By Alex Y. Vergara
Things are heating up down south, and Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao, one of the most celebrated hotels in the country, is gearing up for good times ahead, as it positions itself “as the only resort hotel” this side of Mindanao.
And this scenario isn’t founded on wishful thinking. Bryan Yves Lasala, Waterfront’s young GM, is basing his projections on the continued growth of Davao City’s Lanang district.
“As the city center becomes more crowded, growth has started to spill over in the outlying districts,” said Lasala, 37. “And much of that growth is moving toward Lanang.”
Another company has been feverishly working on developing the 25-hectare Azuela Cove in Davao. Once finished, the property would host, among others, an IT park and a branch of St. Luke’s Medical Center in Davao.
“That’s a welcome development for people of Davao, including us at Waterfront,” said Lasala. “We have to be ready when the time comes.”
Part of Waterfront’s future plans include renovating the property’s three existing two-story buildings, adding eight to 10 more function rooms to its existing six, and eventually constructing a mid-rise building, which can house 500 more rooms.
“Adding more rooms and convention facilities is in line with our plan to position the hotel as a premier property for MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions),” said Lasala, a native of Iligan, who first worked with Watefront as part of the Gatchalian family-owned company’s Cebu-based team.
The hotel’s clientele remains primarily local—80 percent. The remaining clients consist of foreigners mostly from such countries as the US, China, Japan, and Korea.
Occupancy rate, which hovered at 80 percent at the start of 2017, understandably dipped with the declaration of martial law in Mindanao sometime last May. But the situation has started to slowly pick up beginning with the city’s Kadayawan Festival last August.
The company, which also has several properties in Cebu and Manila, has initially earmarked R400 million for its renovation and expansion project in Davao. Renovation will begin early next year.
And with growth in the area, competition can’t be far behind. A multistory hotel is now under construction a stone’s throw away from Waterfront. In recent years, at least four new hotels opened some 20 minutes away by car from the sprawling eight-hectare property.
But Lasala and his team have little reason to worry. For one, the Waterfront, which is just a five-minute pump boat ride away from scenic Samal Island, is still one of the most preferred destinations for Davaoeños to hold weddings, meetings, and events.
Many tourists who want to reach Samal, in fact, pass through Waterfront and its small port on their way to such beachfront properties as Chemas by the Sea. Built over a period of more than 10 years, the resort consists of a restaurant-slash-bar and several charming Balinese-type villas with rooms that can accommodate between two and four people. It’s also open to day guests.
Since there are plenty of tourists and locals to go by, Waterfront is that confident of its position that it doesn’t mind helping promote other smaller, quainter resorts in Samal.
“You should see this place during New Year’s Eve,” said Lasala, referring to Waterfront’s own four-hectare beach area. “Since it’s against the law to greet the coming year with fireworks in Davao City, people flock here to see the fireworks display across nearby Samal Island. Lighting up fireworks is okay there. It’s an annual sight to behold.”
For tourists raring to explore the outskirts of Davao City, the hotel also has an exclusive tie-up with a transport company and its fleet of new, air-conditioned black vans. Trips to such nearby attractions as the 80-hectare Eden Nature Resort (an hour’s drive away from Waterfront) can be arranged. For shopping trips, there’s the much nearer Aldivingco shopping complex.
Those who prefer to either stay in the hotel or throw big parties, Waterfront’s grand ballroom can easily cater to banquets consisting of 300 people. For bigger gatherings consisting of 1,200 people, it has an open-air, but roofed pavilion facing Davao Gulf. Its smaller series of function rooms, depending on the configuration, can accommodate anywhere from 50 to 60 people.
Apart from several premium food and beverage outlets such as Uno buffet restaurant, La Parilla grill, and Vinta bar, which all offer the best Mindanaoan, Filipino, and global cuisines, including the freshest grilled items and durian delights, from ice cream to cake, Waterfront has one thing competition will never have—heritage and decades of experience under different owners and managers that date back to the early ’60s.
As one of the first world-class hotels to open in Mindanao, Waterfront was formerly known as the Davao Insular Hotel when it was launched in 1961 under the ownership of the Ayalas of Manila.
Aside from catering to the public, it served as a de facto clubhouse of nearby Insular Village, another Ayala project, which was positioned then as an upscale community composed of young, well-off families.
“The village is still there and has, in fact, opened its phase two in 1999,” said Lasala.
One of the few remnants of the old Davao Insular Hotel, apart from the three buildings designed by the late architect and National Artist Leandro Locsin, is the swimming pool. Part of its tiled floor still forms the shape of a seahorse, the same logo or insignia the old Davao Insular shared with its namesake gated village.
“If ever we’re going to renovate the place again in the near future, we would give careful thought on Waterfront’s three existing buildings, which were designed by a National Artist,” said Lasala. “We are mindful of their importance and heritage.”
For a time, management of the 159-room hotel moved from the Ayalas to professional hoteliers from the Inter-Con Group. The hotel has since undergone various repairs and renovations.
In 1999, a change of ownership took place when the Gatchalian family acquired Davao Insular Hotel. After a yearlong series of repairs, it finally reopened in 2000 as the Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao. Seventeen years later, one of the city’s premier hotels is again at the crossroads of new and exciting developments.