Tag Archives: Philippines

Karmina De Ungria, an ebullient young marketing executive at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manila, says The Peak is like nothing else in the city of 13 million people. She may have a point.

“It’s something very new to the market and sets a whole new standard in dining and entertainment,” says the enthusiastic Karmina (pictured below), Director of Marketing Communications for the Grand Hyatt hotel in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, Manila.

IMG_1872Why? The Peak is a dining and bar complex atop the towering Grand Hyatt building – said to be the tallest structure in the Philippines at 318 metres. Occupying the sixtieth to the sixty-second floors, The Peak is a classy amalgam of interconnected, enticing indoor and outdoor terrace drinking spaces and cosy indoor eateries, most with sweeping views of the Manila skyline and the blue waters of the bay. Indeed its design, conceptualised by Tokyo-based international design firm Nao Taniyama & Associates, was inspired by penthouse living, with one room flowing to another, says Karmina.


It includes a grill restaurant, music lounge, whisky bar and The Peak bar, each flagged as a destination on its own. The centrepiece of the grill is an open kitchen where guests can view their food being prepared by Chef De Cuisine Manuel Baenziger.

“I think it’s what many guests are seeking right now,” Karmina adds, standing on a deck on the sixty-second floor, looking at the ramparts of the city below. “The views are exceptional [which helps to make it] an experience in itself.”

GHM The Peak VerandaHere, events organisers could consider the cosy Speakeasy restaurant (main picture) and waterhole which can be booked privately and accommodate up to 30 guests with a minimum total spend of PHP 80,000 (about USD 1,500). That’s about fifty bucks a head – reasonable given the attributes of the venue and the quality of the food and drink, ranging from Bordeaux to Bollinger and Maryland crab cake to Aussie wagyu beef. The hotel itself is spanking new, opened last year, which gives the entire complex a fresh, swanky appeal.

“We see a lot of the local market, as well as visitors who are looking for premium dining and entertainment,” says Karmina. “Of course Hyatt’s a well-known and established brand and we’re very pleased with how our rooms, restaurant concepts and event facilities have been received by the market. Everything’s been designed to give our guests a grand experience.”

The Peak is incorporated in the Grand Hyatt Manila hotel. For reservations and more details, call +632 8381234 or email thepeak.manila.grand@hyatt.com.

GHM The Peak Music Lounge 1

GHM The Peak Music Lounge 2

Newsletter pic 1

GHM The Peak Whiskey Room

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.


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.


Philippine carrier Cebu Pacific is increasing its flight frequencies between Sydney and Manila, giving PCOs plenty of low-cost options for travel to the islands and elsewhere in Asia.

“There aren’t just low fares between Sydney and Manila, but onward destinations once landing, connecting people to unique hotspots,” says Candice Iyog, Vice President for Marketing and Distribution.

Cebu Pacific_newlivery_2Cebu has been operating daily services (up from five a week) providing more flexibility for people travelling over the peak summer period.

“We anticipate that the uptake of the additional flights will be from Australians seeking low-cost escapes and from expat travellers over the Christmas-New Year period,” says Candice.

But the deals will interest MICE travellers, too, the airline believes. “PCOs represent an interesting segment and are important to us, as we want the Philippines to be considered for business events, conferences, incentives and famils.”

The island delights of the Philippines on offer at competitive prices means PCOs and event organisers can create exciting itineraries, working to budgets, she adds. “Our low fares all-year round mean more can be invested at the destination rather than on the journey, and the Philippines is a great place, with picturesque beaches, fully equipped resorts and a huge array of activities to choose from.”

Cebu Pacific’s major hub in Manila is a nine-hour direct flight from Sydney, and Australia represents one of its most important markets.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics indicate that during first quarter of 2017, Cebu Pacific dominated the Sydney-Manila market with a 42% market share on the route, the highest among the three carriers covering it.

newlivery-cebu0443Moreover events organisers can take advantage of same-terminal connection points to great island destinations in the Western Pacific including Palawan, Boracay and Cebu. “It’s simple, easy and low cost to build an impressive event itinerary across multiple destinations in the islands.”

The increase in Manila-Sydney flights coincides with a move to increase domestic frequencies at the same time, improving accessibility for travellers outside of the Manila metropolitan area, Candice says. The network now comprises 27 international and 37 domestic destinations.


However, one of the most attractive aspects, the airline’s representatives observe, is undoubtedly the low-cost fares. For example to kick off the recent new arrangements, Manila-Sydney daily fares started from $280 one-way.

“There are many great reasons to fly with Cebu Pacific, but our fares help put us ahead of the competition.”

To enhance the onboard experience the airline Pacific has refreshed its inflight menu. Domestic and international passengers now get a fresh selection of pre-ordered meals under three categories: western fusion, Filipino and Asian.

The latest seat sales can be found on Cebu Pacific’s official Twitter (@CebuPacificAir) and Facebook pages. For bookings and inquiries, visit www.cebupacificair.com or call the reservation hotline at +612 9119 2956.

