To: Balesin Members and Friends
The year 2015 seems to have flown by in the blink of an eye. This year has been a good one for Balesin Island Club, as we grew by another 50% in patronage over last year. In 2013, our first full year of operations when all of the villas, except The Balesin Royal Villa, were completed, we had a total patronage of 29,000 members and guests. Last year, 2014, patronage increased to 46,000. This year, it will total 70,000, or an annual rate increase of 50% per year. This year, despite the fact that we were threatened by no fewer than three typhoons and the continuous difficulties in scheduling flights because of the congestion in NAIA, we still managed this patronage increase.
Our never crowded Balesin beaches
But despite this growth in patronage, Balesin retains its uniquely peaceful and uncrowded ambiance. More significantly, we have maintained our 5-star amenities, including the quality of our food and beverage and our hospitality amenities. It is Monday today, December 28, as I write this update, and we have 656 members and guests on the island, but Balesin still feels serene and tranquil.
Looking forward to next year where another 50% patronage increase would bring us to over 100,000 people, we are very much focused on managing our weakest link, aviation which, due to NAIA’s notorious congestion, has been a constant challenge. In addition to the ongoing traffic nightmare getting to our hangar, the NAIA bottleneck will no doubt become worse.
A Clark Hangar Facility
We have thus decided to make a serious study of having a second Alphaland hangar facility in Clark so that members who live in the northern parts of Metro Manila can choose the hour-long commute to Clark rather than the 2-hour long traffic mess going to our NAIA hangar. Clark has another advantage of not having prescribed take-off and arrival schedules; we can actually fly in and out of Clark all day long without the annoying pre-approved schedules, since there is no significant difference in the flying time between Manila and Balesin – or Clark and Balesin. In fact, during the APEC holidays, when the NAIA airport was closed for several days, we flew out of Clark to Balesin and back, and this was very welcomed by our members.
Image of the ATR 72-500 with Balesin livery
Our Own ATR Aircraft
I am determined to finally acquire our own ATR72 aircraft, which seats 68 passengers. While our charter providers are fairly reliable, the flights are still not fully under our own control and many times, the charter operators spring last-minute surprises on us like cancellations or technical problems. As a result, on certain occasions, some of our members and guests are left stranded at Balesin for an extra night.
As you know, we have been trying to acquire an ATR72 for over a year now. In March of this year, we came this close to buying one, but at the last minute discovered so many technical problems with it that we simply decided to walk away.
Also, in October, we had signed a Letter of Intent with a Danish company to acquire a very suitable ATR72. I myself flew to Denmark with my technical team to view the airplane and I was very impressed with it. Regrettably, after six weeks of arduous negotiations, at the very last minute, the company imposed so many unreasonable conditions on us that we had no choice but to walk away once again. It was a difficult but inevitable decision, because the contract they wanted us to sign bore no resemblance to the Letter of Intent that we had previously agreed upon. This aircraft was supposed to be in service by December 15 and would have greatly alleviated the holiday season traffic but unfortunately, it was not to be.
I have now learned that many aircraft owners and brokers are simply not reliable or honorable businessmen, and we are now very careful in examining and negotiating our aircraft acquisitions. At this moment, we are looking at three ATR72s, all of which look very suitable. However, all three of them will be available only at the end of January or sometime in February. Nevertheless, acquiring and operating our own 68-passenger aircraft will greatly alleviate our Easter and summer season traffic.
Newly concreted handrails at Mykonos Thanassis Taverna
Installation of concrete railings at St Tropez
Concreting of Bali Villa day bed
New Balesin Villa Maintenance Policy
The year 2015 also marked many significant milestones in Balesin. We now have a full force of some 400 people performing our maintenance activities. We have also instituted a significant change, where all materials (wood which is subject to deterioration and iron, which lasts only a couple of years because of the salt water corrosion) – are being changed to concrete which is then made by our skilled craftsmen to look like wood. As an example, the outside stairways in Mykonos Village and all the metal railings at St. Tropez Village have now been converted to concrete structures. All the day beds in Phuket, Bali and Balesin villages have also been converted to the same concrete structure.
Additionally, most of the wooden deck flooring has now been converted to ceramic planks, which are impervious to damage by wood termites and salt water. Many of our members are astonished that the entire deck of The Balesin Royal Villa, for example, is made of this ceramic material that they all thought was wood (you actually cannot tell the difference). In fact, the ceramic planks are much more attractive. Unfortunately, they are also more expensive but actually, in the long run, this expensive investment will no doubt pay off.
Fresh Water Storage
Probably the most important development project we completed this year was doubling our fresh water storage capacity from 50,000 cubic meters to over 100,000 cubic meters. For example, today we have 75,000 cubic meters of stored rainwater. At a daily average consumption of 300 cubic meters, we can last for 250 days without a single drop of rain and we would still have water. At this time last year, we had dropped to only 8,000 cubic meters and everyday, I was praying for rain. No longer!
