Friday, May 27, 2016


by Roger Pe
May 26, 2016 issue
Philippine Business Mirror
Full page centerspread
Palawan. Voted by Conde Nast Magazine as World's Best Island for two consecutive times (2015-2016).

For decades, the country’s tourist arrival figure has been languishing in the single-digit figure. But on December 21, 2015, the day signaled the dawn of a new era in Philippine tourism. Gabby Grantham, a Fil-Am and much-awaited passenger of Philippine Airlines flight PR103 became the country’s 5 millionth visitor.

Department of Tourism and Ninoy Aquino International Airport officials warmly welcomed Grantham for helping the country finally breach the 5-million mark. When the year was over, the number even soared to 5,360,682.

The economic impact of that 2015 figure was worth P227.62 billion in earnings, or an increase of 5.94 percent from 2014. Significantly, it was the brightest year in Philippine tourism’s history, thanks to DOT Secretary Ramon Jimenez and his tireless team. 

While it looked good on paper, it was not enough to put the country on Asia’s Top 10 most visited countries list. In its latest report, the United Nations World Tourism Organization ranked China as No.1 followed by Hongkong, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Macau, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia in that order.

As for Southeast Asia’s six major economies, Malaysia is topnotcher with 27.4 million visitors annually. Thailand is second with 24.8m, Singapore, third with 15m, Indonesia, fourth with 9m and Vietnam, fifth with 7.9m. The Philippines is sixth with 5.3m while the second tier countries Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are close by with 4.4m, 4m and 3m, respectively. 

France, United States, Spain, China and Italy are the Top 5 countries with the most number of tourists annually. Interestingly, inspite of recent terror bombings in Paris, France maintained its number one spot in the rankings.

The turtle-slow rise of our tourism growth over the last 20 years is mind-boggling considering that we have much to offer than most Asian countries, and even as one of our 7,500 (as of the latest count) islands was voted by travel bible Conde Nast as the “World’s Best Island” twice in a row.

The big gap between Malaysia and ours is staggering. Hopefully, that will change in due time, and with more vigorous push from various sectors of the hospitality industry, it just might leapfrog to new heights in the next few years.

The main culprit is infrastructure, says Sammie Lim, Philippine Chamber of Commerce Vice President for Tourism says. “The next two administrations should focus on serious answers to enable the Philippines to accommodate 20 million tourists in the next decade,” he stresses. 

He urges Philippine tourist officials to talk long-tem and build an airport with capacity to handle over 20 million tourists. “It can be done, it is all a mindset,” he says.
Constructed in 1978, Ninoy Aquino International Airport was originally designed to handle 4.5 million passengers only per year. It already reached its maximum capacity 20 years ago. 

Observers say, cosmetic and short-term solutions cannot do it if the country wants to be more competitive - at least on the regional level where 8 of the world’s 10 best airports are located. Presently, the airport cannot handle more than 5 million passengers a year because its existing facilities are already operating at maximum capacity.

Two years ago, San Miguel Corporation offered to build an entirely new and modern international airport terminal that will pole vault the Philippines to the future and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the world. The plan included four runways capable of handling 150 million passengers annually and can efficiently handle 250 take-offs and landings per hour.

NAIA’s two existing runways can handle only 42 take-offs and landings per hour and both are being used by domestic and international airlines. (Note: Airport handling capacity is different from tourist arrival figures).

Worsening congestion in NAIA is making SMC revive its world-class airport proposal to the incoming Duterte government. Ramon Ang, president of SMC, said that when finished, cost of the airport would be much less than the estimated $10 billion. Ang hinted of a possible alliance with the Philippines’ biggest conglomerates that would include those of Manny Pangilinan, Henry Sy and Jaime Zobel de Ayala. It will be located in a 1,600 hectare reclaimed area in Manila Bay.

Earlier this year, the Research and Statistics Division of DOT reported that tourist arrivals for February 2016 reached 549,725 compared to 456,524 arrivals in February of 2015, a double-digit growth of 20.42%. 

In just two months, the Philippines hit a record-breaking 1,091,983-tourist arrival figure, a strong performance due to aggressive marketing blitz spiced up with international events that were held in the country in the preceding months. These triggered awareness increase and visitor influx. 

544,948 visitors entered the country through various airports and Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the country’s primary gateway, welcomed 66.37% of the total visitor volume. The top spending market again was Korea, followed by USA, China, Japan and Australia.

Hotel opening frenzy

Two major hotel brands spread their wings and set foot on Bonifacio Global City over the last two years. Grand Hyatt and Shangrila added branding muscle to their already strong presence by showcasing their trademark hospitality. 

Earlier, Hyatt’s City of Dreams, Nobu Hotel, Marriott Newport City, Novotel and Mercure Ortigas ignited the opening surge. Hotel rooms in Metro Manila will reach a 26-year high and growth for the country’s hotel industry is expected to rise in the next five years. 

