Thinking Beyond Business

[By John Chen Yechong] I am so lucky to be assigned to Vilches resort consulting project which is my most favorite business. I conducted some research on resort and hotel management in Hong Kong to build up knowledge beforehand. I read The “New Gold Standard” based on Ritz-Carlton and another resort management book. I also browsed on internet to understand Vilches business. Surprisingly, I found that they had a well functioned website where I could find all the information including rate, gallery, event, activity, etc. The scenery of the hotel was amazingly beautiful. I was really excited and confident on my project and couldn’t wait to make it as successful as other international resorts. However, things are not always the same as imagination.

One night as “spy”

Before the formal meeting with the business owners, I decide to experience the resort without noticing them. First, I walk around the resort to find their direct competitors. There are two more resorts around (one under construction). Playa de paraiso is the main competitors for Vilches as they offer similar service as Vilches and they are better decorated. I find it hard to get to Vilches resort as it is far from the main road.

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Playa De Paraiso

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Long and muddy road to resort

The resort is not as good as my imagination. The gate is rather simple and muddy without decoration. The space between gate and reception lobby is sludgy with a dirty stream. Ducks, chickens and dogs are running and playing happily in the garden. This makes me quite unpleasant. However, the receptionist greets me warmly and shows me the resorts happily. All the rooms are in small villas or native cottages. The inner design of the resort is outdated, but the sea view is so peaceful and clean. The resort has world-class scenery as any other famous resorts but is not well utilized.

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Vilches Resort

After settling down, I get out to talk to other tourists. They are mainly Philippine from city around spending time here for weekends. They tell me that they love to picnic near the sea for whole day without any special activities. This is different from China. We always find some activities to do in beach like barbeque, swimming, island hopping and ect. Philippine prefer the natural and unexploited environment more.

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Beach in Vilches

I stay in the resort for dinner. The food in each dish is very little but with high price. I finished two dishes of food for so-called “eight persons” which shocks the waitress a lot. I talk to the waitress about their customers. She looks at me with wide-eye and says, “sometimes there are Chinese and Korean here, but they don’t eat that much.” I laugh out. The staff in Vilches are really friendly and funny.

After a night in resort, I realize that lots of the ideas and imagination I have are Utopian. It is impossible to implement the theories and principles in books to manage the resort because the organization is one big family who relies on each other. It is infeasible to equip the resort with all kinds of international standards as those are not the favorite of Philippine. Resources around are limited. It is unethical to waste anything just to make the resort more enjoyable and profitable. I start to rethink about the suggestions I can provide.

 

Meeting the business

We meet the owner, Mr. Domingo, on Monday. He is a funny old man moving and talking like in slow-motion. He is quite educated, open-minded and experienced. He used to work in China for a Canadian firm and his daughters are all in Canada. What surprises me most is that he designs the bookkeeping spreadsheet by himself and it is so clear even though he is almost the same age as my grandpa.  His father starts the business in 1993 and he inherits the business from his father. The resort is several times larger than at the beginning. We discuss some general business issues and then go to resort together. He shows me around proudly and tells me the history carefully. The resort for him is more than only business. He witnesses the resort growing from only a few picnic tables to now, with swimming pools, pavilion, clean beach and more than 10 houses. Hundreds and thousands of visitors have their precious and joyous time in the resort. Just like child and parents, the resort becomes a great part of glory and memory for Mr. Domingo. When I ask him whether he will sell the resort. He looks at me in surprise, even anger, and speaks firmly, “No, because family.” Truly, resort has integrated into life of Domingo’s family, meaning emotion is an essential factor in our project. This is a challenge for us, because with human’s emotion, business is more complicated than profit maximization.

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Meeting with Domingo

 

Working on site

Working in the resort must be one of the most enjoyable job in the world. Time passes away quickly with the slow move of sea wave and smooth touch of the breeze. I spend most of time in resort with people and customers there to understand the local business. Gradually, I change my mind on improvements of the resort. The resort has lots of constraints. They are doing business in a place without stable electricity and water supply, without convenient transportation, without enough funding. The international standard for resort is too costly or impossible to implement in such an environment. However, nature gives them amazingly beautiful sea and beach.

Working in resort

Their customers are mainly Philippine from city nearby who are not affluent. The resort provides a place for ordinary Philippine to enjoy the beauty of nature. Actually, the business is good to the society as they give the unprivileged people same opportunities to entertain in the beach. One visitor told me that they did not want Vilches become a resort in Boracay which is extravagant and unaffordable. It was not for Philippine people. Therefore, the key of the business is to cut cost to maintain low price while attracting more customers. This is quite different to theory in resort management books as they are trying to capture more profits by targeting upper class people with comfortable and comprehensive service. Business in developing place like Guimaras is quite unique, given its special condition. I have to adjust strategy and mind.

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Rooms in Vilches

We have several meetings with Mr. Domingo and his staff and learn from their experience in the resort. Ideas keep pumping up after we are familiar with the business. The people here treat us as their team members. Together we come up with ideas on renovation, marketing, cooperation and promotion. The coming week we are going to implement our ideas. Keep passionate and energetic!

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