Champagne flowed, guests danced and fireworks turned the evening sky into a sparkling, multicolor canvas.
Manny Gonzalez, founder and owner of Plantation Bay Resort & Spa in Mactan, Cebu, hosted the 20th anniversary of the resort. He was first to swing on the dance floor at the beach party and he was on hand to officially light the Christmas tree in the lobby. At exactly 10 p.m., however, the party was over.
“I wouldn’t want to disturb the guests in the resort,” he explained the morning after. “They came here to relax so we shouldn’t be having big parties that last through the night.”
At breakfast, Gonzalez was up and about at Kilimanjaro Café, the resort’s coffee shop. Guests like the cool atmosphere of this restaurant, which serves Filipino breakfast buffets and has an expansive view of Plantation Bay’s famous man-made saltwater lagoon.
An avid traveler, Gonzalez knows what his guests look for in a resort and what they don’t like. Noise is at the top of the list of “don’ts”—hence the strictly enforced “parties end at 10 p.m.” rule.
Still, he had good reason to celebrate. Plantation Bay is doing so well today, even if it had a few bumpy years at the start.
In 1989, Gonzalez, then a banker, with a few other investors, bought a parcel of land in Mactan.
After a few years, however, they couldn’t unload the property or develop it.
“The banks said it had no potential, not for a resort or any commercial establishment,” said Gonzalez. “What saved the day was when Consuelo Reyes agreed to merge her adjacent property with ours.”
Reyes, a grand dame of Cebu society, owned the land with the beachfront. The combined properties became attractive to the banks, which were now willing to extend loans so that Reyes and Gonzalez’ group could build a resort.
“We chose the name Plantation Bay because we wanted to create an atmosphere that harked back to a world where huge, sprawling plantations in the Caribbean or American South thrive,” said Gonzalez. “I like that serene, elegant ambiance. We tried to capture that essence through the colonial-style architecture and the landscaped open space.”
Twenty years later, Plantation Bay is still alluring. The resort’s artificial saltwater lagoon is the centerpiece, surrounded by quaint two-story buildings that house the guest rooms and restaurants.
Book yourself in a Water’s Edge Room, and you can jump right into the four-feet deep lagoon from the terrace. Or one can opt for a suite with a terrace that walks out to a sandy shoreline, or a family room that can accommodate six guests. The rooms are in buildings named after exotic locations like Zanzibar House and Bahamas House.
There are many thoughtful amenities for the guests’ convenience. Stretch golf carts take them from their rooms to the restaurants. A few of the clusters have their own freshwater swimming pool and food outlet.
For instance, guests billeted at the Piazza Palermo building can just step out and enjoy the Italian cuisine at the adjacent Palermo Café & Bar.
“We chose to have the restaurants open 24 hours a day so that guests can dine at any time they wish,” Gonzalez said.
At the reception desk are Filipino, Russian, Japanese and Korean staff hired to assist guests from the resort’s biggest markets.
And for $50 (P2,500), guests can use the Plantation Bay’s luxury car service (either a Jaguar or BMW), from the airport to the door of their room.
The spa, dubbed the Mogambo Springs, may yet rival the lagoon in terms of being the resort’s biggest attraction. It’s an architectural marvel that seems to blend African and Asian influences.
An inner garden is surrounded by several massage rooms with their own bathroom and Jacuzzi. It’s best to visit the place in the evening when the ambient lights turn this tranquil paradise into a mystical haven.
Yet Gonzalez said the best amenities mean nothing if the service isn’t up to par. “Guests will keep coming back if the service is excellent,” he said.
The service in this resort reflects the innate warmth and hospitality of the Filipino— Plantation Bay doesn’t have a management contract with a foreign hotel chain.
“We decided to train our staff ourselves and we sent many of them to the United States to study hotel management,” Gonzalez said.
“This decision actually helped us weather the 1997 Asian crisis,” he added. “Other resorts and hotels were having financial difficulties because they had to pay expensive fees to international chains. We also had some trying times but we never missed a payroll.”
Aside from the expert training, Gonzalez underscored the importance of treating the staff well. “You treat them well, and they will treat the guests well,” he noted.
We experienced it when we were desperately searching for a PC unit we could use to meet a sudden deadline. We were told the resort has no business center.
The nice person manning the desk must have seen our hair turn gray in a split second because he said we could work in one of the offices, where a PC unit has been reserved for the use of guests, for free.
He even left his desk to walk us to the room and turned on the computer himself. This extra mile extended by the courteous clerk certainly left a tremendous impression. So did the cheerful staff we shared the office with.
Yes, Virginia, Mr. Manny Gonzalez treats his staff very, very well!