From Manila City Hall, as you walk towards Intramuros, you will see the towering façade of the imposing Bayleaf Hotel, the newest kid-on-the-block in that historic district.
And as you ascend to the Sky View Bar you are treated to a grand view of “the city of our affections”: Her dark, decaying side is not visible from here.
You look down ten levels upon the Intramuros Golf Course, the National Museum and other landmark buildings, the Luneta of old (okay it’s now Rizal Park) and, in the distance, another historic icon, Manila Bay.
The hotel began as an extension of the Lyceum of the Philippines University. Bayleaf, the adjoining Culinary Institute of Lyceum, and the school are all owned by the Laurel family.
“The whole project includes the Culinary Institute and represents more than P500 million in investments,” says General Manager Ed Vitug. “Construction was actually doubly expensive because we had to build a new hotel, retrofit from the existing building.”
The exterior has vestiges of the past, in keeping with a mandate from the Intramuros Administration (IA), while the interior has minimalist, modern touches which are tastefully done. The staff is young, personable, polite, spic-and-span in their uniforms. “Not a blade out of place,” as my sosyal friends would say.
Thirty to 40 percent of the staff complement are actually culinary and hotel & restaurant management students from the university, working here as part of their OJT (on the job training). The rest are professional staff.
After only 13 months of preparation, Bayleaf has already won two international awards: Travelers’ Choice, and the Gold Circle Award, from different organizations.
Before the inauguration of the hotel in November 2011, the GM and the sales & marketing staff led by Beth Dar used their database, and then “saturated the market” with a sales pitch to the major dailies, government institutions, shipping companies (it is near the Port of Manila), NGOs, and online marketing.
“Facebook itself is very effective, with people asking us for rates,” notes Vitug. The rates are anywhere from P3-4,000 to P19,000. Corporates rates are not disclosed. There is a lavish Presidential Suite, three Executives Suites, three Premier Rooms, 10 Deluxe Rooms and 30 (so-called) Superior Rooms.
When will ROI (return-on-investment) be achieved?
“Honestly I cannot tell you the ROI because this is actually only our first year and we are only starting to see the potential of the hotel,” says the general manager. “In the next year it will be more clear.”
But business seems to be extremely good.
“In the last four months we have finished with a high 90 to 94 percent occupancy rate,” Vitug reports. “Actually there are a lot of days when there is so much demand for rooms that we don’t have the space anymore.”
For example, a client may demand ten rooms but there are only five rooms available. “These are lost opportunities,” the general manager sighs, but he is quite upbeat about the market in general.
Vitug concludes: “We are very excited about the leads for weddings, birthdays, and things like that, and have created a website. We are excited about IA plans to improve the image of Intramuros, programs with the barangays. We are excited about the hotel industry in general. What is happening in hospitality is unprecedented in our history … the way the Philippines is positioning itself in the world trade markets.”