CEBFOOD08-0817xx (45 of 137)

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:



Nobu room

It’s a small thing for some people, sure, but it suggests a well-run establishment, whose operators are mindful of the green sensibilities of many of today’s travellers.

I’m talking about the two-litre glass, recyclable bottles of drinking water that are provided in the 48 guest bedrooms of The District hotel, Boracay, one of the most beautiful of the 7,107 islands in the Philippines. As anyone who knows Asian beaches can attest, discarded plastic is a ubiquitous scourge, and in a small way The District is trying to do something about it.

The four-star hotel is set on Boracay’s famed White Beach, a stretch of gleaming talcum-power sand on the western side of the seven-kilometre-long island, in the busy central tourist area known as Station 2. This precinct’s unimaginative name belies the beauty of the beach itself – and of the hotel. It’s a delightful white-painted building whose cool interiors, symmetrical lines and elegant stone pathways and finishes are redolent of hostelries of the Greek islands and southern Spain.

The District Boracay - FacadeStandard room rates include round-trip transfers from the airport at Caticlan on an adjacent island, involving a private speedboat ride and a choice of breakfast or brunch buffet for two. The District is in fact the only resort on the island that offers guests the option of either breakfast or brunch as part of the regular rate, says Marketing and PR Manager Vina Mataganas.

It’s great value for money for events and leisure visitors alike, Vina says. “You can have your late breakfast or brunch till 1pm, and guests enjoy complimentary massage samplers at our spa or complimentary drinks at the bar. In addition to the physical treats they enjoy personalised service, which I think is really at the core of a great resort or hotel.”

Wedding ceremonies are a key component of the District’s business, as are private dinners and corporate events. The conference room can accommodate up to 80, and can be easily converted into two rooms to cater for smaller groups. And there’s an events roof deck (and bar) that overlooks the beach. On this elevated first-floor perch guests can enjoy evening cocktails while watching the sun sink into the South China Sea.

The hotel’s MICE business is at present mostly local, but it also hosts international incentive visitors, says Vina. One recent group, for example, came from Russia.

The District Boracay - Deluxe Room (King)There’s a serene lap pool as well as a spa and fitness centre, and two restaurants serve as well-priced alternatives to the plethora of other outlets that front onto White Beach.

One of the District’s restaurants, the Caruso, has tables inside the hotel, on the ground floor, and set out on the beach after dark. (It will operate at The District until May 31 then be replaced later in the year by a new restaurant, The Plenary, offering comfort food, and a café, the House Brew.)

The breakfast and brunch buffets offer a variety of local and western fare, from fresh fruit and salads to Filipino dishes like fried pork and noodles. In an egg station, smiling chefs whip up omelettes to order, virtually in an instant. The buffet restaurant, The Star Lounge, has both alfresco and indoor areas, the latter suiting diners who prefer eating in cool surrounds.

But, undoubtedly, one of the most attractive features of the establishment is the beach itself. Guests leaving the hotel step, literally, from the front door onto the sand and into the shade of rustling palm trees. The azure water, fifteen metres away, is a balmy-bathwater temperature all year round.

“Most important of all, we know our guests by heart,” says Vina. “We offer unrivalled and personalised service; in fact we’re a consistent recipient of TripAdvisor’s Traveller’s Choice Award, mainly because of our service, as well as our location and facilities.”

From USD180 per day

Meeting package rates here range from PHP 1,800 (USD 36) to PHP 3,200 (USD 64) per person per day, depending on menu choice and whether organisers opt for half-board or full-board meals. Room rates start from PHP 9,900 (USD 198). “But we customise packages, which gives our guests flexibility in managing their budgets,” says Vina.

Events visitors, meanwhile, appreciate The District Boracay’s embrace of sustainability principles in a variety of ways. For example the hotel uses solar power to augment its electricity needs, via a hundred solar panels installed on the rooftops. “We’re for sustainable tourism; that’s why we make sure we do our part in offsetting our operation’s carbon footprint,” says Vina.

More information here.

The District Boracay - Resort Grounds



The Philippine low-cost airline Cebu Pacific, the largest carrier in the islands flying to almost all Asian capital cities, is increasingly making a name for itself as a player in the events market, offering competitive discounts for groups of a minimum of 15 people.

And the airline – a subsidiary of JG Summit Holdings, one of the largest conglomerates in the Philippines – is flexible and open to receiving approaches from MICE organisers.

Atty. JR Mantaring, CEB Vice President for Corporate Affairs“Any PCO or event manager organising an event in the islands, whether it’s a familiarisation trip, conference or incentive should contact our corporate booking office to discuss their requirements in more detail,” says Atty JR Mantaring (pictured, left), Cebu Pacific’s Vice President for Corporate Affairs.

“Cebu Pacific stands out in the industry because of our extensive reach, offering low-cost services and a safe and fun travel experience to the widest selection of destinations across the country,” he says. “And we do it more frequently than any other airline, making the Philippines a really accessible gateway.”

Sydney-Manila from AUD 199

The airline works hard to offer low fares all year round, but also has many good ‘ad hoc’ sales. For example a recent deal offered Sydney to Manila flights, all in, for just AUD 199.

