Why do we get teary-eyed when leaving Amanpulo?

Is it because any departure from this island is an act of ‘returning to reality?’ It certainly has that appeal because even a short 4d 3n stay gives one a legitimate reason to escape from reality and, even by choice, disconnect from the real world which then makes the flight out – and boarding the plane alone – a reminder of the truth that the best things indeed don’t last because if they did, they wouldn’t be the best anymore (inspired by Barbra Streisand, somehow).

Pablo now running around the hangar lounge before departure

Is it because you get used to the kind of service that is unparalleled fromp pre-arrival arrangements to the arrival formalities and rituals including people who seem to know you just enough to call you properly by name, welcoming you back to the island and being warm like meeting an old friend, to the day-to-day upkeep of your casita that is impeccably brought to order, spotless and even personalised according to how, as it seems, the staff understands you and your needs, to the checkout and departure formalities that include seeing your guest assistant, management team and all those who truly wanted to send you off (some really make it a point to go out of their way to say goodbye and see you soon, some even hug and kiss, again like old friends leaving each other for now) wave their goodbye as your plane takes an inch off the ground en route to Manila?

 Still amazed each time we see cold bottles of water waiting for us in the club car – how did they know we would be leaving the casita around that time?

Is it because of the seemingly effortless beauty of the place and the warmth of the people making it even more special? There is a cast of thousands that make this place beautiful – edit – even more beautiful (because the no-exaggeration powder white beach and clear, pristine waters are already beautiful as-is, one could argue), yet you don’t see them run the show as though they were stressed to bits. In the rare occasion that you would see them working, you would appreciate how effortless everything seems to be, which is strange because the place tries very hard to please yet doesn’t impose itself upon you as trying too hard. That’s partly where the magic is.

 Pablo’s monkey plushie is staged under the sheets on our last night. The housekeeping staff moves it around the casita on turndown so it’s never found on the same spot every night

Is it because, on third visit, the place has known enough about you and has been witness to your growing family that it has surprising touches like the main waiter confirming, even after five months since the last visit, if you would like to have a large bottle of sparkling water; your guest assistant who has exhibited authentic fondness of your son that when you see them together it is like watching your son meet an old time playmate; is it because the place knows your style already that the housekeeping staff would tuck a large towel on top of the baby’s bedding because they know already that you would use it to cover the sides of the crib so that the baby is not disturbed by lights at night?

 It rained on our last sunset on the island. But no rain could take away the fun of being with family

Is it because our trips to this place have always been accompanied by reasons to celebrate which  are then followed by only beautiful memories befitting the place? And to leave it is to somehow put an end the pleasures of celebrating?

 Easter Egg Hunt with Pablo at the Lagoon Club beachfront

There are indeed many things that could make you teary-eyed when leaving Amanpulo and all the reasons above are true to how I – or we, including perhaps Pablo – felt as the plane was taxiing around and we were looking back at the Amanpulo staff waving even way after the plane’s wheels have gotten off the tarmac.

 These moments are golden – priceless.

It was a truly memorable visit – much like the first and the second time we did – but quite more special being with Pablo who now runs around and enjoys playing at the beach, and having celebrated Rhex’s birthday this long Easter weekend on the island. We sure look forward to visiting again, hopefully some time soon!

Nurture not torture – work-life balance needed in agency work

It is saddening to hear of a promising talent succumbing to martyrdom in the eternal pursuit of maintaining business and keeping clients happy. I agree to the many posts I have read on this same incident and the collective plea of an industry to reassess its work culture. It is indeed sad that it takes deaths like this for many to realise it is time to pause, stop and make a change. 

I believe the real solution to this problem is to work towards greater transparency between clients and agencies on the work and how to work together the right way. Oftentimes the real culprit is the lack of work processes with reasonable and standard turnaround times across the stages of the work coming to life. And because of that, expectations are not managed upfront and the first to take a hit on this is the agency being treated like a factory without some clients realising that this sort of way of working together, in fact, is to their disadvantage: poor quality of thinking, poor execution, and poor results. It is a vicious, ugly cycle. And what for? For accounts that are constantly hanging by a thin line on threat of putting the business on poorly organised and unfair pitches?

And then there are bad clients. These are clients who treat the agency as a sweatshop. All in the name of submission regardless of who and how the work was done. Unfortunately most schools only teach how to be a great ad person, but rarely how to be a good client. 

