The last time Tom Meyer, managing director for the newly opened Raffles and Fairmont Makati hotels, worked in the Philippines, he picked up some Tagalog greetings and the campaign slogan “Erap sa mahirap (Joseph Estrada for the poor).”
“When you’re in the Philippines, the best way to tell people the time you were here is to relate it with the politicians,” says the 49-year-old hotelier.
From 1998 to 1999, he was the then hotel manager, the No. 2 guy in Hotel InterContinental Manila, a property of Ayala Land Hotels and Resorts Inc. He witnessed the change of administration from President Fidel V. Ramos to Joseph E. Estrada. On his first week, he met former First Lady Imelda Marcos and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile when the 365 Club would congregate at the Jeepney Room.
“I still am in love with Philippine politics. The personalities are very interesting,” he says. “People are approachable. I’ve lived in many countries. I can barely remember names because people are quite sheltered and reserved. Here to meet these people and engage in conversations is truly remarkable.”
After a 13-year absence from Makati, Meyer is back again in another set of Ayala hotels but under a different holding company. The Fairmont Raffles Hotel International owns three products-Raffles Makati, Raffles Residences and Fairmont Hotel.
He cites that the difference between then and now is the optimism about the economic outlook. “For 18 years, not one five-star hotel has opened in Makati. Now not only do you look at the Fairmont and Raffles properties, but the many buildings under construction. You get a sense that the Philippines is growing.”
Asked why three properties in one building at the Ayala Center, Meyer replies Makati has provided a great opportunity to do three hotels: the 280-room Fairmont, the 32-suite Raffles and the 237-unit Raffles Residences.
The Philippines has the ninth Raffles property outside of Singapore and the 66th Fairmont hotel. This is the second property after Saudi Arabia where Raffles and Fairmont are in one building.
Meyer notes that the three properties have three distinct addresses and separate entrances tailored to each of the products.
“Raffles prides itself in creating an oasis for busy travelers. So when travelers come here, we want to provide a haven in the middle of the central business district.”
Since Raffles Suites targets the premium business and leisure markets, the room sizes are a generous 60 sqm. about the size of a two or three-bedroom condo unit. The interiors recall the plantation style with the Raffles’ signature shutters.
The Raffles Residences caters to long-staying guests. “The Raffles Residences is your home away from home,” says Meyer. The company manages the units purchased by individuals. As a service apartment, it caters to the long-staying market.
“If you come to the Philippines for three to four months, Raffles is perfect for you. It has everything you need in a modern condominium but it has facilities of five-star hotel like a fully-manned gym and pool. You can cook in the apartment with its nice refrigerator and you can even do the washing. Backing up are our dry cleaning and laundry facilities and the kitchen and room service of a five-star hotel.”
Exuding its trademark big-city flair, the Fairmont is the businessman’s hotel which has rooms from company presidents and CEO’s to business travelers. “The Fairmont turns moments into memories. We are keen to getting to know our guests very well by making sure we can deliver great service,” says Meyer.
But don’t all hotels aim to provide solicitous hospitality?
“The beauty is that we have two fairly small products, a total of 549 rooms. That allows us to get to know our guest much better. If you’re in a 700-room hotel, it’s very hard for you to get to know guests very well. At the Fairmont, we can give a bespoke treatment to every guest that arrives to the hotel.”
Meyer adds that the challenge is in not only in giving justice to each of the global brands but also highlighting the food and culture in the Philippines. “We found beautiful Filipino mozzarella, bees that create these incredible honey and Filipino rum for our cocktails.”
The public areas are tastefully furnished with Filipino artworks which give a sense of place. Guests are impressed that the red abstractions of artist Edwin Wilwayco are displayed prominently at the lobby of Raffles Suites.
“There’s amazing Filipino art and sculpture. Everywhere you look there’s something that grabs your attention,” says Meyer. The design team selected the artworks for their aesthetic appeal rather than the name of the artist.
Since the opening of the three brands last Dec. 3, Meyer describes his plans as a “journey from good to best.” The hotels are targeting the top end of the market. The ballroom, which has a table seating capacity of 720, is the second biggest in Makati.
The most anticipated launch will be the fine dining restaurant on the ninth floor and a bar on the tenth floor in 2013.
The main attractions are the Spectrum all-day dining which offers dishes and drinks that are unique to the restaurant. Native honey is given a star treatment. Writers’ Bar is a cozy place in a library setting. Café Macaron is said to bake the airiest macarons in various textures from flaky to creamy in a range of colors from subtle to saturated. The Long Bar takes after the famous institution in Singapore Raffles with its patterned tiled floors, large shutters, punkah fans and the signature Singapore Sling.
The Fairmont-Raffles is the second hotel company that Meyer has worked with. Born in Australia to German parents, Meyer went to an English boarding school then took his hotel apprenticeship in InterContinental Hamburg. “Germany still has some of the best-run hotels with the apprenticeship scheme. You get to work in all areas. That gives you a well-rounded focus on the business. I washed dishes, made beds, worked as restaurant cashier, receiving clerk and cost controller.”
After completing the rounds, Meyer was promoted to assistant food and beverage manager at 24 years old. At 25 years old, he became the hotel manager (executive assistant manager) with a staff of 300 people at the InterCon Caribbean in Antigua, East Indies. He returned to InterCon Sydney as food and beverage manager.
When the InterCon was launching a hotel in Singapore, Meyer, who was also F&B director, was lured the challenge. “I wanted to go to Asia. I heard the hotel industry was more advanced.”
Asian hotel industry is built around an intrinsic service culture. Asians seem to understand more deeply than their Western counterparts the needs of their visitors. It was evident with his experience with Filipinos.
“Wherever I went, I had the pleasure of working with Filipinos,” he says. Meyer became general manager of InterCon Dubai and was transferred to open Dubai Festival City (DFC) as director operations Dubai and area general manager.
From them, he cultivated the taste for lechon, Bicol express, adobo, taho and ube ice cream.
“The Filipinos were the backbone of hospitality business there. I’m proud that eight colleagues are in this hotel. There is a value in the quality of balikbayans who have great experiences. The international knowledge they bring with them is exceptional.”
Before returning to the Philippines, Meyer was the area general manager at the InterCon Bali until he got an offer to open the Fairmont-Raffles in Makati. “I love openings. Once you’ve done it, the things that are most difficult are the ones you look upon with pride.”