As a quick glance at the website confirms, the airline has established a big variety of routes within the Philippines and Asia, connecting airports through its six major hubs: Manila, Clark, Cebu, Davao, Kalibo and Iloilo. “Having multiple routes and flights allows us to offer the most competitive fares; it lets people save on the flight and splurge on the destination,” says Atty Mantaring.

Like more and more successful enterprises, Cebu Pacific incorporates the use of social media as an intrinsic part of its marketing campaigns. Recently, for instance, it launched its ‘Beach Bum Academy,’ offering prizes of all-expenses-paid holidays by the beach in partnership with the Department of Tourism Philippines, Henann Resort and Plantation Bay Resort and Spa.

ATR72-600-CebuPacificTo enter the competition, participants had to post a 30- to 60-second video of themselves on a social platform and share the link via the Cebu Pacific Beach Bums entry form. Atty Mantaring sees this kind of promotion as crucial for almost any business these days. “We understand guests love sharing their views and experiences online,” he says, “so we encourage them to engage with us on multiple platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.”

In other news, Cebu Pacific is adding new ATR 72-600 aircraft (left) to its fleet of 60-plus planes. It offers a better passenger experience thanks to its larger cabin and additional seating capacity to support even lower fares, he says.

“We’ll progressively replace our current fleet of eight ATR 72-500s, configured with 72 seats, with the fleet of 16 new ATR 72-600s which have 78 seats. Deliveries 600s will run through until 2020.”

The airline has just opened an office in Korea, which it believes will strengthen its international appeal in the Asia-Pacific, he adds.

The latest seat sales can be found on Cebu Pacific’s official Twitter (@CebuPacificAir) and Facebook pages. For bookings and inquiries, visit www.cebupacificair.com or call the reservation hotline at +612 9119 2956.


I was strolling the narrow streets of Coron Town, Philippines, when a late-afternoon thunderstorm blew in from the sea. The tropical deluge forced me to run up a set of ramshackle stairs off the main square, to take shelter in a tiny wooden-framed restaurant. It proved to be an excellent decision.

From my first-floor seat on the covered balcony, I watched motorised tricycles scud by through the downpour, and ordered an ice-cold San Miguel Light, one of the country’s most popular brews, followed by another. Then came fried calamari along with a delicious green chicken and coconut curry. When the rain stopped and the bill eventually arrived, I forked out the equivalent of AUD 8 for my meal and all the drinks. “Come again tomorrow,” said the restaurateur, Malou, with a gap-toothed smile.

IMG_0936The affability of the people and value for money are among the most notable attributes of this place, a coastal settlement flanked by the green karst mountains of Busuanga Island north of the larger isle, Palawan.

With a scattering of hotels and island resorts, relatively few tourists and pristine beaches and coral atolls providing some of the best diving and boating opportunities in the Philippines, undeveloped Coron Town and the surrounding Calamian archipelago may represent some of the great incentive trip surprises of the Western Pacific.

That may change of course, with Palawan having been named best island in the world by Conde Nast Traveler fairly recently. Meanwhile bargains for incentive groups – and brilliant experiences – await those prepared to hop on one of the daily 50-minute flights to Busuanga from Manila. (Starting from about AUD 150 for each leg on local airline Skyjet, for example. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines also fly this route).

An essential part of a visitor’s itinerary should be an island-hopping day trip from Coron Town to nearby beaches, inlets and reefs. The guided tours invariably take place via native, double-outrigger bangka boats, and start from the wharf on the town foreshore. I paid roughly AUD 35, which included the tour, lunch and refreshments.

IMG_0956Tours typically include visits to seven or eight spots, diving and snorkelling onto the remains of a merchant ship in shallow water – the area is also renowned for WW2 wreck diving – lunch on an icing-sugar beach and a climb up, and down, to Kayangan Lake, a body of clear blue water set in a “hole” of its own among steep, heavily wooded hills and cliffs.

Here’s a typical online comment about one of the island resorts in the area: “It’s like you died and woke up in beach heaven . . . the sand is talc and the water is crystal clear. . .”

While isolated luxury resorts in this region, like Huma Island (www.humaisland.com) are brilliant incentive destinations in their own right, one hotel, the 80-room Westown, pictured above, stands out as a meetings destination close to restaurants and shops in Coron Town.

With four-star-standard rooms with great views, three swimming pools, a spa, bars and restaurant, the Westown is a five-minute trike ride from the town centre. It has three main meeting venues and rates are extraordinarily low. For example one package that includes use of a venue for 20 people for three hours, waiter service, sound system equipment and a plated three-course lunch starts at PHP 400 (about AUD 12) per person. Rates for the well-air-conditioned, spacious rooms start at around AUD 115 per night.

IMG_0915Busuanga has great venues and outdoor experiences, representing fantastic value – as do so many of the 7,107 islands of the Philippines, where almost everyone speaks English and domestic carriers serve dozens of routes. More info:






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.


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.