The relationship between clients and agencies is critical to solving this issue. It is what spells the difference between simply having a client-supplier relationship and a true partnership between client and agency. A true partnership is one that takes care of the people on both sides of the table, and not just numbers nor egos gracing the meetings. I am still hopeful as there are still relationships out there that run on the principle of true partnership.

As a client in my past lives, I admit I have been demanding of the agencies I worked with but I also know my limit and up to what human levels I could push the work to. If in the end it is not possible anymore nor healthy for anyone, together with the agency, we stop and pause and accept the reality that it is indeed not possible. Great work after all is a two-way road. The same is true for rubbish work. 

Now being back on the agency side, I have better appreciation of our role as agency leaders. I think it is imperative that we find and make time to nurture and not torture our people – our talents, our main assets driving this business of ideas forward. Putting the business first, on the agency side, I believe, equally means putting our people first.

Arrival (movie): a proper challenge from Hollywood

Arrival (movie) was a surprise. 
Not knowing exactly what it would be about – no prior research whatsoever before settling into the lazy boy – the movie is not just any other alien plot, but a story that beautifully conveys the message of the need for a common language that unites more than it now divides us. 
It also talks about the concept of God not having a sense of past, present and future and how gaining that ‘tool’ or ‘weapon’ unlocks a transcendental perspective which in this lifetime we may never truly achieve but nevertheless strive to learn. PERSPECTIVE is so powerful that it answers our profound human need to find meaning, to find purpose, to discover answers to questions we may never at all be strong enough to handle or comprehend. 
Arrival is also proof that you can always take a concept so commonly abused – like alien invasion stories – to a much higher plane. It also proves that Hollywood can and should serve a role so critical to the formation of the world’s collective intelligence by constantly challenging the audience to think and not to wait for laughter, tears, or ideas to be served on a silver, lazy ass platter. 
It is worth watching and absolutely deserving of a reflection or two soon after one steps back into the real world.

Hello there

Been a long time since I last wrote on my blog. Much has happened since my last post. 

I have yet to write again; the problem with writing is the discipline one needs to have in order for time to make space for it. 

I have quite a backlog of things to write about. 

  • Pablo becoming part of our lives 
  • Pablo’s first trip to the beach, our review of our return to Amanpulo 
  • My return to advertising after a stint in Philip Morris, some new views and reviews 
  • And more 

The list goes on and on. But it starts here. Needless to say, it’s time to get some WordPress premium ROI!

Review: A weekend full of surprises in Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa

Rhex and I have always loved the Shangri-La whenever we go to Boracay. We choose it over Discovery for the same reason that most people do not like it for: it is far, isolated from the main beach’s craziness and massive throngs of people. We don’t mean to be snobbish — we only love our privacy and quiet time each chance we get to enjoy it in Boracay and there has never been a better place but Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa.

What we have always loved about Shangri-La Boracay, aside from its isolation from the main beach, is the superior level of attention to detail the resort puts in making your stay memorable and hassle free. After all, it is the little details that make a stay wonderful. From booking to transfers from the airport to the resort, to check-in, to the daily turndown service to check-out. After four stays each with a minimum of three nights, we could truly say, Shangri-La Boracay is one of the finest in the country, and definitely better than Discovery Shores and the best choice when in Boracay.

To spend my birthday weekend as well as attend our friend’s wedding in Boracay, we booked our stay in Shangri-La Boracay for June 26-29. We reached out to the resort’s General Manager, Amit Oberoi, as we always did when we were booking to stay with them but we found out that he has already transferred to another property and no longer manages Shangri-La in Boracay. Our booking was then handled by somebody else — no problem at all.

We advised the reservations manager through email that we would be arriving earlier than  the usual check-in time. She promised we would be prioritized for an early check-in. Anything before 2PM would be great, of course.

When we arrived at the resort and have gone through what seems to be an irregular way to check-in as we have always been used to doing the check-in “process” in our room, we asked Tatiana, the lady handling our check-in, if we could do an early check-in as promised by the reservations manager. Much to our surprise, Tatiana said she will check but cannot guarantee it because she can’t do anything about it. Of course we understand that she cannot guarantee it, but to say that she can’t do anything about it was surprising for us.

We found our interaction with Tatiana very cold — way different from our past check-in experiences where the front of house staff were very welcoming and accommodating. I am not sure if this is because she did not have the “Filipino touch” or was not trained to have it.