Two of our 5 water storage ponds
Balesin TLC Crabs
I am especially proud of our new Balesin TLC farmed crabs, which have been a big hit with our members and guests. As you know, crabs are natural scavengers and they eat everything so that the crabs that you buy from the market many times have an unsavory taste. On the northern most part of Balesin, we have developed six large aquaculture farms where we actually feed the crabs freshly caught seafood and fish meal. When I first saw the crabs being harvested, I could not believe the size of them, since many were really giant crabs weighing some 2 kilos each.
We started this project in April, and I am surprised at how quickly the crabs grew and multiplied. We now have more than 3,000 crabs that are ready for your dining pleasure. Everyone who has tasted them is surprised at the huge claws and the exquisite taste (almost sweet).
To complement this, we have built a “Seafood Shack” by the sea at the northern part of the island, where the crab farms are, so that you can choose your crabs and enjoy them right there. Rico’s Hideaway and the Clubhouse also serve these crabs, but you must order them in advance.
Our Balesin TLC Crabs
The Balesin Seafood Shack
Another new project is our Duck Farm, which is located in the Picnic Grove area. We started this project in June and now we are harvesting 200 duck eggs a day. Pretty soon, those of you who are balut fans will enjoy the Balesin balut and penoy. I am not exactly a balut fan, but I had two baluts yesterday and I must say they were delicious.
The Balesin Duck Farm
Tomorrow, I will take the chopper to Patnanungan Island where , as you may know, we have so far acquired some 400 hectares of land. (Balesin is 500 hectares.) Patnanungan Island lies just 23 nautical miles north of Balesin. Between Balesin and Patnanungan it takes only 10 minutes by helicopter, 5 minutes by our Cessnas, and half an hour by a fast boat like the fast ferries between Hong Kong and Macau.
As I have told you in one of my previous updates, we have always envisioned making Balesin directly accessible to international flights. Imagine what great improvement it would be for our international members and guests in nearby countries like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and even Australia, if they could bypass the mess and congestion in Manila and fly directly to Balesin.
Satellite Map of Patnanungan Island
Balesin Gateway International Airport
After some serious study, it became apparent that extending the Balesin runway, which is presently 1,530 meters, by 500 meters both to the east and to the west would not only be a costly undertaking but more importantly would impact the ecology of our beloved Balesin. Therefore, for the last year, we have been searching for an appropriate nearby island, easily accessible to Balesin, and Patnanungan was the answer.
I was in Patnanungan earlier this year and while it is in no way comparable to Balesin – (the entire island is actually more than 13,000 hectares), we were fortunate to acquire the entire southern tip of the island, where a 2.5 kilometer runway with full international airport standards is easily buildable. It also has a fresh-water lake that can easily supply all the facilities that we would build there. There are many whitesand beaches but nothing like Balesin, and it would always operate only as an annex to Balesin.
It will probably take at least a year to get the necessary regulatory approvals and the CIQ facilities and permits before we can operate the airport. During next year, we will be working on the master plan for the island and hopefully, by the Christmas holidays of 2016, we will have an international airport in operation.
Also, Patnanungan is quite a mouthful and obviously unpronounceable for the international market that we are targeting. We have therefore decided to christen the airport Balesin Gateway International Airport.
Aegle Wellness Center
Another significant project that we launched in 2015 is the Aegle Wellness Center. Aegle Wellness Center will have two locations, one in The City Club which is already operational and becoming very popular with our Manila-based clientele, and the other at Mykonos Village on Balesin, which is an entirely new structure totaling 1,500 square meters in floor area, built on three levels with an elevator, and the only truly Thalassotherapy facility in the country.
The Balesin Aegle Wellness Center facility, which we broke ground on in October, will be completed and operational in another month , and we will be able to offer weeklong packages focusing on detoxification, antiaging, and weight management.
Our principal mentor for this facility is Dr. Claude Chauchard, an internationally recognized and acclaimed wellness medical expert, and his Philippine counterpart will be Dr. Ben Valdecañas, who is one of the leading medical wellness doctors in the Philippines. As I have described, Aegle will not be a run-of-the-mill glorified spa facility but a unique, scientifically based wellness facility, where each client will begin with a mandatory total diagnostic analysis in order to determine a tailor-fitted wellness program.
The Balesin Aegle Wellness Center
Both City Club and Balesin facilities will be open to non-members. However, existing members of both clubs will be entitled to a 25% discount from the normal price of the various wellness packages that are available from each of these facilities. Since we are determined that Aegle be a world-class facility, we have budgeted a total of Php350 million for both centers. At this early stage, we have already received much encouragement from our members who are looking forward, with much anticipation, to using this facility.