October 12, 2014
To: Balesin Members and Friends
I don’t like to start off with an apology, but I guess I should. I have not had an opportunity to write you my usual monthly missive for a few months now, but I simply had no time to do it because I was in the thick of complex negotiations with the Ashmore Group, and also with the Philippine Stock Exchange. I am pleased to report to you that, at long last, we have come to a final agreement with all parties involved and closing will be this week. All’s well that ends well!
I am greatly relieved and very happy that we can now close this chapter. I certainly am looking forward to the much more pleasant task of doing new projects for Alphaland, as a private company. I will write you a more detailed report on this specific topic a couple of weeks from now.
Today is Sunday the 12th of October and of course I am in Balesin, enjoying the spectacular weather. Since typhoon Glenda made a direct hit on Balesin in July (littering our roads and beaches with debris but causing no real damage), we have had our usual run of unbeatable resort weather, i.e., mostly sunny days and rainy evenings. One cannot hope for a better weather pattern than what we have been having in Balesin these past few weeks. The rainy nights have been very welcome as they keep our forest verdant and our landscaping well-nourished. Most of all, our water storage ponds are filled to capacity.
Our new GM for Resort Operations, Aris Alcuaz, whom I have christened “Mr. Sunshine,” has done a great job and I am sure that those of you who have met him will agree with me. Aris is our first Filipino GM and I must say that he excels in every aspect of running the Club compared to any of our past GMs. Aris has an excellent resort operations background, including stints with the Banyan Tree Group, Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, and Mandarin Group. He has had top positions at resort hotels in the Seychelles, Maldives, Phuket, Hainan in China, and others which are too numerous to mention, but I have to say that we are fortunate to have him on our team.
Most of all, you will be pleased to hear that he has been focusing on our billing systems and our interface with our members and guests. Soon, he has promised me that our back office systems will be running smoothly, and the problems we have had will be a thing of the past.
Let me now move on to the other exciting things that we have been working at here in Balesin during the past several months.
The Balesin Royal Villa
We started work on this project sometime late in June and we will be completing this magnificent masterpiece of my partner in design, the inimitable Rico Sison. The Balesin Royal Villa will have four grand suites and 10 additional suites which can sleep a total of 56 people. For a sit-down dinner, it can seat as many as 300 people. Located on arguably the best beach in Balesin, and facing the sunset over Lamon Bay, it is a beautiful setting for weddings, family reunions, management conferences, etc. I visited it this morning and we are on track to finish it by the end of this month. We will inaugurate it, hopefully by Halloween. I know you will be pleased with this latest addition to your Club, as it is truly magnificent and royal in every sense of the word.
I just remembered that Rico Sison has been incapacitated for the last week with a serious and contagious eye infection and he will be out of commission for another week. As a result of this unfortunate development, I am afraid that we might be one or two weeks late in finishing the Royal Villa.
I am delighted to inform you that Philippine Air Lines has agreed to regularly schedule chartered flights to Balesin from our hangar lounge in Manila beginning sometime next month (November). They will be flying Q300s, 56-passenger twin turbo props made by Bombardier in Canada. They have five of these planes which they now use for the Manila/Caticlan (Boracay) run, but with the forthcoming opening of the lengthened Caticlan airstrip (from 900 meters to 2,200 meters), they have agreed to charter these planes to us.
I have always said that the jugular vein of any island resort is how you get there. And the arrangement we have made with PAL will guarantee smooth and comfortable transport to Balesin, especially during the forthcoming holiday season. We will keep our fleet of smaller aircraft, especially the Cessna Grand Caravans, which are wonderful planes with state-of-the-art avionics that allow the plane to almost fly itself. But we will probably sell our BAE Jetstreams by the end of the holiday season.
