MANILA Philippines — French hotel and services chain Accor has taken over the management of Philippine Plaza hotel one of the oldest five-star hotels in the Philippines.
The hotel is undergoing a multi-million dollar facelift and in April opened its new “state-of-the-art interactive” dining outlet “Spiral” after a $3 million investment by hotel owners Philippine Plaza Holdings Inc. Philippine Plaza Holdings is a joint venture between Filipino businessmen and Allied Kajima Holdings of Japan which is in turn a joint venture between Allied Properties Hong Kong Ltd. and the Kajima Corp. of Japan — dealing in construction engineering and property development.
The renovation will “extensively refurbish” the hotel’s 609 rooms to give it “French touches ” according to Michael Issenberg managing director of Accor Asia. The renovation is projected to be completed in 2007 after which the hotel will be relaunched as Sofitel Philippine Plaza he said. “It will be a significant event for Manila’s hotel industry as the Sofitel brand will become Asia Pacific’s largest deluxe hotel brand by the end of 2007 ” he added.
For 29 years Philippine Plaza was managed by the New York-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. under its Westin brand but its contract with the hotel expired in December. The partnership was terminated “because of their [change in] priorities in the region ” Oscar Salvacion president of Philippine Plaza Holdings told reporters. According to a joint press statement of Starwood and Philippine Plaza Holding issued in November “Upon reaching the contract renewal date both companies discussed and re-evaluated their strategies for the future and mutually agreed to discontinue the management of the hotel under the Westin brand.” But to the Journal Salvacion disclosed “they were asking for a higher fee ” and indicated that the holding firm could not afford what was being asked. The Philippine Plaza was the first hotel to be managed by Westin in the Asia Pacific region.
Issenberg said patrons of the hotel will see distinct changes in the management and look of the hotel with the entry of Accor’s Sofitel brand which has built a reputation for giving a fresh start to the “living legends” of the Asia Pacific hotel industry. He said the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi which was taken over in the early 1990s is now known as one of the “greatest hotels in the world ” and the Wentworth hotel in Sydney which Sofitel revived is recognized as a world renowned five star hotel.
Philippine Plaza he said will carry the “distinct French flair and spirit” to its design food and beverage and services. “You will see the difference between Western European and American hospitality especially with regards to F&B ” he said.
According to Salvacion “Philippine Plaza has played a pivotal role in the bay area development. Accor will inject fresh world-class European ambience to change Manila’s lifestyle scene.”
In a mock-up unit shown only to the Journal the room is sparsely decorated in brown and cream. There is a long angular table for the TV which stretches to become a desk near the balcony window. One of the major changes will be the replacement of Westin’s hallmark SkyBed into Accor’s trademark MyBed. Bathtubs will also be eliminated “as businessmen these days supposedly prefer showers ” according to a hotel source. Renovation is ongoing in the top five floors of the hotel.
This is the second try of Accor to manage a Philippine property after its first partnership with the local Panlilio family’s Grand Boulevard failed in 1998.
“Having the right partners is crucial to success. We believe that we have the right owner that is committed to the future of the hotel ” Issenberg said.
Accor also owns a budget hotel in Quezon City Century Suites which the French hotel chain acquired from the Century Hotels group in 2002.
Issenberg sees a good future for Accor in the Philippines beyond the Sofitel brand. “There is definitely a big future for Accor in the Philippines. We needed the right property to re-establish ourselves in the market. We will now actively look for other opportunities to launch our Novotel Mercure and Ibis hotel brands in the Philippines.” Novotel Mercure and Ibis are Accor’s brands for its mid-priced and budget markets.
The Philippine Plaza with its view of Manila Bay is trying to market itself as a destination for the growing Chinese Korean and Japanese market. Also being targeted Issenberg said is the American market as the Sofitel brand is very well known in the U.S. “The high profile of the brand in these key markets as well as emerging markets elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region and Europe is expected to contribute significantly to growing the corporate conference and leisure business of the hotel ” he added.
According to data from the Philippine Department of Tourism last year 2.6 million tourists visited the Philippines up 14.5% from 2004. Of last year’s visitors Americans (which include Filipinos who are now American citizens) accounted for 20.1%. This was followed by Koreans at 18.7% the Japanese at 15.8% the Taiwanese at 4.7% and Chinese 4.1%. The rest came from other Asian countries and Europe.
But the data also shows that the Chinese and Korean traffic in the Philippines is growing by leaps and bounds. Last year Chinese visitors jumped by 171.5% to 107 456 from 39 581 in 2004. Koreans meanwhile rose 29.5% to 489 465 from 378 602 in 2004.
“With the Philippine progress in tourism and the optimism for its economic future it is very timely for Accor to sign this agreement with Philippine Plaza Holdings to manage Philippine Plaza. This hotel is well known throughout the country and the region as one of the Philippines’ finest hotels and with the growth in intra-Asian tourism so strong the addition of Sofitel branding will be an important factor in the success of the hotel in the future ” Issenberg said.
The 74 000-square meter Philippine Plaza is currently the only resort-style hotel in Manila and located within the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex along Roxas Boulevard. Philippine Plaza Holdings with Allied Kajima’s investment purchased the hotel in 1991 from the Government Service Insurance System a pension fund for public servants in the Philippines under the Philippines government’s privatization program. The hotel’s accessibility to the Philippine International Convention Center one of the largest in the country and the World Trade Center an exhibition venue has maintained its leadership in the so-called MICE (meetings incentives conventions and exhibitions) market.
Philippine Plaza’s launch as a Sofitel brand is part of the “largest-ever expansion” of Accor’s five-star luxury brand in the Asia-Pacific region Issenberg said. There are 36 Sofitels in Asia Pacific including Sofitels in key destinations such as Tokyo Shanghai Seoul Bangkok and Sydney. About 20 Sofitel hotels and resorts are under development in the region.
Sofitel has nearly 200 properties in locations around the world. Accor is the European one of the world’s largest groups in travel tourism and corporate services. MBJ