local communities, is a huge plus for many international visitors.

It was interesting for me a couple of years back when we opened and had our mass recruitment drive. I had an opportunity to engage with the staff and interview every person who works for me. It was a phenomenal experience, bringing the corporate vision to life. The staff continues to perform and execute to this very day.

SS: Did you work for hotels in the States before coming to Asia?

MH: Yes, I started my career over twenty years ago with Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and then Shangri-la. I’ve worked also in the Middle East and Europe.

MNLHY_ExteriorI’m proud of my luxury hotel experience which covers the gamut of line staff positions – security, night manager, housekeeping, guest services. We’re all professionals. A house keeper is not a maid; he or she is someone who provides a professional service.

It’s been a wonderful joy ride for me and my family and I’m fortunate to do what I enjoy and get paid to do it. My father taught me a long time ago that going to work should be like going on vacation. he luxury hotel business is like that. There are never two days exactly alike.

Whether you’re talking to kings and queens, high-end personalities, A-list celebrities and so forth or talking to staff who are new in the city, you find everybody has something useful to impart and contribute. You can’t stereotype anybody.

SS: Does [the actor] Robert de Niro still visit?

MH: He’s been here twice. He visited during the pre-opening and did a walk-through of the guest rooms, cracking jokes, being hands-on, sitting on sofas and testing them for comfort, checking the density of the pillows and that they were to specs. He came back for the launch of the Nobu.

We’re also lucky to have [Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa after whom the hotel is named] come to the property once or twice a year. We recently had a wonderful dinner for 300 covers here and book-signing with him. Incidentally he was just recently conferred a food and beverage lifetime achievement award by Esquire in the UK.

SS: In ten years’ time what will the City of Dreams and its hotels be like?

MH: I’ve got one line: the future is ours. This is a fantastic, world-class facility that’s competitive in every way. The area in and around Entertainment City will continue to expand. There’ll be more malls, embassies will come in, it’ll become even more of an entertainment centre, and we’ll be helping change Manila, putting it back on the map.

For more information about the City of Dreams, Crown Towers and Nobu hotel (one of whose rooms is pictured below), go here.

And see more Siteseer stories on the City of Dreams here:

http://siteseerlive.wpengine.com/articles/city-of-dreams-now-a-tonic-for-teams/

http://siteseerlive.wpengine.com/articles/manilas-new-entertainment-epicentre/

Nobu room

The ribbon-cutting’s over, the teething troubles have been ironed out and visitors are pouring in. More and more incentive organisers are now considering the City of Dreams hotel and casino complex in Manila as a venue with a difference.

So says Jenny Gabon-Santillan (below right), the vivacious Sales and Marketing Director for the sprawling, 6.2-hectare entertainment complex which opened a year ago. Many pundits are expecting the Asian gaming market to rebound in 2016, says Jenny. That’s why operator Melco Crown Resorts believes the property, set close to the city’s international airport and the blue waters of Manila Bay, is well-positioned to play a role in boosting the Philippines as a leisure and tourism destination in the western Pacific.

IMG_0752 (1)With the City of Dreams resort now being visited by thousands of local and international visitors each week, its reputation as a glitzy, out-of-the-ordinary urban incentive destination is growing, says Charisse Chuidian (left), Vice President Public Relations for the complex and doyenne of the hospitality industry in the Philippines.

More corporate events organisers are showing interest. Along with two boardrooms, a sumptuous ballroom seats up to 600 for a banquet and up to 900 theatre-style. It can be broken down into three banquet rooms, says Charisse.

Though there are few smaller breakout rooms right now of the kind many conference organisers favour, in 2016 City of Dreams events staff will have the flexibility of using some of the F&B outlets for this purpose, says Jenny.

“We’ll also be able to offer themed events for clients using these. Seventy to eighty percent of our clients are corporate, mostly from regional centres and as far afield as Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.”

A big drawcard for incentive visitors is the 5,000-square-metre, “DreamPlay” facility, a family entertainment centre with attractions that are perfect for teambuilding activities, says Charisse. It presents a variety of team-building exercise options including climbing “the wall of destiny”. DreamPlay is the first play space in the world inspired by the DreamWorks animation company, Charisse adds.

IMG_9527“We’ve been using DreamPlay regularly for team building,” explains Jenny Gabon-Santillan. “Last year we had a major incentive here for a big soft drink company, who ran an all-day event in the ballroom and afterwards at about 4pm went to DreamPlay for a bit of competitive fun – and loved it. More recently we hosted a pharmaceutical company whose doctor guests really got into the swing of things.”