With that, hopes are high that the Philippines can easily surpass its 6 million-target by the end of this year. But the big question is, can it achieve its 10-million tourist arrival-goal within the next two years? It is mathematically possible if our airport handling capacity can do it. 

Harald Feurstein, General Manager, Hotel Conrad Manila
According to real estate consultancy firm, Pinnacle: “Even with a slight dip, we are doing much better than most countries in Southeast Asia, where occupancy drops ranged from 2.1 percentage points to as high as 8.6. Only Thailand and Vietnam bucked the trend with a slight increase in occupancy,” Pinnacle says.

Another leading real estate company, Colliers foresees that “established branded hotel chains will come in to take over old, locally managed resorts that are in excellent locations but are past their prime. Boutique and lifestyle hotels in tourism areas will be the trend in hotel development over the years to come,” it says. 

The Philippines is one of Asia’s most active countries in hotel opening scene. It is set to dazzle anew with the launching of Conrad Manila, the global luxury brand of Hilton Worldwide in June this year. 

The luxurious 347-hotel aims to inspire seasoned travelers and the local market by redefining the status quo and upgrade their impeccable taste to a new dimension.

With Conrad Manila’s entry, rooms are expected to exceed the country’s current 30,500 total in the next two years. Approximately, 3,300 new hotel rooms were completed in Metro Manila from 2014 to 2016.

A physically handsome hotel, Conrad Manila will offer best in class service and amenities. To date, it has already exemplified excellence prior to the grand opening, winning the Philippines Property Award as Best Hotel Development, Best Hotel in Architectural Design and Best Hotel Interior Design.

Picture this: The whole shape is iconic, derived from a ship that has permanently docked in Manila Bay waters. Inside is a unique blend of modern art and Filipino artistry, inspired by air and sea wave elements across the bay. In one of its breathtaking lounges, the design allows you to experience an infinite ringside view of Manila’s jaw-dropping sunset, better than what you have probably previously experienced. 

On a Friday and Saturday, a stay at the hotel becomes a multiple treat. As soon as dusk settles, fireworks joyfully welcome your distinguished presence. Here, like everyone else, your stay is celebrated for being an honored guest.

Hotel Conrad Manila. Winner of Philippines' Best Hotel Development, Best in Architectural Design
 and Best in Interior Design Awards.

“The Conrad way is luxuriously excellent, physically and experientially. We aspire to inspire so that we exceed expectations. We anticipate and we have things ready for you even before you ask,” says Harald Feurstein, newly-appointed General Manager of Conrad Manila.

An Austrian with excellent credentials like the hotel, Feurstein has worked with the best hotels in Asia and was Conrad Manila’s first employee from ground zero till the beautiful structure surfaced behind the SMX Convention Center. 

“I consider it a badge of honor being part of Conrad Manila’s history from Day One,” Feurstein takes pride in saying. He is upbeat about Manila’s tourism prospects and acknowledges that the Philippines has a bright future ahead, even brighter than the rest of the former Southeast Asian dragons which have lorded the scene in the last 15 years. “With consistent above-average 6% growth, the Philippines is poised to shine even more,” he says.

Hotel Conrad Manila's Third Floor Lobby
How will the hotel market its way in reaching its core market? Feurstein says, “Diversification will be the key.”

“Hotels are not just for tourism anymore. We do not want to rely on a single market alone. We would like to be known as the most innovative among luxury hotel brands in the Philippines. We want to promote domestic leisure, “staycation” and show the unique Conrad way of excellence with our MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions/Events) capabilities,” he stresses.

Destination concept 

“Conrad Manila is for the new generation of smart luxury travelers for whom life, business and pleasure seamlessly intersect,” according to Feurstein. As a global luxury brand with 23 properties across five continents, Conrad connects guests to people and places around the corner or halfway around the world. 

Feurstein will be responsible for the growth of the brand in the country. “It is a privilege for us to re-introduce Hilton Worldwide through the first Conrad hotel in the Philippines, especially in these exciting times as the country is on the brink of rapid economic growth across all sectors,” says Feurstein, who reports to Peter Webster, Hilton Worldwide’s regional general manager for Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines. 

Hotel Conrad Manila's C-Lounge

“I am certain that the hotel will be a significant addition to Manila’s dynamic cityscape. With Harald’s 25-year industry expertise and deep knowledge in hotel operations, I am confident that Conrad Manila is primed for great success in this growing Philippines tourism market. It will be an landmark where one-of-a-kind, inspired experiences will be created for guests,” Webster says.

Born and educated in Austria, Feurstein already planned to work in a hotel when he was young. “It was my goal and I had no doubts about pursuing it as a career,” he says. After graduating from college, he worked as a nightclub waiter and bartender. He then worked his way up, moving to Switzerland, his first job outside of his home country.

Hotel Conrad Manila's China Blue Restaurant featuring Celebrity Chef Jerome Leung
He spent the rest of his professional life in Asia, and considered each country his home. “All of them has a place in my heart, every place is special,” he intimates.

