To: Balesin Members and Friends
Today is Easter Sunday. I have been here at Balesin the whole week and wow, what a week it has been! We have had actually more people here than during the Christmas holidays which is, I guess, only logical because we have many more members now than in December. Also, our members simply have been bringing many more guests which delights me no end because it is obvious how proud they are of their Balesin Island Club. The ratio, believe it or not, is 10 guests per member!
The main distinguishing element between last Christmas, when we were frankly not all that ready in terms of food and beverage service, housekeeping and resort operations, is that these holidays, we were really ready. I cannot describe to you the feeling of satisfaction and elation when, as I go about making my rounds, I meet members, many of them old friends of mine, telling me all kinds of praises about Balesin. Those that have been here before are of course less effusive than the ones who have been here for the first time. But all the hard work and the effort put into Balesin have obviously paid off. There was almost unanimity in how great the food was in almost every outlet. I did have one complaint about the delayed service in one of the outlets and we fixed that very quickly.
The Water Sports activities, the Sports Center, the Paint-Ball Course, the Horse Riding, and the Spa, were all great hits with our members and their guests. We still have to improve on a few operating matters such as the transport facilities within the island, but we are quickly fixing that. There were problems in the Aviation Department in the sense that several flights were delayed, but they were clearly beyond our control, as the domestic runway was simply too congested during the holidays.
Our second BAe Jetstream has arrived, but unfortunately, could not get the regulatory clearances to fly during this last weekend; but it will be in service this coming week. With 19 passengers versus our CESSNA Grand Caravans, with a passenger load of only 9, the Jetstream Turbo Prop really is a superior aircraft, as our membership numbers increase. We are therefore in the market now for a third Jetstream, which I hope will be operational by the second half of this year.
The Ifugao Village has been a great hit and we had a cañao festival two Sundays ago, which I believe everyone found interesting and exciting. Most of the Ifugao woodcarvers went home for the holidays, but they will be back this coming week. I would like to emphasize that the Ifugao Village is a business of the Ifugao tribe that operates it. It is one of our more significant CSR projects. The Club earns nothing from it, but in fact subsidizes it by providing them all of the utilities.
Our Creative Director Rico Sison, and our Interior Designer Monica Olbes, have just returned from a two-week trip to Spain and Italy and, in addition to eating their way through these countries, they were able to absorb the culture and the authentic Spanish and Italian cultures and architectures. They are now busy applying what they have learned in applying the finishing touches at Costa del Sol and Toscana, our final two villages which should be operational by mid-year. We plan to open the dining facilities first, as we have found that most of our members and guests like to vary their types of cuisine when they spend a few days here.
As a recognition of his valuable contribution to the operations on Balesin, we have promoted Marco Diaz to be Senior Executive Assistant to Mike Asperin, our Island CEO. Additionally, we have also promoted Gerald Canillo, who spent several years in Swiss schools and in running several hotels there (plus another six years in Norway where he run a 60-room hotel), as Assistant General Manager for Food and Beverage. Additionally, we also promoted Cipriano Francisco to be Assistant General Manager for Housekeeping. Cip has spent nine years in Doha in Qatar with one of the major hotel chains as Housekeeping Supervisor and has done a fine job in ensuring that our housekeeping services are in tiptop shape. Additionally, we have promoted Rizal Edmalin as Head of construction activities on Balesin. Bong de La Cruz, his predecessor and who has been responsible for the speedy construction work on the island heretofore, has had to be reassigned to Manila where we need to beef up our construction supervision management. Rizal has been working with me even during Tagaytay Highlands days and is a very capable replacement for Bong de la Cruz.
Occasionally, I receive letters from members with comments and suggestions. Recently, I received an excellent and most helpful letter from Mr. & Mrs. Roman Striebel who live in Switzerland and actually spent full two weeks on Balesin. I quote their letter in full hereunder, with my own comments in bold letters and underlined:
Dear Mr. Ongpin
I always enjoy your extensive updates, which are very descriptive too, which is much appreciated, since we live in Switzerland most of the year, and winter in Makati.
My wife Daisy and I had the pleasure to spend two full weeks on Balesin from the 19th of February to the 5th of March, and I have been told that we were the longest staying members the club had so far. On the last weekend we also invited 5 of our friends from Manila for two nights, so that they could also appreciate what Balesin had become. Even the heavy rain on some days did nothing to “dampen” our enjoyment.
We stayed the first 2 nights at Balesin, followed by 4 days in Phuket, followed by another 8 days at Balesin. We ate at all of the restaurants, except for Mykonos, which was not operating the day we would have been interested. We also used the spa, a truly beautiful and worldclass layout, the unique chapel and the gym / activities, so we got a really good idea of what is on offer at Balesin.
First we must congratuate you personally, your staff and Alphaland on what had been accomplished in only a year since we had been on Balesin last (it was the time we just visited and that led to us signing up). It is remarkable, more especially so because it is an island and “every nail” has to be shipped in. Our overall Impression of the resort is, that it is simply beautiful and peaceful, and EXACTLY like we here in Europe think about a tropical island.
There were mostly great service and experiences, and where there were lapses, we mentioned them to “Bollie”, who was nice enough to invite us for dinner on the last evening and took the opportunity to “debrief us” thoroughly. We made quite a number of suggestions and remarks, and I believe that those were taken seriously. It was not our Intention to criticize, rather to offer advice and input, after all we have been to many resorts, cruises and hotels worldwide in the past. We also filled out the “guest card”
If you permit, I would give you a short report of some:
1. Flight and stay reservation:
My first email request did not get through or was ignored, but after I reminded them a week later that I had still no answer, everything worked fine and was very smooth. The reservation we wanted to make for our friends through Balesin staff (who confirmed of course that all reservations were centralized in Manila) did simply not work, despite filling in the forms. I eventually got the Reservation by corresponding with Manila directly through email. No big deal for us, as I had a computer with me, but without ?
