Davao un­der mar­tial law

Business World - - WEEKENDER - Text and pho­tos by Nickky Faus­tine P. de Guz­man Re­porter

WHEN mar­tial law was de­clared in Min­danao in May, the tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try in Davao City saw a plunge in tourist ar­rivals, at least dur­ing the first few months of the an­nounce­ment. Ac­cord­ing to its Tourism Of­fice’s lat­est re­port, there was a 19% drop in the num­ber of tourists who vis­ited the city in June, from 152,678 tourists in June last year, to 123,343 tourist ar­rivals in the same pe­riod this year. But since Au­gust (thanks to the Ka­dayawan fes­ti­val held ev­ery third week of Au­gust) ev­ery­thing, it seems, is pick­ing up again. It’s back to reg­u­lar busi­ness.

“The busi­ness was good [ early this year], but when mar­tial law was de­clared, there was a drop of tourists ar­rivals — of Chi­nese vis­i­tors can­celling their trips — in June and July. But it picked up in Au­gust be­cause of the Ka­dayawan fes­ti­val and be­cause they saw that it is peace­ful here,” said Bryan Yves Lasala, gen­eral man­ager of the Wa­ter­front In­su­lar Ho­tel, of the ef­fects of Mar­ial Law on the ho­tel.

The ma­jor­ity, or 80%, of the ho­tel’s vis­i­tors are lo­cals, while the re­main­ing guests are from the US, China, Korea, and Ja­pan.

Upon the ho­tel’s in­vi­ta­tion, a group of life­style jour­nal­ists from Manila stayed at the Wa­ter­front from Oct 11-13.

For the past 56 years, Wa­ter­front has re­mained the only avail­able ac­com­mo­da­tion in Davao City that has a beach­front, which makes it dif­fer­ent from the rest, said Mr. Lasala. Davao City has a to­tal of 10,000 rooms count­ing small and big ho­tels (Marco Polo, Seda, Mi­cro­tel, Red Planet, Go Ho­tels, Dusit Thani), inns, and pen­sion houses.

An iconic land­mark in the city for the past five decades and count­ing, Wa­ter­front In­su­lar is pri­mar­ily a MICE (meet­ings, in­cen­tives, con­fer­enc­ing, and ex­hi­bi­tions) ho­tel. While it has been host­ing con­fer­ences, it has also become the go- to place for a com­mu­nal New Year count­down in the city. Its beach­front is a good view­ing lo­ca­tion for off­shore fire­work dis­plays. It is widely known that Davao im­ple­ments a fire­cracker ban, so lo­cals en­joy stay­ca­tions and tourists book ac­com­mo­da­tions at the ho­tel which is less than 45 min­utes away from the city proper and less than 20 min­utes away from the In­ter­na­tional Air­port.


When at the heart of the city, it is in­evitable that one goes to the night mar­ket. In front of Aldevinco — a small shop­ping strip where pearls, sou­venirs, and durian are sold — is a night mar­ket fo­cus­ing on street food like isaw, bar­be­cue, kwek kwek, and other skew­ers. To­day there is no trace of the bomb­ing that hap­pened in the same spot last year as the crowd of hun­gry peo­ple sit on the plas­tic chairs while par­tak­ing of both their food and the juici­est gos­sip.

The night mar­ket is smokey be­cause of the grilled food — the city is oth­er­wise smoke­free thanks to a long-stand­ing ban on smok­ing cig­a­rettes in pub­lic. Chain smok­ers are lim­ited to in­dulging in their vice in small des­ig­nated smok­ing ar­eas — a P5,000 fine awaits peo­ple who dare break the rule.

The city is veiled in dark­ness as the nights grow longer as the year draws to a close. Be­cause the city is un­der mar­tial law, there are curfews for mi­nors but the lo­cals said adults can still go out late at night. From the point of view of a first-time vis­i­tor, Davao — amidst all the bad pub­lic­ity — seemed safe and at peace.

The night mar­ket closes at 7 p.m.


The morn­ings, mean­while call for day trips to the sea.

