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Hip hotel gives AirBnB competition

/ 05:02 AM February 19, 2018

Jose Mari Del Rosario

A decade after building a chain of 13 no-frills hotels under the Microtel brand, the Phinma group is raising its stake in Philippine tourism by introducing a hip, new hospitality brand targeting young business and leisure travelers.

“It’s really the call of the times in the sense that people are looking for a sexier product, something a little bit catering more to young professionals,” Jose Mari Del Rosario, president and chief executive of Phinma Microtel Hotels, says in a recent interview at the brand-new 18-story TRYP by Wyndham that offers a stunning view of Manila Bay.

Phinma and its partners have invested P650 million to build this 191-room property at the Mall of Asia (MOA) complex, the first of the eight TRYP properties that Phinma has committed to develop in the country within the next 10 years.

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Phinma Microtel Hotels is the Philippine master franchise holder of both Microtel and TRYP, both of which are international hotel chains under US-based Wyndham Hotel and Resorts group.

Before taxes, Microtel MOA offers rooms at P4,100 to P5,000 per night, while TRYP charges P500 to P1,000 more than its sister brand. However, TRYP also offers several guest rooms for bigger groups, such as loft-type rooms with as many as triple bunk beds for families or “barkadas.” There are also sunset suites with a pantry and a panoramic view of Manila Bay. The family rooms and the sunset suites cost about P15,000 per night.

As a brand, TRYP by Wyndham is a “select-service” urban hotel, which means it may not have all the amenities of a deluxe hotel. This first property in MOA, however, offers a roof deck pool and bar, an on-site restaurant, a gym and lounge areas. This will set the tone for future TRYP hotels.

The MOA hotel is just the third TRYP to rise in the region. The brand has already gained foothold in Myanmar and Australia.

Counting the MOA hotel that had a soft launch in October last year—and will have a grand opening sometime in March—the Phinma group now has a total of 1,150 rooms in its hospitality portfolio.

Del Rosario says business in the Bay area has been very good. The mix of potential guests in this area is seen better than anywhere else because it is close to convention and entertainment facilities like theaters, shopping malls and integrated gaming resorts. The MOA complex is a favorite site for concerts and fun runs, thus benefiting nearby hotels.

And because it had a soft opening late last year, TRYP managed to get a chunk of the business from the Philippines’ recent hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meetings.

Veteran hotelier

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Among seven siblings, Jose Mari was the one most drawn to the hospitality business having been exposed to the diplomatic stints of their father, the late industrialist and former Ambassador Ramon del Rosario Sr., in Germany, Japan and Canada.

“Although I wasn’t there the whole time, I sort of got fascinated with the hotel industry. I thought it was something nice,” he says.

Del Rosario earned his diploma in Hotel and Restaurant Management in Hotelconsult Schulhotels, Valais, Switzerland. He is also an alumnus of Cornell University’s General Managers Program. He took up his MBA at Hult International Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Now with over 30 years of experience as a hotelier, he started his career at Hotel Lausanne Palace (Switzerland) as a front desk receptionist, then in various capacities with The Peninsula Manila, and in Imperial Hotel Tokyo. Upon his return to the Philippines, he joined The Manila Hotel and spent eight years there as sales manager, then as food and beverage manager.

In 1994, he became the first Filipino general manager and chief operating officer of The Manila Hotel, when it was still owned by the State. He left when it was about to be privatized, thinking it was also a good time to build his own hotel.

“I didn’t want to do the deluxe category because it was irrelevant to the Philippine situation at that time. It was 1998 and while there was sufficient amount of deluxe-category hotels, [but for] just decent accommodations, if you go further out of Metro Manila areas, Cebu or Davao, there was nothing,” he says.

He started Paramount Hotels and Management Services Co., a hotel management firm. He eventually got the master franchise for Microtel, which built its first property in Hacienda Luisita.

The business was eventually folded into Phinma Corp. and has since then expanded to 13 hotels. Two more are being built, one in San Fernando, Pampanga, and another in Tagum, Davao.

“We’ve surpassed our target of 10 (Microtel properties). Our original vision was to have one in every region. We achieved that already. It doesn’t mean it’s going to stop, but we will do that [as opportunity comes],” he says. “But we’re confident of the domestic market.”

About 80 percent of Microtel’s business comes from domestic travelers although for some properties like Boracay and Puerto Princesa, most of the guests are foreigners.

A loft-type room at the TRYP hotel

For his game-changing role in the industry, having developed a new category of mid-market hotel accommodations, Del Rosario bagged the Industry Entrepreneur 2015 award at the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 Philippines.

Fresher brand

For Del Rosario, it’s about time for Phinma to develop a new brand with a “younger and fresher” lifestyle offering, addressing the market that can afford to pay a bit more than no-frills Microtel.

But isn’t this the same business that is most affected by AirBnB and other nonhotel accommodations offered online? “In general, worldwide, I think so. But here in the Philippines, we feel there’s an element of security that AirBnB does not address,” he says.

Del Rosario explains that a solo woman traveler, for instance, won’t probably dare rent accommodations along P. Burgos.

“A hotel chain, especially an international one, presents predictability, presents a certain level of standards expected of an accommodation that a lot of business travelers now really demand,” he says.

He notes that a lot of multinational corporations like Nestle, P&G, Unilever or Shell want to know where their employees are 24/7 whenever they are on business trips. Because of the insurance requirements in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, these companies are now very careful in choosing accommodations for their employees.

Bulk of the business generated by Microtel comes from the road warriors, or those who travel a lot for work, but it also hosts a lot of small meetings, trainings and seminars. “Some of them we even organize ourselves, like new tax compliance laws or HR (human resource) trainings. Some are events that cater to community like family-oriented ones—arts and crafts, pottery or something for the kids,” he says.

To expand the TRYP brand in the Philippines, Phinma intends to follow the same expansion route that has allowed the group to scale up Microtel in the last decade. It is open to joint ventures and fully owned franchises. “The only thing we insist on is management (control), so there will be consistency and standards,” he says.

Del Rosario is optimistic TRYP will corner a fair share of the country’s booming tourism business.

“It’s easier to ramp up a hotel with a brand rather than [have] independent names. When it comes [to] a brand, there’s an automatic subconscious feeling of safety, predictability, especially coming from a developing market,” he says.

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