Anyway, we went straight to the private beach to hang out whilst waiting for our room to be ready. Tatiana offered to let us know through the bar staff when we can pick up our room key. After a little over an hour, we were informed that our room was ready, although we let the bar staff inform Tatiana that we would stay at the beach as we were already there enjoying the much needed sun. At around 3PM, we went to main lobby to get our room key from Tatiana. Again, much to our surprise, Tatiana had a sharp quip on well, the room has been ready for hours! I said, well we decided to stay in the sun since we were there already and had no time to spare just doing nothing. I thought again that was cold and strange for her to say like it was the guest’s fault to not have gotten the room earlier.

At this point, it already felt like we were going to have quite a different experience in Shangri-La Boracay.

We went to our room and the welcome fruit platter, as expected, has been laid out with a Golden Circle card welcoming us back to the resort. Just a little surprised though that there was no birthday greeting whatsoever (not that I was being anal about it, and maybe we just got spoiled by Amit and his team before!), but that was alright.

On our second night, after attending our friend’s wedding at Discovery Shores, we went back to our room to retire for the night. This is when I get a little bit more anal about the little details — the turndown service should be impeccably executed. And this means, water should have been replenished, curtains drawn, the room fixed, the bed in its turndown form. I noticed so many misses in the turndown service of the room this night:

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The hotel binder which I used the night before for in-room dining was still on the daybed in the balcony.

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The ironing board we used to press our clothes for the wedding was left there. Untouched almost like to room was not put in order for turndown.

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All the fruits taken away from the fruit platter yet they found a reason to keep the utensils there. If fruits are not going to be replenished at least take the utensils away.

We called in-room dining for a midnight meal — we were somehow still hungry after feasting at the wedding. Perhaps it was all the dancing and the booze. Rhex also asked in-room dining for a slice of cake and a candle since it was already my birthday, it was midnight of June 28.

We were surprised again, however, that little or no effort was put in the in-room dining food that was brought to us. For adobo with rice at P800, one would not expect to see rice presented just this way (with one weird slice of tomato and cucumber):

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And if someone asked (ordered, and paying for it!) for cake with a candle, it means that somebody might be celebrating his birthday and one wouldn’t expect to see his cake this sad or depressing (like no one cares about you):

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So having seen all these — bad in-room dining experience and turndown service — I called the guest services hotline to complain and asked if the manager on duty could come to our room to talk.

The manager, Jeszreel, came to our room and got it from me. I enumerated all the misses in the turndown service, showed him pictures of the in-room food we just got and asked him what was going on as this no longer seemed the same Shangri-La Boracay we knew.  I asked him if water should have been replenished, the fruit plate taken away but the utensils kept, the hotel info book left in the balcony, the ironing board left out of the closet, the room not being in order at all. And to each, he said, no this is not it is supposed to be.

I said, we love Shangri-La Boracay and we choose Shangri-La over other options all the time but things seem to have changed by a lot since Amit has left the property. We thanked him for coming to our room to hear our complaint and asked him to kindly relay our feedback to their management and the divisions handling in-room dining and housekeeping. He promised he would and took his leave.

The following morning after breakfast, we were greeted by numerous staff a good morning and I a happy birthday. Staff seems to have been briefed and perhaps reminded of the kind of service and experience only Shangri-La could give. When we got back to our room after breakfast, the room was already in order with some surprises to come with it.

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Room put in order with a personal note from housekeeping saying that they noticed we have a lot of used clothes on the tub and they suggest having them laundered (promo rate of P999 for one laundry bag)

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All our personal effects have been organised and laid out on crisp white linen in the bathroom, by the bedside and even on the writing desk.
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All our personal effects have been organised and laid out on crisp white linen in the bathroom, by the bedside and even on the writing desk.
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All our personal effects have been organised and laid out on crisp white linen in the bathroom, by the bedside and even on the writing desk.
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And fruit platter replenished, water bottles refilled and utensils cleaned and put in order as well.
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And a surprise cake — now no longer expected but still appreciated — from the staff.

Here I saw the hotel is making the effort to set things right by bringing back these same elements and attention to detail and personal touch we have always loved about Shangri-La Boracay.

