Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It would take truck loads of money.......and a whole lot of love!

Whilst enjoying lunch on Sunday I managed to work through the Philippine Star and, through the haze of the morning after the night before, I read 10 things I love most about The Oriental Bangkok.

I've said it before, I love old, classic hotels, the 'Grand Dames' as it were..., yes, the modern properties have their place...the Grand Hyatt Shanghai, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai and the Hong Kong Four Seasons, but for me it's the atmosphere and the traditions in the old hotels...Raffles, The Pen (HKG obviously!), The Ritz, The Peabody (Memphis), the Oriental, Georges V....etc etc...

If you're not into hotels or are easily bored, then read no further...I'm going to be terribly dull and deconstruct the article...

Lets start with the first part of the article..

I have a dream hotel. One that is very Filipino, very modern and very world-class.

When I say very Filipino, I do not mean it should have a nipa hut-inspired roof. It should ex-press pride in what we have and what we are.

When I say very modern, it should bask in today’s new genre of hotels with a design that is cosmopolitan yet with romantic, poetic and even surprise-laden elements.

When I say world-class, it should be a place where President Bush – or make that Brad Pitt – would love to stay. Yes, Brad Pitt has an eye for design.

We used to have a hotel we could be proud of because it had a Filipino heritage and history. But all that five-star nationalist pride was lost when it became a kitschy Manila Panciteria Hotel.

So why can’t we create a new one?

I am assuming that the writer is referring to the Manila Hotel, although the name is not specifically mentioned.

If my assumption is correct, creating a new hotel is not necessary, taking the Manila Hotel and giving it the necessary cash injection, and asserting a local identity within the building is all that is required...the building itself from the outside is no oil painting, granted..(but then neither is The Oriental), however the interior has huge potential particularly given the size of the public areas.

The Manila Hotel had the potential to be invested in after a Malaysian company bought 51% of the hotel in 1995, unfortunately for the hotel, the sale was voided in 1997 because...

the justices ruled that the Manila Hotel is part of the nation’s patrimony. “We are not talking about an ordinary piece of property in a commercial district,” said the decision. “We are talking about a historic relic that has hosted many of the most important events in the short history of the Philippines as a nation.”

In this particular instance the Malaysian company, Renong (now under the umbrella of UEM Land), may not have been the most suitable investor, but this is said purely from a hotelier's point of view - hotel's are like 'special children' - they need love and huge amounts of understanding compared to other businesses, however, from a financial point of view they could have been able to pump in the much needed cash.

Anyway, I digress, back to the article....the writer then goes on to list 10 things she likes about The Oriental...I'm just going to take the 10 points and work them into the Manila Hotel...

1. The Lobby: the Manila Hotel's lobby is spectacular, the wooden ceiling, the pillars, marble flooring, the lovely long reception desk...Actually, truth be told, I prefer the Manila Hotel lobby to The Oriental's, I always think The Oriental's lobby is a bit of an anti-climax.

2. Nationalism in bloom: Putting local flowers into any hotel is normally easily done, but to be honest if getting a steady supply of good local flowers is as difficult as getting a steady supply of good local fruit is here....that could be a challenge...

3. Writer's refuge: granted the Manila Hotel has probably not had the slew of writers that The Oriental has, however, with the Manila Hotel's archive room (unfortunately kept under lock and key, so many people don't even know it exists)there is enough fodder there for an entire history room....where afternoon tea could be served. I have to add here, whenever I am in Bangkok I do go to the Writer's Lounge for afternoon tea...it is special. But, there are lots of people in Manila that I have heard saying they go to the Manila Hotel for Halo Halo because that's the best place to go...

4. Good Night, Good Words: lots of hotels do this, instead of a chocolate...its a nice touch, but each hotel should come up their own 'thing'...Banyan Tree properties for example, give a different gift on turndown each night; a scented candle, massage oil etc..with a little note about each gift.

5. Truly fruity: again, this is quite common in hotels around Asia, however, as I said before...a steady supply of good local fruit here can be challenging...

6. Heart in their art: there are more than enough Filipino artists which could be used in any hotel property....again...fairly easily done..

7. Spa: Yes, Thai spas are well known around the world, thanks to groups like the Banyan Tree and the Oriental Hotel...however, the same could be recreated here.

8. Breakfast by the Riverside: Ok, here the Manila Hotel can't hold its own...but the gardens at the back are lovely...and with some work, could be even lovelier...and let's face it...the gardens are never going to stink as much as the rivers in Bangkok can sometimes

9. A five-star classroom: This would be a challenge if cooking were going to be the subject, Filipino cuisine is unfortunately not world renowned, probably for the simple reason that so much of Filipino cuisine is about 'mother cooks best'...and so if the Chicken Adobo is not just like mother's, it is classed as just 'ok'. The classroom would need to teach something else...something that is typically Filipino and something that 'students' could use to grace their homes after their stay in the Philippines...on this subject I admit I am stuck for an idea....but no doubt someone far more creative and inventive than I would come up with a suitable idea...

10. 24 hour butler: again easily done!

And just a few thoughts on using Filipino talent for cooking, interiors and uniforms...for cooking, yes, it's a valid statement, however, overseas visitors and the world's press look for the 'big names' - Joel Robuchon, Jean-Georges Vongerichten etc...those are the names that will get a hotel's restaurant noticed on a grand scale; if you really wanted a Filipino name then choosing someone similar to Cristeta Comerford or Romy Dorotan, would probably also be good press, the likes of Susur Lee always do well when they 'return to base'. For interiors, yes...anything other than the ubiquitious Philippe Starke would make me happy, particularly on the practicality front...(case in point -the beautiful bar at the end of Felix, which had such a hot surface that if you put your iced drink on it, the ice melts faster than if you had used a blow torch!) - the only benefit with using someone like Philippe Starke is the cache and press coverage it garners. Local fashion designers for uniforms...definitely.

So going through those ten points, to bring the Manila Hotel up to 'Oriental' standards, would take a while, a huge amount of love and dedication...and money by the truck loads....but there is no rhyme or reason why it couldn't be done....

So, would someone please get off their high horse...and if the money can't be found within the country, let someone outside the country put the money in....before the Manila Hotel actually starts falling apart at the seams.


Anonymous torn said...

Emilio Yap, the owner of the Manila Hotel, is a complete idiot who wouldn’t know a decent hotel if it bit him in the bottom. The hotel used to have a very nice Italian restaurant, the Roma café, which was a popular lunchtime venue, famous for its buffet. For reasons that are obscure, it was closed and the buffet moved to the champagne room. Then the buffet was moved to the charmless coffee-shop. The bar at the Manila hotel is horrendous—it used to (and as far as I know still does) have a loud show band there most evenings, which was completely inappropriate for “a historic relic that has hosted many of the most important events in the short history of the Philippines as a nation.” There are still some nice places, e.g., the Cowrie Grill, but no doubt Yap will work his inimitable brand of magic there soon. What about the yellow polystyrene sign on the roof?! Or did typhoon Milenyo get rid of that?

Mind you, if we are talking about hotels destroying their best features, the ghastly make-over of Conways at the Makati Shangri-la a few years ago would have to be a contender.



12:34 pm  

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