New Communications System
As you know, we have only had service from Smart for the last three years, but I went around the island yesterday and I saw the Globe towers being erected. They tell me that, by the end of November, we will have both Smart and Globe service with Internet connection to every villa on the island. I am still a little bit skeptical about this really happening so soon, but I am certainly keeping my fingers crossed that they deliver. I think it will be a most welcome relief to our members and guests that they will be able to access the Internet from their villas and won’t need to go to the Clubhouse to do this, as they do at present.
Lechonan at the Family Picnic Grove
I had lunch on Saturday at the Family Picnic Grove and it is great to barbecue your own fish and eat a wonderful salad (which we grow organically from seeds which I bring back from Italy). We have a new feature, a Lechonan, right at the Picnic Grove. As a boy, I remember being fascinated watching a pig being roasted on a spit right before my eyes and being hungrier and hungrier waiting for it to be done. We inaugurated this Lechonan last weekend and it was enthusiastically welcomed by our members. The Lechonan will now be a regular feature on weekends at the Family Picnic Grove.
We have often been told that the current Php4 million price tag for a Balesin membership is a bit out of reach of many people and thus, the idea of having Associate Memberships, which was originally suggested to us by some of our members, will be launched in November. Basically, the Associate Membership will have all the features of a standard membership, except that it will be priced at half that of a standard membership (at approximately Php2 million), but with only 7villa nights a year instead of 14. All existing Balesin members will have the option to convert their memberships, regardless of the price they paid for them, into two Associate Memberships. We are now fine-tuning the details of this new and more affordable membership, and will certainly let you know when we launch it sometime in November.
The Soccer Pitch (as my Australian son Julian likes to call it) is now ready for action, and I think we are now talking to several major European soccer clubs for winter and summer soccer camps for their fans and followers. We have a great advantage in that we have the superb lodging facilities and the soccer training facilities year-round, and no snow to prevent you from having soccer camps during the winter months.
We are now designing an aviary of exotic birds which our ever-faithful member Pinky Tobiano has generously donated to us. It will be located right across the Chapel, next to the Ifugao Village, and Rico is now finalizing the design plans for Pinky’s approval.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
This internationally recognized, most respected environmental and wildlife conservation advocate has chosen to adopt Balesin Island, with our environmentally friendly ecosystems. Four of their representatives were on the island for a few days last week and took some fantastic pictures of the many species of birds that are on the island, many of which I never even knew existed. Soon, we will make available to our members World Wildlife Fund/Balesin t-shirts and other paraphernalia at the Balesin Souvenir Shop, which Mike Asperin is presently stocking with all kinds of goodies, and which he plans to open before the end of this month. It is on the Ground Floor of the Clubhouse.
Wine Tasting Sessions
Sometime in November, Mike Asperin, our Island CEO, whom I have designated as the Balesin Master Sommelier (with occasional assistance from our mutual friend, Ralph Joseph), will be conducting wine-tasting regularly again on the Ground Floor of our Clubhouse where our fully stocked Balesin Wine Cave is located. Mike has travelled around the world to sample wines, and is a real wine connoisseur, believe it or not!
In order to make it easier for our members and guests to reach the Ground Floor of our Clubhouse from the Main Floor, we will be installing next month a second elevator, almost beside the present Reception Desk. I, for one, am looking forward to the second elevator as the existing stairs are not very user-friendly.
We are also presently designing a Korean restaurant to be located at the Main Clubhouse. I didn’t really realize how many Korean food lovers there were among our members, but when I talk about our plan to them, they are always very happy to hear about it.
I just met a very interesting Korean girl, Ms. Chi Hyun Han who was my daughter Anna’s classmate at International School in Manila and at Wellesley College in Boston, many years ago. Chi was Anna’s guest this weekend at Balesin and she was thrilled to know that we are putting up a Korean restaurant as she is an excellent cook of Korean food. She was quick to accept my offer to become our Korean restaurant consultant and identify and train a chef for us. While she now lives in Seoul, Korea, she comes to Manila often to visit her father, who was Regional Head of the World Health Organization and who has chosen to retire in Manila.
