March 7, 2018
To: Balesin Members and Friends
I received two messages this week from Balesin Island Club members, both unhappy about the fact that I have not written an update for them for a while now. One was quite irate and made me feel like I was shirking my obligation to keep the members updated. The other one was more charitable and simply said how much he misses my updates (almost wistfully). I checked and true enough, I have not written an update since the Christmas holidays. Mea culpa!
I want to assure all members that I do feel a genuine obligation to keep all members updated. The last couple of months of this year, however, have been extraordinarily busy for me. I had to divide my time between our new “baby,” the Alphaland Baguio Mountain Lodges, which has gotten off to a flying start, and all the other Balesin projects.
In fact, I just returned from a trip to Bangkok—not just to have the famous Thai massage which I still greatly enjoy!—but on matters which are important for Alphaland’s future; and I therefore simply have not had the time. I hope to make up for it with this update.
This coming weekend, we are going to open the new Mark’s Steakhouse at Balesin. Rico Sison has again done an outstanding job and I think you will enjoy this new dining venue in what used to be wasted space. Our Executive Chef Mark Biddle is on the island as I write this, to make sure that everything is up to his usual inimitable standard. Please do try it the next time you are in Balesin.
Balesin Wine Cave
It has come to my attention that, for some strange reason, we have not sufficiently promoted or called to your attention the existence of the Balesin Wine Cave, which is on the main floor of the Balesin Clubhouse. It is an undisputedly great dining venue, as it is fully air-conditioned, with a display of Balesin’s wine stock which is available for all members. I have given instructions to Joey Jumawan, who is Assistant General Manager for Food & Beverage, to make sure that members know of its existence and do utilize it especially during these upcoming warm summer days. The menu is identical to that of the Clubhouse Veranda, and this venue can accommodate as many as groups of 30 to 40 pax.
I received yesterday the conceptual plans for the Chinese restaurant, which is going to be built and operated by the Seven-Star Yacht Club of Shenzhen. The plans look very attractive in the “Chinese modern” style, and I was told that the dining facilities can accommodate as many as 150 pax. The only problem is their initial plans included building up to the shoreline. All of our structures in Balesin have a 30-meter setback from the high tide level and they were not aware of this, so the plans will be revised. Mike Asperin, Rico Sison and some of other senior staff will be going to Shenzhen for a day trip on March 14 to discuss the details with them and hopefully, have final plans agreed on for this “Chinese Village” so that it can be operational before the Christmas holidays this year.
Those of you who have been to Balesin recently will have noticed that we are now in the process of completing the construction of a “state-of-the-art” Children’s Playground in the very attractive location between the airstrip and the aquatic center, which is very welcoming because it is one of the most scenic and shady parts of the island. We hope that your kids (and maybe even you!) can enjoy this facility by the Easter holidays.
The Aviary has now become home to a pair of rare adult tortoises from Africa or Central America (I forgot which), donated by a friend and member, Pinky Tobiano. Additionally, she has also donated a pair of cranes which wander about, showing off their beautiful plumage.
Bonnie Añora, who used to be my Manager at the Animal Farm in Tagaytay Highlands, has now joined us and, with his amazing affinity for birds, regularly entertains children with a few parakeets by making them fly and land on the fingers of the kids. Bonnie is now also playing nursemaid to the bunnies that have been set up in a new home at the Aviary area. Again, a great attraction for the children, because they enjoy watching and even touching them as they hop around from one miniature Balesin villa to another where they are housed.
Baguio “Shetland” Ponies
We have acquired four supposedly crossbred Shetland ponies from Baguio and remarkably, they love the climate and the foliage of Balesin. They have put on quite a few pounds, and we have provided a riding paddock at the Stables area, with bamboo bahay kubos for the parents and the yayas to watch the kids as they ride around the paddock.
One Sunday afternoon in January, I was visited in Balesin by a big guy (“big” is an understatement, as he weighs 350 lbs.) named Michael McDermott. Michael has been in the Philippines for many years and is a very talented entrepreneur. Along the way, he had invented or maybe, discovered a chemical binder, which permanently binds the top soil of our dirt roads and not only eliminates pot holes forever, but also does away with dust. As he showed me the pictures and described the properties of his patented invention (he operates in 60 countries around the world), he got me excited about the possibility of improving the roads in Balesin, an objective which I have had from the start of Balesin, 6 years ago.
I have now done a deal with him where he will resurface all of our main roads in Balesin (more than 25kilometers) with his patented binder called RPP (Roadpacker Plus). He started when the rains stopped and he has promised to complete his work within three months, providing the weather cooperates.
Michael is now a great fan not only of Balesin, but also of The City Club. But Chef Mark Biddle is always apprehensive when he comes, because he eats up all the steak at Mark’s Prime Rib!
We have now completed all of the three Private Villas: 8-bedroom suite, 6-bedroom suite, and 4-bedroom suite. Many of our members and guests have stayed in them and again have been singing “hosannas” to Rico’s creation. They are a truly beautiful sight to behold, and a pleasure to live in. One of these has already been sold and there are several interested in the remaining ones; but our members are welcome to reserve them for their friends, themselves, and their families, while the buyers have not yet taken possession of them.
In the past, people always compared us to Boracay and the Palawan resorts. We try never to argue but just listen to them. First and most important, we are less than a half-hour flight from Manila. They are two or three times farther away. Second, and more important, Balesin has been built and maintained to the highest environmental standards starting with our runway, from which we collect fresh rainwater; our sewage system; our water purification system; and our organic farms and our hand-fed crabs.
We have been thoroughly inspected by the DENR at least 3 times over the years, and we have always passed with flying colors. We are proud that we have always done the right things environmentally at Balesin.
I think many of you know that we have been awarded a silver medal for “innovation in enterprises” for promoting sustainable ecological development as compared to all the other resorts in the world by the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) in January in Madrid, Spain. My people are quite proud of this, but I am not so pleased and I always ask how come we did not get the gold medal?!!!
Not Just Excellence, But Perfection
As the summer season sets upon us, Balesin is again becoming really busy, and during the few days in Holy Week, we shall have more than 600 members and guests on the island. As you know, we strive to please ALL our members and guests, but as in any endeavor, we never fully succeed.
I require a weekly report of feedback from members and guests, and we have better than 90% compliments but there are always a few problems when we slip up. As many of you know, we have more than 200 people working in the maintenance of the villas and the landscaping at Balesin; but it being an island with the insidious salty environment, it is a never-ending task.
When I meet with my management staff at Balesin, which I try to do as often as I can, I always give them a pep talk about not only trying to satisfy our members and guests, but also to go out of their way to ensure that they have an enjoyable stay while at the island.
Inevitably, I end up reminding them that Balesin’s reputation is such that they cannot be satisfied at being “only excellent” because our members demand perfection from us. It is an impossible task, I know, but I assure you that we keep trying our best!