Back to Club Paradise
In January, I wrote about some good and bad tourist experiences in the Philippines’ premier “world-class” resort island, Boracay. On the positive side, the island has improved transportation links and the airport and the aircraft it services continue to improve. Many of the boutique hotels offer terrific value for money, and personalized service that keeps bringing guests-and friends of guests-back to the island.
On the other hand, tourists are hounded by scam artists throughout their visit, beginning at the Caticlan airport when “official” porters impose their services uninvited. The chaos of the airport, a bizarre registration requirement, and a variety of fees imposed on arrival are immediate turnoffs. Upon ferrying over to Boracay, tourists are greeted by a dirty beach overrun with poorly run and hideously decorated commercial establishments.
It is for these reasons that my family avoids Boracay. Instead, we travel pretty much annually to Club Paradise (Facebook) on Dimakya Island, Busuanga, Palawan. I’m writing this column on the clubhouse veranda staring out at a supremely serene sea. If I am counting correctly, this is our 10th visit to Club Paradise in as many years. Many of the original staff still work here, and they have delighted in watching our children grow up.
What keeps bringing us back to Club Paradise? In the early years the same dilapidated turboprops that provided access to Boracay were the only alternative for accessing Club Paradise. As in the case of Boracay, visitors land on one island and travel by a variety of land and sea transports to the resort island. For Club Paradise, today tourists take a typically 35-minute flight from Manila via Cebu Pacific, PAL Express, or Zest Airways.
All three airlines fly modern turboprop aircraft. Cebu Pacific flies the ATR-72-500, the latest in the series of reliable ATR aircraft manufactured by a partnership between Alenia Aeronautica and EADS. EADS is the parent of Airbus Industries, which manufactures Airbus aircraft. PAL Express flies Bombardier Q300 aircraft operated by AirPhil Express, which leases the aircraft from Philippine Airlines. Zest flies the Xian MA60 manufactured by China’s Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation.
The Francisco B. Reyes Airport is the gateway to Busuanga and the municipality of Coron. A mayor of Coron during the period the Philippines was a commonwealth, Reyes donated the land for the airport. Thanks to support from the government of South Korea, a new terminal building was completed last year, which in my view is comparable to the Caticlan terminal, but isn’t infested with informal vendors, tricycle drivers, and porters masquerading as official airport officials. For a time, local officials tried to get tourists to register like Caticlan continues to do, but gave that up, perhaps because of complaints and general meaninglessness. No miscellaneous fees are collected.
Porters-guest services officers-from Club Paradise greet tourists as they exit the airport, and take over responsibility for the bags, which are loaded onto a jeepney owned and operated by the resort. It’s not a limousine service by any stretch, but serves the purpose of moving visitors from the airport along Busuanga’s dusty dirt roads to a jetty located in a lush mangrove forest. This trip, village walls along the route were peppered with campaign posters for candidates in the May elections.
A modern fiberglass banca-also owned and operated by the resort-awaits guests. It’s quickly loaded with bags, and maneuvers away from the jetty along the waterway lined with mangroves and out to the open sea. The guest services officer serves simple sandwiches and juices, and the guests take the opportunity to introduce themselves to each other. We invariably explain that we are Club Paradise veterans, and assure our companions that they have made an excellent decision in choosing the resort.
One family on this trip – an American couple with two teenage children – said they had grown tired of Boracay, but were worried about the quality of food provided by Club Paradise. We quickly assured them that Club Paradise is the clear winner in terms of consistent quality and quantity of food served. The resort lays out a sumptuous appetizer bar and multiple entrees every meal. “It’s not haute cuisine,” I explained, “but it’s the best of any resort we’ve visited.” I should have added that the wine selection is small, but excellent. Our favorite is the Boxhead Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, which is very reasonably priced for dining out.
The accommodations are decidedly three-star, and do need improvement. That’s about the only suggestion I have. The largely foreign contingent of guests during our stay seemed pleased with the facilities, and the service standards are clearly and refreshingly first class. Club Paradise demonstrates how resorts should be run-and shows that you don’t have to charge $700 a night to do so.
(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand . Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.)