Aris Alcuaz, our GM, is also a gifted music enthusiast; in fact, I have designated him our “Master DJ of Balesin.” I have agreed to have a properly equipped Music Lounge as a permanent venue, to be located at the first floor of Costa del Sol’s Casa Grande.
Guest Chef of the Month
Among our many projects is our Guest Chef of the Month, where we will select chefs from our and your favorite restaurants, initially from Manila, and eventually from around the region and the U.S. and Europe. The venue will be at the air-conditioned area of our Main Lounge at the Clubhouse, but could move to the other restaurants on the island, depending on the specialty of the chef. Did you know that we have a total of 20 restaurant venues on the island? I didn’t, until last weekend when we actually counted them.
I think many of our members will also welcome the speedboat garages we are presently constructing, where they can keep their speedboats and use them whenever they are in Balesin. The garages are located on the Lamon Bay side, not far from the present jetty. Members who are interested in garaging their speedboats at Balesin should contact GM Aris Alcuaz (mobile nbr +63 908 899 5606 or email: email@example.com) for a reservation.
In the last couple of weeks, I have had some friends on the island who were handicapped. I was delighted to learn from them how handicapped-friendly our Club is. We have ramps and elevators in all of our villas and buildings, which make it easy for those in wheelchairs to get around.
Martin Nievera and Jose Mari Chan
Finally, I should not forget to tell you that the great Martin Nievera will again be performing in Balesin on Saturday, November 29. He was a big hit when he first performed here earlier this year, and has now become a member and really loves the island. Also, my friend and favorite singer, Jose Mari Chan, one of the original Balesin Island Club members, will be performing for us on one of the days between Christmas and New Year.
I have missed writing you these updates, and I hope you are not overwhelmed with the length of this one (“loquacious” as my daughter Anna says), as I had to let you catch up with all that is going on to make your Club not only the best in the Philippines, but in the world!
And I mean every word of that!
GM Aris Alcuaz with his usual “Mr. Sunshine” smile
Clearing the fallen banana trees caused by Typhoon Glenda
Balesin Royal Villa
Sneak-peek at Royal Villa Suite
Royal Villa bathroom with complete amenities
New Globe Tower
Lechonan at the Family Picnic Grove
Lunch is ready at the Picnic Grove!
Guests enjoying the feast at the Picnic Grove
Word Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Black-naped Oriole (Photo by Gregg Yan and WWF)
Cattle Egret (Photo by Gregg Yan and WWF)
White-collared Kingfisher (Photo by Gregg Yan and WWF)
Small Island Flying Fox (Photo by Gregg Yan and WWF)
Wine Tasting Sessions
Balesin’s Master Sommelier, CEO Mike Asperin
Korean Restaurant Plan
Music Lounge Plan
Speedboat Garage (Under Construction)
Costa Del Sol Village
St. Tropez Village
E.L. Tordesillas Airport
Coastal Clean-up with WWF (October 4-5, 2014)
WWF Volunteer having an interactive lecture on Environment Education
SM Alex Cenzon thanking everyone’s participation in the Coastal Clean-up
WWF Volunteer with the participants during Data Gathering process in the Coastal Clean-up
Coastal Clean-up participants
Balesin Concert Series featuring the country’s rising stars
Angeline Quinto serenading the crowd at Balesin Sala (August 30, 2014)
OPM Artist Thor Dulay with CEO Mike Asperin after performing at the Balesin Sala (September 27, 2014)
Yeng Constantino performing at Balesin Sala (October 4, 2014)
Liezel Garcia sings a duet with CEO Mike Asperin (October 10, 2014)
Balesin Session with DJ Stefan Lowenstein
DJ Stefan takes on the floor of Fish Fun for the Balesin Sessions
(October 11, 2014)
A family indulging in their lavish Boodle Dinner at the Clubhouse Dining Room
Guests and members enjoying the good music and weather at the Balesin Sunset Sessions
Paolo and Cherry Las relish their sunset wedding ceremony at the Balesin Spa (October 8, 2014)