The ideal size for groups for team building is 50 to 60, and they’re usually hosted on weekdays because the retail businesses in the complex are so busy on weekends.

With six hotel towers incorporating Hyatt, Nobu and Crown properties, the City of Dreams has a vast casino, two nightclubs, 21 restaurants, ritzy branded shops and a quadrangle-like centrepiece of gardens, walkways and three discrete swimming pool areas, each attached to its respective hotel, on site. In combination, the hotels offer 940 classy rooms.

The fact that the City of Dreams is close to the airport is a bonus for visitors familiar with Manila traffic, says Hyatt’s engaging, ever-cheerful Marketing Communications Manager Jose (“Ouie”) Torres Badelles (pictured top). He and colleagues primarily use radio and social media to promote the hotel and the broader facility, which he says gives the best results.

MNLHY_Lobby2_NoPeopleRates from USD 160

Online rates for rooms at the Hyatt and Nobu hotels start at around USD 160, and at around USD 260 for the Crown Towers.

Events organisers are encouraged to discuss their requirements with City of Dreams staff.

Jose Badelles says a room at the Hyatt plus conference package including meals kicks in at around USD 330 (PHP 15,000) a day.

Contact the property here and Hyatt City of Dreams here.

Actor Robert de Niro and casino identities Lawrence Ho and James Packer (co-chairmen of operator Melco Crown) were at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Nobu Hotel at the complex. View it here.

And see last year’s Siteseer story here.

 

“I hope I’ve presented my property well enough,” says Jose Torres Badelles with a smile. “If I became overly excited talking about my country, the location and bright prospects for the years ahead, it’s because I’m a citizen hopeful for his people.”

IMG_9502Bespectacled, cheerful Jose (left) is Marketing Communications Manager for the new (opened February 2015) Hyatt Hotel in the City of Dreams complex in Manila, Philippines, and he’s as enthused about his property as he is about his nation. “It’s an exciting location now and it’ll be exciting in years to come,” he exclaims.

His colleague Charisse Chuidian (below), Vice President Public Relations for the City of Dreams complex, agrees. “If you’re attending a conference you’re spoilt for choice here,” she says. “[There’s] gaming, entertainment, dining and shopping.”

Just three kilometres from Manila’s airport – a boon for travellers familiar with the local traffic – the new City of Dreams complex, a sister property to the one in Macau of the same name, does indeed have some extraordinary features. To outside observers it looms as a gold-glass-walled monolith close to the Manila Bay foreshore, with the “Fortune Egg,” a dome-like structure housing nightclubs, serving as an architectural oddity. Inside the complex, a kind of twenty-first-century leisure and gaming wonderland reveals itself the moment guests step into the airconditioned interior. “Once I’m inside, I feel I don’t need to leave for any reason till my holiday’s over,” one guest told me.

IMG_9516It’s one of several “integrated resorts” in the Philippine islands. Occupying 6.2 hectares, it incorporates three upscale hotels jointly offering some 950 rooms – the Hyatt, a Nobu, the first outside the US, and a Crown Towers – a massive casino with 380 tables and 1,700 slot machines, nightclubs, 21 restaurants, ritzy branded shops and a quadrangle-like centrepiece of gardens, walkways and three discrete swimming pool areas, each attached to its respective hotel.

The enterprise, costing over USD 1 billion, has already become a significant source of jobs for local people. It’s part of James Packer’s Melco Crown joint venture with Lawrence Ho, the son of Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho. It had its official opening earlier in 2015, plugged by a short and expensive TV ad featuring actors Robert De Niro and Leonardo Di Caprio and director Martin Scorsese.

Balls and banquets

Events including weddings, dinners, product launches and corporate functions are a big part of the marketing strategy. An onsite ballroom can cater for up to 700 seated and is supported by a generous-sized pre-function area, two fully equipped board rooms with a capacity to seat 24, and a banqueting kitchen equipped for Filipino, Chinese and Western fare.

The grand opening celebration in February encompassed a press conference for 150 foreign and local media, the arrival of guests on a red carpet, a fireworks display and gala dinner for 400 in the ballroom, with American R&B singer Ne-yo providing the entertainment. The foreign VIPs were housed in the three hotels.

MNLHY_ClubKingCornerThough it’s primarily aimed at entertaining families with kids, the 5,000 square-metre “DreamPlay” facility (pictured below) additionally serves as an onsite attraction for delegates and incentive visitors, with a variety of team-building exercises including climbing. “The incentive business is a key target area for us,” says Charisse Chuidian.