On our way back to the private beach for some sun, we were greeted by Keith, one of the senior leaders of the resort, who checked in with us on how things are and once again apologised for the misses that we saw and thanked us for giving them feedback. He asked us what we had planned for the night to celebrate my birthday, we said we didn’t have plans for the day except to take it slow and easy by just relaxing the whole day. He then invited us to dinner and asked if he could arrange for it at Rima at around 7PM. We accepted and thought it might be a good way to cap our weekend in Shangri-La Boracay.

We went to Rima and were welcomed by the staff there who walked us through the tasting menu for the night and informed us that Keith has put our dinner on the house as a treat. Now this was a lovely surprise — we didn’t expect this gesture to truly set the record right on how a Shangri-La experience should be.

We were treated to a five-course dinner complete with some amuse bouche and sparkling wine to open the night. View from the Rima is outstanding as you get a sweeping panorama of the sea from a high vantage point. Service was excellent, and the food was equally outstanding. Everything fell into the right places at Rima.

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Rhex and I preparing for Rima
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Time for sparkling — to celebrate
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Rhex and I at Rima 
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Yellow fin tuna tartar, caviar, avocado, clear tomato jelly
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Caramelized pear, Foie gras and raspberry sauce
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Homemade ravioli with liquid parmesan, zucchini and capsicum sauce
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Slow cooked suckling pig for 16 hours, red cabbage, shallots and mustard demiglace sauce
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Enjoying my birthday with Rhex at Rima
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Hazelnut praline mousse, black sesame sponge with yoghurt ice cream
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And another surprise cake from Rima!
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I asked for the menu card for the night — they gave us a menu signed by the chef himself who also came out to talk to us and made sure we were having a good time and introduced the main course 
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Rhex and I having a good time at Rima

There are two things I learned from this experience:

One,

An excellent stay is always a collaboration between guest and the resort/hotel. Topnotch services thrive in good feedback from their most loyal customers. If we do not give feedback, how can service improve to exceed our expectations? If we truly care about our experiences, shouldn’t we go out of our way to build it together with those who work so hard to provide it?

Two,

What sets the mediocre apart from the best is the ability to turn things around and set the record right. This requires agility to respond fast, the leadership and will to exceed expectations. The ability to correct what was wrong and go beyond simply meeting expectations and leave a lasting impression that it has done well in doing so — that’s what sets the benchmark high that only a few can do.

Shangri-La Boracay has turned this around on its head making sure there is no such indelible bad experience it will leave behind, uncorrected.

We thank Shangri-La (Keith, Jeszreel in particular) for caring so much to turn feedback into action and for exceeding expectation when it corrected what was wrong, an authentic move to admit fault and set the record right.

The dinner was a bonus, a delighter that sealed the weekend off in a truly memorable, surprising fashion only a Shangri-La could provide.

Till next time.

Dear Senator Miriam

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Dear Senator Miriam,

I had the wonderful opportunity to interview you for our Filipino school publication, Ang Ubod, in 2000 back when I was still in Manila Science High School. I have ever since grown an admiration for your leadership, vision, and “coolness” which until today you have not failed to exhibit so as to inspire many Filipinos in the thought that there is hope in the Filipino and in our country. Your battle against cancer is almost like a metaphor for our common fight against corruption and idiocy running in our government today. Your sunny yet ironclad disposition against your own personal travails and our country’s is truly inspiring.

I remember when my editorial staff and I were waiting for you at the Senate for our turn to interview you in your office. We were very nervous to meet such a powerful woman whose very sharp words could very well pierce through our youthful insecurities. But we were soothed to discover a very welcoming person in you. You were very accommodating when you welcomed us into your chamber and your were very friendly to guide even the thinking process we had whilst we were interviewing you.

You would be happy to know that I have not failed the privilege of interacting with you some 14 years ago and have become successful (I sure hope my peers would say so, too!) in my own field. I am now 31 years old and still looking for that next big wave in our government leadership which I hope would be led and championed by you in 2016. You continue to inspire so many of us then student leaders who are now in the real world and for that and more, I thank you because the privilege of having you as our leader is ours to enjoy and celebrate.

I pray for your continued, strong recovery and a successful 2016 campaign. If you would be willing to open a slot for me in your campaign team, I’d love to volunteer in my own personal capacity as a private citizen to help push you and your agenda to the #1 spot in the country’s leadership.

With so much respect, and fanboy fanaticism,

Paul John Peña

PS. Attached is the front cover of the school paper published in 2000. What a wonderful time we had meeting you 14 years ago!