MANILA, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III described in glowing terms the giant $1.2-billion Solaire Resort and Casino on Manila Bay that he opened on Saturday, kicking off the Philippines’ high-stakes bid to join the world’s elite gaming destinations of Macau and Las Vegas.
Solaire, controlled by billionaire port king Enrique Razon Jr., the country’s third richest man, is only the first of four huge gaming venues set to rise on reclaimed land as part of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.’s “Entertainment City” complex that officials hope will draw millions of Asian visitors.
Mr. Aquino led a high-powered VIP guest list that included the country’s economic, social and political elite, expatriates and Cabinet officials Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras.
“Today, it is indeed a pleasure to be in the company of those who continue to work with us to ensure that our tourism industry gets the recognition it deserves—to make certain that the basic truth that drives our global marketing pitch endures: that, indeed, it is more fun in the Philippines,” said Mr. Aquino, eliciting applause from an audience dressed for an evening gala rather than an afternoon outdoor event.
The President and Razon officially opened the integrated resort after a colorful ceremony featuring dancers pirouetting on ropes suspended from the ceiling.
Run by Las Vegas-based Global Gaming Asset Management and owned by Razon’s Bloomberry Resorts Corp., Solaire has 300 gaming tables and 1,200 slot machines on a floor the size of four football pitches. The building also has 500 hotel rooms and 2,000 parking slots.
Another wing is being built to add 300 all-suite hotel rooms, 30 to 40 high-end shops and a theater for traveling Broadway shows as well as local and foreign lounge acts.
The first phase that opened yesterday cost more than $700 million to build. Bloomberry expects to invest a total of $1.2 billion when the Solaire hotel-casino complex is completed.
Even as Solaire was opening its doors, Razon said the company already has its sights on putting up new casinos in other Asian countries.
“We are browsing around. Any chance we get, we will take it,” Razon said, but added that the company would have to make a name for itself first before venturing overseas.
Far from done
The President, who was himself well suited for the occasion, noted that during the past two years and eight months of his term, people around the world had looked at the Philippines and seen a country “vastly different from what it was just years before.”
“Not only do they see a people re-energized, or an economy brimming with optimism and new life, they have also begun to see in us a world-class tourist destination,” said Mr. Aquino.
He said he believed the country was now “beginning to realize the true potential of Philippine tourism, and I tell you, today we are far from done.”
He also thanked Razon for bringing back home 500 Filipino workers.
Bloomberry currently employs 4,600 workers. Of the total, 500 workers used to have jobs overseas but were recruited back to the country by Solaire.
The Philippines works
Mr. Aquino noted how other Asian destinations like Macau and Singapore were competing for bigger pieces of the very lucrative gaming industry pie.
“Your presence in the country is proof positive that while it is indeed more fun here, Filipinos can also strike a productive balance between work and play—that, above all else, the Philippines works.
“This is doubly true in the hospitality sector, since our people are naturally pleasant, and, as some say, seem to be born with smiles on their faces. These are universally compelling reasons for businesses to bet on our country, and I am grateful that you have done just that—to the tune of more than $1 billion for this project alone,” he said.
Aquino plugs Solaire big-time
Describing the mega-casino and entertainment resort in glowing terms, Mr. Aquino said Solaire was an entertainment hub that could be enjoyed by the whole family.
“Already, we can envision your guests during their stay—families swimming in the pool, couples relaxing in the spa, or simply sipping on a mango shake with the Manila Bay sunset in the background.
“Not to mention, a pleasant stay in Solaire can potentially expand the horizons of your guests. Soon enough, they may be more open to experiencing what the city around them has to offer—whether they want to take a bayside stroll, shop in the biggest mall in Asia, or even visit our newly refurbished National Museum,” he said.
The success of the Solaire project means attracting even more tourists to our country, he said.
“In fact, I am told that every tourist that visits our country directly results in the creation of one Filipino job. This means more work—more business, and consequently, more opportunities—for Filipinos.
Mr. Aquino said that early in his term, his administration had identified tourism as “a low-lying fruit that had to be picked”.
“I am happy to report that, so far, we have been successful,” he said, noting that in two years, the country jumped 12 spots—from 94th to 82nd—in the World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Index.
He said international tourist arrivals rose to a record 4.3 million in 2012, against 3.7 million in 2011.
He said that in 2011, the country saw 37.5 million domestic travelers, exceeding the government’s 2016 target by 2 million. The Department of Tourism has since upped its target for domestic tourism in 2016 to 56.1 million.
He said this means that by 2016, the country will need 37,000 more hotel rooms in tourism hotspots, and urged the industry to build more rooms.
With the positive review of the International Civil Aviation Organization of the country’s compliance with international safety standards, Mr. Aquino said he expected the country’s carriers to resume flights to and from Europe and the United States.
He also happily announced the signing into law of Republic Act No. 10378, which removes the 3-percent common carriers tax for all international air and shipping carriers on receipts and income derived from transporting passengers. With reports from AFP and and Paolo G. Montecillo