Great cuisine and service is offered in over 21 food and beverage outlets in the three hotels and those operated by concessionaires, says Charisse. There are two night clubs – Chaos, accommodating up to 2,000, and Pangaea (4,000) – a bar on the gaming floor featuring local and international artists, a gym in each of the hotels and spas in Nobu and Crown Towers.

Hyatt classiness

Certainly the 365-room Hyatt, set in two towers, is as classy as other properties of the upmarket marque, if not more so, with muted, warm-hued interiors and marble-lined bathrooms with twin vanities and luxurious standalone tubs. (Hyatt room pictured above). For guests staying in the 45 club rooms, breakfasts are served in eclectic Asian tradition in the club lounge, ranging from fluffy omelettes, coconut prawns and smoked salmon to bread and dim sim baked and steamed on site.

At the main eatery, The Café, robust Filipino fare on offer recently included sinigang na salmon, a sour fish broth, kalderetang baka, a tender beef stew, and cochinillo, roast pork.

IMG_9520

From around USD 330 a day

What does it cost to stay here? Jose Badelles says a room at the Hyatt plus conference package including meals kicks in at around USD 330 (PHP 15,000) a day. “I’ve read a lot of comments about us on TripAdvisor and the consensus seems to be it’s a reasonably priced destination for MICE visitors for what it can offer – something new and different, and close to Intramuros, the historically interesting area of Manila,” he says.

“It was developed to meet the needs of the growing number of leisure seekers in the Philippines and Asia, but also to satisfy organisers looking for an events venue that’s beautiful and great fun. I think you’ll agree the strategy’s working well.”

Prices for room-only at the Hyatt on the Internet (via Trivago) were around USD 153 per night in June. (http://codmanilahyatt.com).

Prices at the 321-room Nobu City of Dreams Manila and 254-room Crown Towers are available at www.cityofdreams.com.ph.

Email: CharisseChuidian@cod-manila.com 

The Siteseer was a paying guest at the Hyatt, City of Dreams.

MNLHY_Cafe2

The sky over El Nido is overcast, scoured by the tail end of a typhoon that’s passed and headed north. I’m the only passenger in the Filipino trigger boat, whose bamboo outriggers scud over a smooth, slate-coloured sea.

Having left a wharf near a small airfield, the boat chugs through a chain of extraordinary islands sculpted into strange, alien shapes. Towering limestone cliffs shoot dramatically from the ocean, their crowns covered in foliage, their bases fringed by white sand beaches and palm trees.

“That’s Lagen Island,” says Jake Lindo, the young boat guide, pointing ahead to a string of cabins in the distance, suspended over the turquoise waters of a small lagoon.

2This resort on Lagen, one of 45 islands and islets in the environmentally protected area of El Nido, will be my sanctuary for the next two nights, and I find myself delighted at the prospect. For decades I’ve wanted to visit this place, widely acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful destinations in the Philippines and, finally, I’m going to experience it.

As I step ashore, a group of the resort staff are lined up to sing me a welcome and a cool drink is thrust into my hand. “Please, leave only your footprints here and take away only memories,” says one who shows me to my room. It’s a timber-lined, air-conditioned space set against an old-growth rainforest whose trees, vines and leaves loom over the roof. My balcony overlooks the resort’s big freshwater pool and al-fresco dining area, beyond which the lagoon, lined with more bungalows and fringed with mangroves, shimmers in the evening light.

This tropical resort in the north of the big Philippine island of Palawan is every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. It’s not just the other-worldliness of the environment here that makes it outstanding; the genuine warmth and obligingness of the Filipino staff is a tonic for anyone seeking a break from workaday routine – as I discovered.

In recognition of the value of its ecosystem, the Philippine government declared El Nido to be a protected area in 1998. But, interestingly, it only became internationally renowned as a tourist destination around 1979, when a dive boat broke down one night, forcing the crew to drop anchor in an inlet.

3.1The next day the divers woke to find themselves surrounded by sparkling sea, white beaches “and a series of magnificently sculpted jade islands,” according to one story. Since then it’s gained further recognition thanks to movies and TV shows.

The final scene of the film “Bourne Legacy” was shot here. (Watch the great scene at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWt-pPn5rS0.)

Lagen’s is one of three island resort facilities operated in El Nido by one company, El Nido Resorts. The other two are set on nearby islands Miniloc and Pangulasian.

The food, usually served in buffets in the main restaurant or, on special days, at poolside, is adequate and plentiful, and there’s a terrific spa, with massage services starting at around AUD30. A plethora of activities from scuba diving to kayaking and guided eco-tours are available. For me though, one of the most agreeable was sitting at the poolside bar at dusk, ice cold San Miguel beer in hand, watching the sun sink into the ocean.

