It occupies the tallest edifice in the island and is the only international brand in the area. A decade and a half have passed and Marco Polo still towers over Mindanao.
When Halifax Davao Hotel, Inc. decided to develop an upscale property in downtown Davao in the 1990s, the city was abloom.
But, as history would tell, Davao was occasionally interrupted by peace and order concerns that made destination promotions a struggle. In 2003 alone, two bombs were detonated within two consecutive months. What made business more complicated was the Asian financial crisis of 1997, a year before the hotel’s 1998 opening. It pulled down foreign tourist arrivals, especially a major market Japan, whose economy was severely hit.
Davao eventually emerged from the bad light cast by security threats in the mid-2000s. In 2006, it hosted the ASEAN Tourism Forum, an annual convention of regional industry and government players. Incumbent political also managed to make the city perhaps the most secured in the island, as both taxi drivers and investors would attest. There is an ongoing construction boom in Davao. Business for Marco Polo has never been better.
The 245-room Davao property is Marco Polo’s first in the Philippines, followed by Cebu and, come 2014, Ortigas. Owned by Wharf, a Hong Kong-based group whose other businesses focus on container terminals and communications, the brand is known for its full-service hotels located in gateway cities and business districts across the Asia-Pacific region. Ten properties are currently in Hong Kong and mainland China and one in Phuket, Thailand. At least eight are in the pipeline, all in China.
Regardless of how the local economy was doing in the past years, being Davao’s premier hotel has secured Marco Polo of a place both in national and regional level. Davao is, after all, the center of Mindanao and a key stakeholder in the BIMP-EAGA (Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area) region. The hotel has been the regular host of important gatherings.
It is not surprising then that its staff members are of one of the most VIP-exposed and, consequently, trained to meet expectations of the high-ups. At the lobby, portraits of presidential autographs hang, attesting to the credentials of the hotel. Marco Polo has hosted diplomatic and national personalities whose strict security protocols and personal requirements the hotel learned to be familiarized with. Em Mauhay, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, shared that every time certain VIPs would return, their security personnel need not remind the staff, for instance, of the former presidents’ personal preferences.
In 2009, Marco Polo Davao reaped the “Hotel of the Year” award given by its corporate office. The laurel recognizes the property which excelled in critical indicators like financial achievements, guest satisfaction, and marketing strategies. Guest satisfaction ratings reportedly was Davao’s strongest factor.
In 2010, Marco Polo was recognized for its sustainable operation practices, joining a handful of Philippine properties such as El Nido in Palawan and Nature Village Resort and Bacolod City which received the ASEAN Green Hotel Award.
The hotel’s sustainable practices are simple measures that any industrial facility can implement. The only difference is that Marco Polo and other hotels actually invest on such operational programs, from eco-friendly reminders of reusing their towels to the use of more LED bulbs and less of water plastic bottles.
At the back of the house, the hotel implements waste segregation procedures, reprocesses used cooking oil to fuel its boiler, and uses biodegradable cleaning agents in laundry that requires less water. The aim is to be efficient with the use of energy and so it invested in heating and air-conditioning systems which can do just that.
Marco Polo gets most of its bookings from a booming domestic market, mostly corporates. The weak international market, dominated by Americans, is due to Davao’s untapped capacity as an international hub. As of now, Silk Air is the only airline that regularly flies outside of the Philippines (to Singapore). Listed in Marco Polo’s wish list is gaining not only more inbound but also the leisure segment that spends more and stays longer.
The hotel is looking at the future with high hopes . Davao is climbing its way up in the top MICE destinations in the country and is transforming into a bigger, more urbanized metropolis with a diversified range of destinations in the outskirts. And because of these developments, it no longer sounds odd that one of Mauhay’s wishes for Marco Polo’s 15th anniversary is competition.
“I want to have one international brand para naman mayroon kaming kapantay,” she said. “When you look at the competitive set, there’s really no competition. You can look at it, for example, in our average rate. Our average rate is double the rest, and we didn’t increase in the past two years.”
A competitive destination, after all, is one that carries diverse consumer choices. More brands in a destination induces greater demand and pushes services to excel beyond the baseline to fight off competition.
“I think they still find [Davao] as the third gateway,” Mauhay said on investor perceptions. The current boomtown suggests this image is short-lived.
- Refurbishments. Before reaching its 15th year, the hotel began refurbishing its rooms. On top of its current room types, it will add a Premiere type in mid-2013.
- Six F&B outlets. The hotel has Café Marco, the guest’s regular dining area; Lotus Court, a Cantonese restaurant; Eagles, a classic bar; Polo Bistro, an intercontinental restaurant that currently features flambé menus; Lobby Lounge for high tea; and Pool Lounge by the 25-meter outdoor lap pool.
- Signature wellness. Two-storey Lazuli Spa is Marco Polo’s signature wellness center adjacent to its fitness center. It is one spot in the hotel which walk-in guests – mostly men – frequent to aside from the F&B outlets.
- VIP events. The hotel can host only so much. Its maximum is 600 people, while its meeting rooms accommodate 30 to 214 seats, both theater-style.