By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
After leaving the Philippines more than two decades ago, global chain hotel operator Swiss-Belhotel International is back, setting its sights on managing at least 7-8 hotels mostly in second and third tier cities over the next two to three years as it anticipates strong domestic economy and influx of wealthy Chinese travelers.
Gavin M. Faull, chairman and president of Swiss-Belhotel International and Zest Hotels International, said during a presscon that the Philippine tourism before underwent ups and downs but this time he cited growth momentum inspired by the friendship between President Duterte and China President Xi Jinping.
“With 145 hotels in 24 countries we are developing fast, but not as fast here as we would like. We are here to make a difference,” said Faull, who explained that Swiss-Belhotel was founded on Swiss professionalism and Asian passion. Already, Swiss-Belhotel has two operating hotels in Chinatown and in Valero Makati.
Swiss-Belhotel Executive Vice-President James Tam revealed they are now expanding in the provinces in Samal Island in Davao, General Santos, Baguio and Bataan with estimated new rooms and villas of 1,390 new rooms in the next two to three years.
Tam said that businessman John Togonon is developing a 24-hectare property in Samal island into a 190-room resort hotel and another 100-unit of luxury villa each one with 500 square meter space with internal elevator. Linie Palacio, acting manager of Swiss-Belhotel Blulane, said that the initial investment of the Samal project is P10 billion.
Groundbreaking for this natural and eco-friendly project is expected in one to two months. “The whole setting will be in natural and eco-friendly environment and we will introduce wind and hydro power to support the energy consumption,” said Tam, adding that they also have a tie-up with the Medical Center in Davao to put up a hospital inside the development called the Swiss-Belhotel Resort and Villas in the Island City Garden of Samal.
The Bataan project is a resort and condotel with a white beach and the mountain while the Baguio City project will cater to the influx of local tourists to this mountain province. The General Santos development will be a multi-complex resort with a shopping mall.
“So, we have 6-8 hotels in two to three years. We’re very aggressive and very bullish about it and Swiss-BelHotel International is a proponent of Philippine tourism,” said Garry A. Garcia, general manager of Swiss-Belhotel Valero.
But Tam was more bullish as he expressed hope to manage 30 hotels in 10 years in the country considering that they were able to manage 70 hotels in Indonesia over just over 30 years.
Garcia explained that they are diverting to the second and third tier cities from the primary arrivals in Manila because the Philippines is an archipelago which he believes is the country’s biggest advantage rather than being its weakest point.
Ernst Zimmerman, Swiss-BelHotel senior vice-president, stressed that what makes Asia rising and the main reason they are very keen to come back in the Philippines is China.
“China makes the music in our business,” said Zimmerman as he noted that the current 150 million Chinese travelers are expected to grow to 500 million by 2025.
“So, Asia is dominant in the next five years and we are not perceived as a western chain but a regional brand,” he pointed out. Should the Philippines and China maintain good relations, he expects the Philippines to benefit very much in that growth. He noted that the Chinese tourists are not just here in Manila to shop, but they also want experience.
“The hospitality market is changing very drastically in the next 3-5 years,” he added.
Swiss-Belhotel, which has 14 brands catering to luxury, mid, lower and budget markets, operate 100 hotels in China alone. At least 50 percent of the Chinese are invested in these hotels. The top suites in Hong Kong hotels are taken by the fourth and fifth generation Chinese in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.
Faull added that Indonesia is growing fast along with the other parts in Asia driven by the strong economic momentum of China.
“China is the economic driver of the world. So, you have Chinese investment in every country,” he said adding that of all hotels that they manage in Asia, probably 50 percent got Chinese investment. When he visited Sydney, as much as 15 percent of direct flights were coming from China.
“We just have to handle a big problem of handling growth but we will. So, Philippines must also get ready because guests are ready and tourists are arriving,” he said.