Among travel agencies–it’s also more fun being No. 1By Pocholo Concepcion |Philippine Daily Inquirer
THE THREE-HOUR delay of our flight last week from Manila to Boracay was caused by congestion at the Kalibo International Airport. Though it was raining, the delay was a clear indication of heavy tourist arrivals bound for the renowned island resort in Aklan province.
Despite being shrugged off by skeptics as too crowded, Boracay was voted “the world’s best island” last year by readers of the New York-based Travel + Leisure magazine, and “the best place in the world for relaxation” by online hotel booking site agoda.com.
In the plane—one of several Airbuses newly acquired by Seair to fly the Boracay route—we saw a lot of Koreans, which comprised the biggest number of foreign tourists in the Philippines, according to the Department of Tourism.
Also with us on the flight were representatives of 10 travel agencies who were to receive the Top Producers Award given annually by The Discovery Leisure Company—whose resort hotel in Boracay, Discovery Shores, was voted No. 1 Family Hotel and No. 1 Hotel Spa in Asia also by Travel + Leisure.
The Top Producers Award is an honor given to travel agencies with the most number of bookings in Discovery Shores.
Many Russians have lately been flocking to Boracay and staying in Discovery, an officer of one of the travel agencies told Inquirer Lifestyle.
“Some of the Russians stay here for weeks, even months, to escape the harsh winter,” said Leeds Trompeta, resident manager of Discovery Shores.
Our entourage savored a late dinner of native dishes including roasted goat at Pau & Patri Restaurant, before finally arriving at Discovery Shores.
The room assigned to us, a Junior Suite, was well-appointed and big enough for a family of four. When we awoke at 7 a.m. the next day, the view of the sea goaded us to, well, not to take a dip yet, but to do something that has eluded us in Manila: brisk walking, and by the beach at that.
Walking to and fro Station 1 and 2 took an hour; by that time we were ready for a breakfast of fruits, veggie salad, bread and steamed fish, chicken noodle soup, French toast… burp. We were not sure if it was the sea breeze or the food, but soon we were back to bed for a snooze.
At past 1 p.m., Gemma Batoon, marketing services group director of Discovery, was calling us for lunch.
“Here, have the other half of my burger,” Leeds told us, “I can’t finish it.” It was juicy good.
Gemma tempted us to sample her order of “KFC” (Korean Fried Chicken). We yielded—it was crunchy-yummy without the flour of fastfood chicken.
When we finished our own order of Norwegian salmon, we tried to fight off that woozy feeling of sleepiness.
Three hours later it was time for cocktails, a prelude to the formal dinner and Top Producers Awards ceremony.
We settled for San Mig Light, although the waiter also persuaded us to try the champagne which was fruity tasty.
The appetizer, Alaskan Gindara with bruleed citrus, cherry tomatoes and crispy basil with calamansi vinaigrette, kept us busy while a media colleague, Raul Manzano, howled with laughter as he slyly put his food onto Gemma’s plate.
The main dish, grilled Palawan lobster over sweet corn and chive risotto with mushroom, got us worried. The lobster might induce our uric acid level to shoot up, so we decided to forego it. Uhm, well, maybe just a bite wouldn’t hurt.
At exactly 8:30 p.m. the affair gave way to Earth Hour, in which all lights not crucial to Discovery Shores operations were turned off for an hour—in solidarity with the annual practice promoted by World Wildlife Fund to conserve energy.
A special music-and-dance program, dubbed “Black Theater” and mounted by the Discovery staff, acted out the symbolic significance of enjoying nature while caring for its existence. It was greeted by applause and momentary silence.
More applause erupted when the names of the Top Producers awardees were called. Discovery Leisure Company’s chief operating officer, Jun C. Parreño Jr., was profuse in his expression of gratitude to them.
There were almost 60,000 tourist arrivals in Discovery Shores last year, according to sales and marketing director Anne Denoga.
The resort hotel’s 88 rooms are fully booked every New Year’s Day, said Carlo Arboleda, guest relations manager, who, like the rest of the Discovery staff, apparently love their jobs and take pride in their hand-on-the-chest and head bow greeting of guests.
But of course, they’ll appreciate more guests even during off-season.
Of the more than 4 million tourist arrivals in the Philippines last year, some 1.2 million went to Boracay.