From Asian financial crisis, a hotelier is born
Luis C. Monserrat is a veteran of reinvention. Monserrat was once a banker, marketing director for the Coca-Cola Company for the Philippines and later North Latin America, and director for E&J Gallo Wineries for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Then Monserrat returned to the Philippines, became president of the subsidiaries of Primetown Property Group, then finally went on his own.
In 1999, the then 48-year-old Monserrat established Hospitality Innovators Inc. (HII), which manages condotels, hotels and serviced apartments.
He says it took a lot of adjusting before he got used to his new life as an entrepreneur.
“As a marketing director for Coke, doors opened for me because I represented a company that had clout and a big budget. When I become an entrepreneur, nobody cared who I was,” he says.
“You have to be prepared and stick to your vision. I had to unlearn some things. In the corporate world, you are dealing with large budgets and numbers. As an entrepreneur in this field, everything becomes more personal and prudent. You’ve got to work doubly hard to overcome hurdles and rejections,” Monserrat adds.
When the CEO started on the Parque España Residence Hotel in Alabang, people thought the idea was foolish.
He persevered because Muntinlupa was accessible to the Laguna Technopark and the Cavite Industrial Estate. Visiting executives, particularly long-staying guests, needed lodgings that were closer to their work.
Parque España was actually built in the mid-1990s as a residential condominium. Buyers bought the units as an investment but then the Asian crisis hit.
“The buyers wanted to unload the units but couldn’t sell them. The rental market was soft. I saw then an opportunity to set up a condotel so I got the owners to buy into that,” says Monserrat.
Under this system, owners do not live in their units but rent them out to be used like a hotel room, thus providing them some earnings while retaining their ownership of the property.
“In Parque España, you won’t find any unit that is lived in by the unit owner. All units are part of the hotel pool. As our flagship, it continues to do well,” says Monserrat.
He says Parque España taught him another lesson, that if you have a product that is well managed and has a client base, you can retain clients even if there are other options.
He attributes the condotel’s success to service and training.
“Hospitality is inbred in our culture. We marry that with professionalism and efficiency. We make sure our guests receive the same service standards as in a pricey hotel but at a much better value,” he says.
Monserrat’s portfolio has expanded since then, with HII managing 14 properties with different partners and varying business models.
“We tell prospective partners and owners that in this setup, if they don’t make money, we don’t make money. Our fees are based on profit line. We are married to our individual unit owners. We are not a capital intensive business. Our business is expertise and people,” says Monserrat.
HII takes pride in handling boutique hotels/serviced residences with unique concepts, created by prominent architects and designers, and restaurants that draw the local crowd.
These hotels have become known for their striking color schemes, artwork and ambiance.
In the course of HII’s collaborations, Monserrat formed Ardent Development Corp. to finance and build hotels and a condominium.
It co-developed, for example, The Mondrian Residences in Alabang, Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences and Y2 Residence Hotel in Makati.
Monserrat notes that more than capital, his company’s core competence is management.
“We create concepts for the most part. Our ability to expand a concept is greater when we come in as co-developers. The development is on a case-to-case basis and only when the right opportunity presents itself. As developers, we don’t have deep pockets. When we get involved on the development side, we set parameters,” he says.
One of his partners is the Blanco family.
He shares that the late Tony Blanco had a passion for real estate and was busy with the Blanco Arms in Alabang before he died.
Since the unfinished building was beside Parque España, Monserrat saw its potential.
He then forged a joint venture with the Blanco family. They developed the 167-unit Mondrian Residences, which was completed in 2007 and then followed by other projects.
Monserrat says being an entrepreneur has its challenges but it also has its rewards.
He finds the greatest fulfillment in developing new concepts and providing employment to a workforce of 700.
“I’ve been living my dream,” he says.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.