I am pleased to inform you that we have now streamlined our reservations system and have hired a Senior Manager, Ms. Debbie Ledesma, formerly with Philippine Airlines, to manage it. Since Debbie has been with us, a new system has been put in place, and I have heard nothing but favorable comments from our members.
2. Flights professional both way, left close on time and flight time good. I know a fair bit about flying, having had for a time a Commercial Pilots License. The newly acquired plane was fine, I could tell the age from the type of Instruments,, but professionally flown and handled – all good.
3. Transportation on Balesin always worked fine and was usually prompt and courteous. We very much like you using electric carts.
4. Room appointments were mostly good and cleaning was always good. What is greatly missing at Balesin, and I think you are working on it, is a contact to the club desk. Relying on the phones does not work, especially the “rented” ones we had for the first days turned out useless (and too expensive), but once we got from our friends a SMART card for our phone, everything was better. Contact at Phuket was better, as long as there was someone at the sala. We were shut out 3 times at Phuket, once at 23:00 because of a faulty lock. First it was “the battery” and the door had to be opened manually, until eventually “the lock was changed”. That, we feel, should not happen!
We have now installed in all of our villas and rooms, an intercom system, which is directly connected to the Villa Manager and the Balesin Clubhouse, and this has been working very well. We have gotten rid of the old phone system which caused us all kinds of problems.
5. The Villa directly on the beach in both locations is simply beautiful, we had 15 at Balesin and 5 at Phuket, both beautifully located and despite the rain we were happy in both. You cannot possibly improve on the loacations of these villas, they are simply perfect. We also looked at the accomodations in St. Tropez, which is very different, more like a hotel, but nice location too. Knowing both St. Tropez and Mykonos in “real life” makes it hard, but you have been able to catch the spirit and colors somewhat.
6. We had a big dinner with our friends at the Bali sala, and found it very nice, as were the meals at Phuket sala. The breakfast at Phuket, did not work for me, because you tried probably too hard to be Thai only. I would suggest that simple European breakfast items are added, such as just eggs any style, or a simple omelet. Bread also ran out one morning, but the manager was very appologetic, and fixed it. The service is usually good, but too thinly stretched on the weekend, when there is a buffet, as there are just too few people to handle the guests. On the other hand we found the quality of the Thai cooking very good and authentic,
We have now decided that only Continental Breakfast will be served in each of the village salas. A buffet breakfast on weekends will be offered at the Clubhouse.
7. The service at St. Tropez, where we ate twice, was always perfect, and the food was generally good too. We found the pizza not quite right, probably because of the way it is made, and we gave suggestions to Bollie and to the supervisor Cesar (I think), who was by the way one of the best employees we found on Balesin. He has good experience and also was sometimes at Balesin on the weekends, and would do well in more senior positions by promotion, as time passes
8. The service at Balesin, where we ate most often, was always flawless, from entry to leaving. Initially they had not quite the sequencing right, at least not for Europeans, as the soup was still being eaten when the main dish came, but they quickly knew what we liked and then it was perfect. I know in Philippines people might like dishes together, but a simple question would be all that is needed to find out. All waiters and supervisor were very attentive, but we have to single out Dave as really standing out, and probably worthy of some promotion as you may find a need later.
9. The quality of food and pricing are both good, what is missing is the possibility of simply getting a sandwich during “marienda time”. You only cater to Filipinos in that and a small list of sandwich of similar Europen or US snack items would not require much and give us “white folk” some choices. By the way, the crepes were fine, and that coming from a resident of Switzerland is a real compliment. Of course I do not need to mention Sakura, it is “as advertised” and simply good, and the Fish Pier has a great location and had good service, even if “fishing is sort of shooting fish in a barrel”
We have taken note of your comments and our Assistant F&B Manager is dealing with this issue.
10. The billing needs some serious work at Balesin, not just for us, but we also heard other members having issues. I have no idea if it is fully computerized or not, but it takes hours to compile, and luckily for us we had our own records, as several receipts were mismarked for our account. We do really not believe it is the staff there, which is very friendly and tries to help, but the system simply is anything, but what one would expect from Balesin, especially when one has to order the bill one day in advance to make sure there is enough time to check and adjust, if needed.
We have been aware that the billing system has been most inefficient but I am pleased to inform you that we have now completely installed in the whole island, including all outlets, a computerized POS system which makes the billing much more quickly and much more efficient.
11. We got hold of the Manila HO once we were back in Makati (we have a unit at Rockwell), as we wanted to pay in full before getting back to Switzerland. That worked pretty well at the end, as we were emailed the bill, but you will need to have them change the “total line” layout. It is a small thing, but the last line is fine white writing in a black field, vitually impossible to read on an email (I had to total the positions to get the amount). I wanted to especially mention Ms. Mary Beth Rosario, who I got to know when we paid the Balesin share, who made it happen, although she does not even deal with Club Billing. It is that kind of getting things done regardless that makes a difference. (I don’t know to this date who there deals with the Club Billing.)
I much regret not having had the opportunity to meet you in person, but hope to do so next year when we return. I also hope that you will find some comments of interest and take them in the spirit they were made, NOT as criticism.
Your comments have been most helpful and I have circulated your letter to all of our staff. I would like to have the pleasure of inviting you and your wife for dinner when you are next in Balesin.
With very best regards and compliments
Roman and Daisy Striebel
I enclose a few pictures of some of the activities during the Holy Week, particularly the Easter weekend. It was really wonderful to see all of the smiling and happy faces, all enjoying the food and facilities of Balesin.
Roberto V. Ongpin