By Alex Y. Vergara
Amorita, one of Bohol’s first high-end resort hotels on Panglao Island, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with a number of valuable and, in keeping perhaps with the name of the management company behind it, one-of lessons that seem to defy the classic textbook case of running a luxury resort hotel.
The husband-and-wife team of lawyer Nikki and Ria Cauton, CEO and president of One of Collection, respectively, look back fondly at Amorita’s past life as an obscure, homegrown resort called Crystal Coast before Ria’s family, including several relatives, bought and started investing into it.
Over the years, the 1.8-hectare property grew to become what it is today—a 5.6-hectare attraction, which boasts of 16 villas (each with a plunge pool) and 82 suites. That also meant demolishing nearly all of the existing structures that came with the land, and building again from the ground up.
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“But as far as managing the place is concerned, no siblings of mine are involved,” said Ria, whose grandfather established Victory Liner. “That’s our family rule: one industry, one child. Even our parents are just guests. That’s why we are able to attract seasoned professionals to join the management team.”
But credit should go to Ria’s mother Ditas Hernandez for coining the name “Amorita,” which means “little darling” in Spanish. “It’s not a term of endearment in the family,” said Ria. A plant lover, Hernandez also provides her landscaping inputs to Amorita for free.
Prior to establishing and managing Amorita, the Ateneo de Manila-educated couple had no experience in running a hospitality-related establishment. Apart from their business education, they had to rely a great deal on gut feel, trial and error, and “what works for us as travelers,” said Ria, to fuel Amorita’s “organic” growth.
Even to this day, whenever the family travels, the couple is both consciously and unconsciously deriving ideas and inspirations from hotels and resorts they stayed in, including best practices and service touch points, and adopting and adapting them to suit their requirements, expectations, and vision for Amorita.
“We seem to thrive on ambiguity,” said Ria. “I like making structures where there are none. Victory Liner was our training. If you could manage buses that are constantly moving, we figured that rooms that don’t move would be a little easier to handle.”
For a time, they even lived as newlyweds in a house near their first series of villas. The house has since been torn down to make way for new developments, as the Cautons, who now have three young children, moved back to Manila.
The couple could laugh about it now, but they also remember a time when they literally prayed short one-liners while manning the store: “Lord, we hope someone would eat at our restaurant tonight.” Even now, guests have a choice between dining in at Amorita and eating out. Attracting enough guests to dine at the resort’s two restaurants has ceased to become a major concern these days.
As CEO, Nikki does a bit of travelling since he also personally oversees three other properties that form part of One of Collection: Momo Beach House also on Panglao Island, Sta. Monica Beach Club in Dumaguete, and the Funny Lion in Coron, Palawan.
As news of their exceptional work in Amorita spread, the couple and their team soon earned the trust of other resort owners. They were originally tapped to either build or reinvent and run these other establishments. Before long, the Cautons were also invited to become investors in them. Amorita is still decidedly One of Collection’s “crown jewel” in its diverse roster of properties.
They’ve been continuously receiving offers from friends and strangers to manage new properties all over the country, but they had to decline because to them running a series of resorts is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits all operation. Just like your kids, said Ria, each resort is unique and poses different sets of challenges.
“When you’re running a resort, you’re attending to so many experiences,” said Nikki. “These properties can’t be compared to a city hotel where guests arrive, check-in, and do most of their business outside. Here, we take care of them the whole 24 hours. There are numerous touch points to be attended to from the time you check in to the time you check out.”
Besides, one can only squeeze in so much within a 24-hour period. Having run Amorita during its initial years, the couple doesn’t take the need for them to be personally invested in each of their newer properties lightly. And even as their other involvements increase, Amorita continues to evolve, albeit more slowly now, to cater to its growing clientele.
A sprawling garden featuring Amorita’s two signature restaurants, Saffron and Tomar, and one of two infinity pools (a smaller one is located in the resort’s receiving pavilion) separate the line of villas from a more recently constructed series of midrise buildings housing several de luxe rooms, one-bedroom suites, and two-bedroom suites.
Villas either have an ocean view or a garden view. The sprawling and lushly landscaped layout serves a purpose apart from adding to Amorita’s aesthetics, according to the couple. It allows guests consisting of a diverse mix of Filipinos, Asian-based expats, and foreign tourists staying in both villas and midrise buildings the chance to mingle with each other and still retain their own private spaces as they choose to.
“Even if it’s not your entire space, we want to make you feel that it’s your holiday, that you’re not sharing the whole space with everybody,” said Ria.
A semblance of exclusivity allows them to create their own respective holidays, which has become priceless in an age of big, almost impersonal chain hotels. To complete the experience, an in-house spa dubbed as Sea Tree offers a menu of soothing massages to pamper the body and heal the soul.
“I don’t even know the exact breakdown of rooms and suites anymore,” said Ria with a laugh, referring to their classifications. “For a time, we had to close the entire resort and build from the ground up.”
Those looking for the “bells and whistle” that come with a humongous lobby catering to an endless stream of guests are probably better off staying elsewhere, she added. What Amorita has is a sprawling complex that’s seamlessly divided into sections consisting of modern, relatively minimalist buildings and fairly lush landscaping work designed initially by the late Frank Borja and later by Ponce Veridiano.
“As for the architects, I can’t name one because there have been many, as we expanded over the years,” Ria added.
There’s one more thing the Cautons learned while growing up and even during their more recent travels together as a family. What used to be a thing of dread for adults and a cause for curiosity among children could now be freely accessed at every suite, room, and villa at Amorita—the mini bar!
Ria remembers with a laugh clan vacations they had while she was little, when one of the adults would usually get the shock of his or her life after receiving the hotel bill. Since they didn’t know any better, Ria and the rest of the kids kept helping themselves to items found in the rooms’ minibars throughout their stay.
“I soon realized the futility of having a minibar when guests keep reminding their kids and themselves not to take anything from it, even when they’re thirsty or craving for something in the middle of the night,” she said. “I learned from that experience. That’s what I used to do, too, with my own kids. That’s why at Amorita, items in the minibar are complimentary. Since they’re free, you might as well take them.”