Feurstein has been actively participating in the development oversight of Conrad Manila since last year. His involvement took him across all facets of hotel management, from planning a good strategy to positioning the hotel as a choice destination for luxury travelers with one aim - give the Philippines a strong competitive advantage in the international hospitality landscape.

Prior to his assignment in Manila, Feurstein was GM of Hilton Pattaya, Conrad Bangkok, Hilton Cebu Resort and Spa, Hilton Kuching and Hilton Batang and Director of Business Development for Hilton Beijing, Hilton Seoul, Hilton Kuching and Petaling Jaya.

He was former Food and Beverage Manager of Hilton Petaling Jaya, Hilton Kuching, Hilton Batang, Norfolk Hotel and F&B Director of Hyatt Regency Kinabalu and Grand Hyatt Fukuoka. His hospitality career has taken him across the world to continents such as Europe, Africa and Asia. His past experiences in Asia have taken him to China, Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and now the Philippines.

Hotel Conrad Manila's Diplomatic Suite.

A man who describes himself as very adaptable to different cultures, Feurstein loves to do a balancing act. “I love to make people to do their best and I am always deeply supportive in developing their career,” Feurstein says. 

The tall, bespectacled man loves to lead by example. When people see it in their leader, they inevitably try to do it,” he says. He is very demanding at work because he says he has a purpose. “I’d like to be in a team surrounded by people with a sense of purpose, because I have a set of goals that I started and want to finish them. I’d like to steer a ship and allow people to do what they’re good at,” he adds.

Outside of work, Feurstein is also a man of action with a lot of passion for extreme sports like participating in lung-busting ultramarathons. He has participated in many events of this kind in the Philippines. He has also endeared himself to the Philippines and its people and pays homage to the Filipino whom he says are naturally hospitable. “Hospitally is naturally ingrained in the Filipino. When you are naturally hospitable, half the battle is won,” he says. 

Luxurious amenities

“We don’t just check you in and check you out, Feurstein says. “We give you the total package,” he punctuates.

Conrad Manila has a 24-hour Fitness Center, a sparkling outdoor infinity pool, tranquil Conrad Spa and an Executive Lounge for guests staying in an Executive Room or suite. 

Hotel Conrad Manila's Welcome Lobby.
The hotel’s intelligent rooms are equipped with motion sensors that recognize a guest’s arrival, equipped with wired and Wi-Fi Internet access, bluetooth-enabled entertainment technology, 42-inch flat screen HDTV, espresso machines and hydrotherapy rain showers, with magic mirrors in the bathrooms available in all suites for an uninterrupted entertainment experience. 

Suites and executive rooms offer picturesque bay or city views, plus access to the Executive Lounge. The luxurious Presidential Suite features a spacious outdoor terrace, a private pool and stunning Manila Bay views.

Brasserie on 3 is the all-day dining restaurant serving an extensive buffet selection at breakfast, and an a la carte menu for lunch and dinner. China Blue by Jereme Leung offers a modern Chinese dining experience, with a specially created menu that blends contemporary cooking techniques with local flair. 

One can enjoy afternoon tea at C Lounge, which transforms from a laid-back lounge at daytime to a sophisticated destination bar after the sunset. You can sip cocktails as you soak up the sunshine in the Pool Bar.

Hotel Conrad Manila's Brasserie
For 96 years, Hilton Worldwide has been dedicated to continuing its tradition of providing exceptional guest experiences. The company's portfolio of twelve world-class global brands is comprised of more than 4,500 managed, franchised, owned and leased hotels and timeshare properties.

It has more than 745,000 rooms in 97 countries and territories, including Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Canopy by Hilton, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Home2 Suites by Hilton and Hilton Grand Vacations.

More hotel brands, more visitors

Real estate watchers say, more brands are due to enter Manila until the end of 2017. To reach its goals, the Philippines must act on important issues in order to be a major player in Asian travel industry. One of them is Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which has been constantly figuring in the world's worst airport surveys. 

Guillermo Luz, co-chairman of National Competitive Council of the Philippines says, “Overall, NAIA delivers a less than satisfactory travel or customer experience for the passenger. This is only highlighted when compared to the facilities and services of other international airports located right in the region such as in Singapore, Hongkong, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur.”

Hotel Conrad Manila's Forbes' Ballroom

Luz said, “We need to create better first impression for visitors. We need more passenger capacity within our overall airport system if we want to increase the number of international visitors and domestic tourists.”

He reiterated that our main airport should play a role in projecting our national brand. “The customer experience at the airport should be aligned with our international reputation for our warm hospitality. It should also be a venue for projecting our culture visibly and through the service which passengers experience,” he said.
Major infrastructure, peace and order and foreign visitor safety issues should be better addressed. Until these are not given priority and acted upon, observers say our achievement will plateau and growth will be disappointingly low. 

Hotel Conrad Manila's Executive Suite