By Dom Galeon
Images by Ramon Mangila
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In the sprawling complex that formerly housed the airport of Iloilo City, now sits a giant strip of development that’s pushing the idyllic city into new modern heights. Of the old airport, only the control tower now remains, and across it rests the newest home of business and luxury in Iloilo.
Located beside the Iloilo Convention Center, Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo is 30 minutes away from the new Iloilo International Airport, and sits in the middle of Megaworld’s Iloilo Business Park.
Courtyard Iloilo is the only hotel under the Courtyard by Marriott brand in the country today, and with a well-attended grand opening last May 9, it doesn’t disappoint. From a Dinagyang Ati welcome to a lion dance that worked its way from outside the hotel to the grand ballroom, where guests were treated to a plated, six-course lunch of Ilonggo fusion dishes prepared by Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo executive chef Chachpol Suaisom, there was something uniquely different yet strangely familiar about the celebration.
For Megaworld and Marriott, Iloilo is indeed the perfect place for a Courtyard, the biggest hotel in the city by far. “Megaworld has a vision for this 76-acre mixed use development, where we’re on the other side,” says Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo general manager Cleofe C. Albiso, who is the first woman GM for Marriot Philippines, in an exclusive interview. “The vision that they have is particularly picked for Iloilo. When they saw the old Mandurriao airport and they wanted to develop it, what they wanted to do was to make something that’s not yet there. And [Courtyard by Marriot] is the biggest here in Iloilo, and if you’d go around, this is the most upscale,” adds Cleo, as she’s known among her peers and the hotel’s associates.
With 15 floors housing 326 rooms, and an executive lounge on the penthouse, Courtyard by Marriott is ready to become a hub for visitors to Iloilo, whether they come for business or for pleasure. “We’re proud that this development is coming into Iloilo. It’s an emerging city and [there’s] a lot of interest for investors to come in. Our presence will validate that, knowing that Marriott has very good processes in terms of doing feasibility studies for a certain market before they put up a hotel for it. So, this city is ready for this type of investment and we’re just glad to be a part of it,” Cleo says, adding that she sees Iloilo on the road to growth and development that parallels that of Cebu, where she previously worked.
“It’s long overdue,” says cluster general manager for Marriott Philippines Bruce Winton, who oversaw the development of Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo. “I think the economy has been growing for a decade now. You’ve got a rising middle class, there’s more disposable income, there’s increased foreign investment, and those things breed success. Here we’re getting a very warm reception. If we provide that service and make people happy, then why not? Plus, we’re creating jobs.”
When it comes to service, Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo has been able to deliver, as well, perhaps due to the combination of the kind of gentleness Ilonggos are known for and the attention to detail Marriott prides itself with. Associates are trained, Cleo says, to always think “how else can I make it nice for you?” After all, “this is your Courtyard,” she fondly reminds her team. “This is the first Courtyard in the Philippines, and I really want to be able to deliver the brand promise of service excellence. It’s the first international hotel here, so the expectations are really high for the people. I keep on rallying our people to put that in mind. Since this is the best hotel there is in this place, you have to be the best associates. Every time you talk to the guests, there has to be a key differentiator. There are a lot of ‘musts,’ and the basics are just basics, so you have to ‘wow’ them with something above the basic. I think slowly we have been able to make our people deliver that. It has to be something you love doing, because if you don’t love doing it, it can never come naturally.”