BAGUIO CITY, Philippines -- The country's summer capital welcomed the city's latest hotel with the opening of The Forest Lodge at Camp John Hay on Saturday night, promising to offer "the best deal" to attract the Filipino travelers.
A sister property of the more luxurious The Manor at Camp John Hay, Forest Lodge promises accommodations at "extremely friendly" prices with room rates starting at P2,900 on a twin-sharing basis.
But Tito Avancena, president of Club Leisure Resorts, Inc., which manages both The Manor and Forest Lodge, refuses the describe the new property as a budget hotel.
"Does this look like a budget hotel?" he asked reporters, while pointing to the five-story building done with the same log cabin look as The Manor.
Avancena said he was encouraged to create a hotel that would cater to the needs of the "burgeoning Filipino traveler."
"Because of the current economic situation, people are not that liquid but Filipinos love to travel. They like to be with their friends, they like to travel," the hotelier said.
"So I saw a need to fill, the needs of the domestic traveler. I would look around and I would see these places na mura nga pero hindi naman maganda. I would like to give them a little respect, you know?"
Taking a cue from the popularity of budget airlines like Cebu Pacific and AirAsia, Forest Lodge eliminated some of the five-star frills which, Avancena explained, "make a place expensive."
For one, he eliminated room service.
"There's a marked difference between what we do in The Manor and what we do here in terms of service delivery," he said. "At one o'clock in the morning 'pag nagutom ka, wala kaming room service."
The hotel's only food and beverage outlet, Twist, is also more casual, although it is still managed by renowned Chef Billy King, who also runs Le Chef at The Manor.
King, who used to run the famous Le Souffle in Makati and Bonifacio Global City, explained that Twist's menu would consist more of short-order items, sandwiches and pastries.
"We don't have steaks but we have very good comfort food," Avancena added, noting that its guests have many dining options at the Mile High Center, such as Brother's Burger and Dencio's, which are just a stone's throw away from the hotel.
But guests are assured of top-notch accommodations. The rooms are spacious with windows that open to views of the surrounding pine forests. Although there is no mini-bar, it does have a small refrigerator.
"These are nice hotel rooms. Nice towels, nice linens, nice pillows," Avancena said. "We could say it's a no-frills type thing. But how many people really order service? There are those who do but that's not our market."
More fun at Forest Lodge
Forest Lodge used to be the condotel, Camp John Hay Suites, but was rebranded to attract young Filipino travelers.
"I'm in the business so I've been observing this very carefully na nagbya-byahe na 'yung mga Pinoy," Avanceno said, noting a surge in nationalism among the youth. "People are really, upbeat about the country. They're traveling ...they're proud of where they came from."
"I want to show respect to the Filipino traveler. This is our attempt to give them something different from the same places where they will pay the same amount of money, na mas maganda," the hotel executive said.
"I think the Filipinos appreciate that you can extend to them something that's nice, that meets their travel requirements," he added. "Pwede ko namang ginawang basta mura at maski ano na lang. But no. I want to cultivate that traveling Filipino, I want to encourage them. And I hope others in the industry will do the same."
Veteran Baguio hotelier Heinrich Maulbecker, managing director of The Manor, described Forest Lodge as more of a place for young people to chill-out and hangout.
"And their parents don't have to worry because they're here at Camp John Hay," he said.
Apart from free Wi-Fi at the hotel lobby, Avanceno said he also sees "music in the lobby that's not muzak."
"I envision a band here that is not noise-level conscious and guests won't call up to complain," he said.
Just the start
Avanceno said they chose to open during the less busy rainy season to allow the hotel to build up slowly.
It is opening with only 55 rooms, consisting of 43 superior rooms, seven family rooms and five one-bedroom suites.
"The owners have expressed their desire to increase the rooms by the end of this year to 70 to 100. This building has the capacity to have about over 300 rooms. I'm sure by the end of the year, we will have more (rooms)," he said.
Forest Lodge is the second hotel in Camp John Hay to open this year after the luxurious Le Monet.
"We have the traditional travelers who have access to a little more liquidity than others. And for those, we have enough of those places. I myself have The Manor here," Avanceno said. "I didn't want to build another Manor. The law of supply and demand is in play here and this is our supply for that demand."
Avanceno said he is optimistic that the country's economy will continue to improve and spur even more Filipinos to travel.
"As the economy turns, you want to be able to earn a market share already. Pero even if it (economy) doesn't (boom), there's always room for a better product," he said. "And, at the end of the day, it is this competition that actually spurs quality. The tighter the competition, the better the products. And we're in the game."