Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Raffles Rising

Despite political uncertainty and a sluggish economic improvement in the Philippines, high-end real estate and the tourism industry have seen lively development with a number of investments in resorts, residences and hotels. Some are already in construction. The Shangri-La group of hotels will be opening its Boracay Resort and Spa by the end of 2008 and has broken ground at Fort Bonifacio, a former military base transformed into a commercial area in Taguig City, for a new hotel, set to open in 2012, adding to its two existing properties.

Now joining in is Raffles Hotels and Resorts, which already has several properties worldwide. The name itself connotes an illustrious history of hospitality and luxurious service, which began in Singapore.

The Raffles Hotel is, of course, named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the British founder of Singapore and prominent historical figure of early 19th century Southeast Asia. It was established though by four Armenian brothers, Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak Sarkies, and opened in 1887, then a plain, old bungalow called the Beach House. Over the years, the hotel evolved, patronized by dignitaries, celebrities, artists and royalties. It was declared a National Monument in 1987. In 1989, the Raffles Hotels and Resorts company was formed to restore, redevelop and manage the hotel. It is owned by Fairmont Raffles Hotels International Inc., which has over 85 hotels worldwide under the Raffles, Fairmont and Swissôtel brands. After restoration, Raffles Hotel reopened in 1991. In 1996, the company began building Raffles Hotels in other parts of the world.

Through the years, Raffles has earned a reverent reputation and has been regarded as among the best in the world. It has earned a kind of legendary status. Writer W. Somerset Maugham stayed there and called it the legendary symbol for “all the fables of the Exotic East.” Writer Rudyard Kipling also stayed there, as well as a host of prominent people.
“Patronized by royalty, beloved by all,” said Jeannette Ho, vice president for marketing and sales of Raffles Hotels and Resorts.
This kind of legend Raffles is banking on. “We don’t consider ourselves as a company that just manages hotels and resorts,” Ho stated. “It’s our responsibility to create legends.”
Along with legends, they also create journeys, not just a place to stay in, “a journey of discovery,” Ho said, and “magic.”
The magic and experience can be roughly attributed to the hotel’s qualities of being steeped in culture and refinement, and being heartfelt and gracious. Ho said that they try their best to bring the culture of the destination in their hotels. Artisans from villages and families, who traditionally do certain crafts, were employed to handcraft some details of some of their hotels like Raffles Beijing in China and the newly opened Raffles Dubai in United Arab Emirates.
The entire staff of the hotel is known for their service and attention that are heartfelt and gracious, Ho further said.
These will be experienced by travelers to the Philippines and by the Filipinos themselves when Raffles opens its hotel in Makati City’s business district in 2010.
Partnering with Raffles for the project is Kingdom Hotel Investments
(KHI), a hospitality real estate investment company based in Dubai. It already has ownership interests in 34 properties in 21 countries.
“Kingdom Hotel Investments is proud to be playing an integral role in the growth of Raffles Hotels and Resorts, renowned for its legendary service, innovative culinary concepts and cultured luxury,” declared Jeff Tisdall, vice president for real estate of KHI.
“Kingdom Hotels is focused on emerging markets where we see tremendous opportunities for growth,” he further informed. He mentioned the strengths of these markets lie in tourism, business travel and overall investments.
He also announced during a press conference in Manila the three new Raffles developments, which include the one in Makati City. The other two are in Seychelles and Vietnam.
The Raffles Resort in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, is set to open also in 2010 and is located the northeast tip of Praslin Island, the second largest island of the Seychelles. With 300,000 square meters land area and 500 meters of direct beachfront, Raffles Resort Praslin will have 23 private residential villas. The site close to one of the Seychelles’ UNESCO World Heritage site, the Vallée de Mai, a forest once believed to be the original site of the Garden of Eden, with about 6,000 coco de mers. Praslin also has some of the worldfs best beaches like Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette.
On the other hand, the site in Vietnam, also set to open in 2010, is in the city of Da Nang, in the central part of the country, and is close to three UNESCO World Heritage sites—the remains of ancient palaces of Thua Thien in Hue, the old village of Hoi An and the complex of religious relics of My Son. Raffles Da Nang will have about150 suites and 15 private residential villas on the famous China Beach.
In contrast, the development in Manila will be in a modern urban setting, a “strictly urban experience,” Tisdall said, in which guests will enjoy the amenities of a modern city.
Tisdall said that Manila is a place they long have seen they needed to be, but has found the right opportunity just now. There is limited supply of luxury hotels here, he said. It took time for them to choose the best site. He said the one they have chosen is the best location in Metro Manila as it provides convenient access to malls, good restaurants and other urban amenities. For this, they found a good partner with Ayala Land.
Raffles Manila is at the corner of Makati Avenue and Arnaiz Avenue (formerly Pasay Road) and will feature a 30-storey glass tower. It is actually two hotels in one—the Raffles at one side and Fairmont Hotel at the other. Guests and residents will have convenient access to the Greenbelt malls and other business, shopping, entertainment and recreation facilities in the area.
There will be limited residences at the upper storeys. Two-hundred-twenty one-, two-, and three-bedroom residences, which sell for about US$200,000 and up each, will occupy the top 20 stories of the Raffles Hotel, including two floors of penthouse apartments, which sells US$1.5 million and up each. Aside from that the hotel will have a swimming pool, a fitness center, a business centre, direct access to spa on premises, Mediterranean and Japanese restaurants, and a private owners’ lounge with concierge service. A main attraction will be The Long Bar, a contemporary interpretation of The Long Bar of Raffles Hotel Singapore, where the famous cocktail drink Singapore Sling was born.
The rooms are promised to offer spectacular views of the Makati skyline, the Manila Bay and the Laguna Bay. The hotel itself will be “a dramatic addition to the Makati skyline,” Tisdall said. Leading and award-winning US-based firm Arquitectonica, whose projects on several continents include mixed-use developments, universities, resorts, casinos, hotels, luxury condominium towers, retail centers and office buildings, will the design the tower, while US-based Bent Severin design company, which designed the refurbished Raffles Hotel Singapore as well as Marriot Hotel in Nagoya, Japan, and Hyatt Regency in Burlingame, California, among others, will do the interiors.
Sarmad Zok, chief executive officer of KHI, said, “Raffles Manila is a perfect example of our ability to create spectacular lodging and residential ownership opportunities in high growth emerging markets. Complemented by the renowned service of Raffles, our distinctive building, designed by architectural firm Arquitectonica with sleek interiors by Bent Severin, will make Raffles one of Manila’s most sought-after addresses.”
“All three of our current Raffles development projects, which include China Beach in Vietnam and Praslin Island in the Seychelles, demonstrate our commitment to developing unique world class hotels and resorts in the most sought after and rapidly growing destinations,” Tisdall said. “Our premium Makati location for KHI’s first urban Raffles development, combined with the designs by world renowned architecture and design firms, will attract international and domestic visitors.”

Other Raffles hotels and resorts in development are in Konottaa, Maldives (2009); Tianjin, China (2009); Marrakech, Morocco (2009); Jimbaran, Bali (2010); Cotai Strip, Macau (2010); Saint Lucia, West Indies (2010); Tortola, British Virgin Islands (2010); Taimana, Tahaa, French Polynesia (2010); Jakarta, Indonesia (2011); and Phang Nga, Thailand (2011).

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