Wa­ter­front In­su­lar is a con­ve­nient exit point go­ing to nearby Sa­mal Is­land where peo­ple can re­lax and swim in the Davao Gulf. A typhoon (Odette) was loom­ing in Lu­zon at the time of our visit, but Min­danao re­mained sunny; the wa­ter, still and serene.

Wa­ter­front also has its own beach, but Sa­mal Is­land’s is clearer, cleaner, cooler. The re­sort-ho­tel of­fers boat ser­vices go­ing back and forth to Sa­mal — it takes just 30 min­utes for the two-way trip. In­su­lar’s part­ner tourist at­trac­tion in Sa­mal is a quiet Bali-style villa called Chema’s by the Sea. At least three groups of tourists were also on the is­land with us, but the place re­mained quiet and at peace.

Lunch, though, is better taken back at the ho­tel’s Café Uno and La Par­illa, each hav­ing dis­tinct menus. Pizza, pasta, salad, and a buf­fet of Filipino food like pancit, chicken inasal, street food

( kwek kwek and fish balls), and taho are avail­able in Café Uno that serves break­fast and lunch buf­fets. Fresh sea food, meat skew­ers, and soup, mean­while, are avail­able in La Par­illa.

From Wa­ter­front is an­other tourist spot not too far away called Eden Na­ture Park and Re­sort. A garden of fruits and veg­eta­bles and man­made for­est, Eden is like Ta­gay­tay — be­cause both are el­e­vated ar­eas mak­ing them cool and breezy. The sprawl­ing re­sort is host to ac­tiv­i­ties like fishing, sky swing­ing and sky cy­cling, horse­back rid­ing, swim­ming, and gar­den­ing.


A standee of the city’s former mayor and now Pres­i­dent, Ro­drigo R. Duterte, is found in al­most ev­ery tourist spot we vis­ited: in Eden, in the air­port, and in Wa­ter­front’s lobby. While the politi­cian’s slo­gan is “change is com­ing,” Wa­ter­front, on the other hand, re­mains rooted in the past at its core, in­clud­ing de­sign-wise.

De­signed by Na­tional Artist for Ar­chi­tec­ture Le­an­dro Loc­sin, the 12-hectare prop­erty has six func­tion rooms, one big pool, and 159 rooms. Ac­cord­ing to gen­eral man­ager Mr. Lasala, the man­age­ment did not want to touch any­thing be­cause they re­spect and re­gard the struc­ture as part of the na­tional her­itage. The ameni­ties and rooms are mostly wooden and rem­i­nis­cent of the Baguio ho­tels of the last cen­tury. The two-story prop­erty has no el­e­va­tors — one goes up via peb­bled stair­ways.

While the clas­sic am­biance of the ho­tel has re­mained con­sis­tent through the years, it has wit­nessed changes in its name many times over the course of the last 50 years. It was build by a group of in­vestors led by the Ayalas in 1961 and was first called Is­lan­dia Ho­tel. The fol­low­ing year, it’s name was changed to El Davao In­su­lar Ho­tel when a Span­ish na­tional be­came its ho­tel man­ager. The In­ter-con­ti­nen­tal group came to man­age the ho­tel in 1980, when it was re­named the Davao In­su­lar In­ter-Con­ti­nen­tal Inn. In 1991, the Ayalas took over for two years — chang­ing its name again, this time as the In­su­lar Ho­tel Davao. Three years after that, the ho­tel be­came the In­su­lar Cen­tury Ho­tel, after the Cen­tury Ho­tel group took the new man­age­ment. In 1999, Wa­ter­front Philip­pines ac­quired the prop­erty and the ho­tel has been us­ing the name Wa­ter­front In­su­lar Ho­tel Davao ever since.

Mar­tial Law is sched­uled to be lifted in De­cem­ber and the ho­tel’s name (who knows) may change yet again, but what will re­main con­stant, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Lasala, is their ef­forts in keep­ing its good ser­vice sus­tain­able for its guests.

A VISIT to Davao City is in­com­plete with­out buy­ing durian.

STANDEES OF the city's former mayor are seen in pub­lic places like ho­tels and parks.

CHEMA’S BY THE SEA in Sa­mal Is­land is less than 30 min­utes away by boat from Wa­ter­front In­su­lar

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