From USD250 per person sharing

Like its sister resorts on Miniloc and Pangulasian, Lagen caters for weddings, meetings, team-building and other corporate events, with a minimum two nights’ stay required. The offer starts with the use of the accommodation for two at PhP 22,000.00 (about USD500; ie $250 per person) per night. That includes breakfast, boat transfers and use of the resort’s recreational facilities. For groups, there’s a meetings supplement of PhP 1,200 (about USD30.00) per person, which includes a snack, half-day use of the conference room, coffee and tea and the usual meetings set-up and pads and pencils.

3“Room rates are negotiable depending on the size of the group and the travel period,” says Bambi Samson, Director of Sales, “so the supplement may change according to the requirements of the group. Rates are higher from November to May, and promos and special rates are usually offered from June through to October.”

The ideal season for team building, when staff can set up a private beach club” as a corporate playground, is February to May. An ideal size for a group is about 40, adds Bambi, but the resorts can handle more, or facilitate a “buy-out” of each property in its entirety.

The usual direct method of getting to the islands is from Manila on Island Transvoyager Inc (ITI), with El Nido Resorts handling the bookings. It’s a 55-minute flight on a 50-seater ATR aircraft, followed by a boat trip of about an hour to get to the islands. Cost of the travel from Manila: about $100 each way.

Undeniably it takes some effort to get there from abroad and it’s priced at a premium, but El Nido is worth every cent.

For more information, email holiday@elnidoresorts.com or visit www.elnidoresorts.com.

The Siteseer was a paying guest at Lagen Island.

7

Like other cities in the Philippines, Manila has its challenges and drawbacks, not least the traffic snarls and pollution. Its best assets, in my view, are its unfailingly cheerful people and splendid hotels.

I’ve been lucky enough to stay at a selection of really good Manila hotels, including the “Edsa” Shangri-la and Crowne Plaza in Ortigas. They have outstanding facilities in common, at a remarkably competitive price, usually less than half what you’d pay in a comparable property in, say, New York or Sydney and with vastly better service. Recently I checked in for three nights at one of Manila’s best and newest – the five-star Fairmont located in Makati, the city’s main business, shopping and leisure hub.

Girls croppedIt represents a step forward for tourism in the city and country, say its marketers, with the last luxury hotel in the area having been built way back in 1993-94.

The 280-room Fairmont is incorporated into a 30-storey tower that includes the 32 all-suite Raffles Makati hotel as well as the 237 one- to four-bedroom Raffles Residences, set up for short- or long-term stays. They’re all owned by the same parent company (FRHI). What makes it especially attractive for business and MICE visitors is that it’s been conceived by architects Arquitectonica and interior designer Bent Severin to ensure guests’ privacy, as far as possible, according to Monique Toda (pictured, left), Director of Communications.

“The design allows for exclusivity,” explains Monique, a 27-year veteran of the hotel business. Its lobby, for example, unlike the cavernous foyers of many hotels, has been created as an assembly of separate, partitioned spaces where people can get together and talk in relative solitude.

“We view ourselves as a kind of oasis in the city and place a high priority on people’s privacy,” explains Monique. “A lot of our conference guests or business travellers like that; they don’t want to be stared at, or to feel ‘out there’ in any way.”

In addition to “Fairmont Gold,” the executive room and lounge offer, the hotel has over 1,700 square meters of meeting and function space, including an 859-square-meter ballroom accommodating up to 600. Additional meeting rooms cater for 30 to 40.IMG_7900

“Having Raffles next door and part of the same complex allows us to attract leisure travellers,” says Marketing Communications Coordinator Bianca Rodriguez (pictured, right).

“The Fairmont is almost exclusively for business people, and we generally tend to offer better rates in July-August.” Another agreeable feature is the “Willow Stream” spa, a headily-scented facility covering 1,200 square meters and including a hair salon, nail studio, mineral as well as outdoor pool.

From around US$200 a day The rooms at the Fairmont start at around US$200 a day, and it offers a swag of conference packages.

Take the “Spectrum Buffet” full-day package for up to 30 people. It includes use of a meeting room for eight hours, morning and afternoon refreshments, lunch, all the usual IT and wifi whistles and bells, free local phone calls, a conference “butler,” and complimentary car park tickets for 10% of the guests. That package is PHP2,280 per person, or just over $50.

Contact the hotel at makati@fairmont.com.

The Siteseer was a guest of Fairmont Hotel in Makati.