Marco Polo Davao: Mindanao’s first and only five-star hotel stops operations on June 15

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews  / 08 May) – Effective June 15, the 22-year old Marco Polo Davao, Mindanao’s first and only five-star hotel, will cease operations indefinitely “mainly because of the effects of COVID-19,” its owner, Francis Ledesma, President of Halifax Davao Hotel, Inc., told MindaNews on Friday.

Inaugurated in 1998, the 245-room Marco Polo hotel hosted many historic moments in Mindanao in its 12 function rooms, survived the challenges brought about by wars in south-central Mindanao in 2000 and 2003,  and at home base, by bomb explosions at the airport and seaport in March and April of 2004, another bombing at its doorstep at the Roxas Night Market in September 2016,  martial law in Mindanao from May 2017 to December 31, 2019 but succumbed to COVID-19’s economic fallout in 2020.

Marco Polo Davao posted this note of gratitude on its Facebook page on Friday, 08 May 2020.

The closure will render 270 workers jobless but management has explained to the employees the situation and those who are retiring will receive their retirement pay while the rest will get their separation pay, Ledesma said.

The closure, however, will affect not only the Marco Polo employees but also the workers of the hotel’s suppliers.

The decision to stop operations was a “very difficult decision” to make and Ledesma admits having “sleepless nights” over it and “a lot of crying time.”

But “we had to bite the bullet,” he said, “before we lose the capability of taking care of our own people.”  Next in line, he said, would be attending to their suppliers.

“We were just moving forward,” Ledesma recalled, “then came COVID-19.”

He said he cannot tell when they will open again. “Indefinite cessation of hotel operations.” They can only open again, according to Ledesma,  “if there are viabilities.”

“We don’t know when and in what form are we going to open. We really don’t know,” he added.

The 22-year old Marco Polo Davao will cease operations indefinitely effective June 15, 2020, “mainly due to the effects of COVID-19.” MindaNews photo taken 08 May 2020 by GREGOFIO BUENO

He said they are making sure to “preserve the property,”  a landmark in downtown Davao City.

“The heart of Davao,” is how Marco Polo Davao describes itself, “the icon” in the hotel industry in the city.

“I don’t want to sound pessimist but all conditions of a new turnaround leading to a new normal, what is really the new normal? We’re not there yet,” Ledesma added.

He said there are still a few guests who have remained, a number of them foreigners stranded because of the COVID-19 lockdown and some employees of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) but the latter is not their typical clientele and are only there while the community quarantine is there.

“It’s not enough to cover the costs” of running a hotel and “it’s an artificial market.” Once the quarantine eases up, he said, the BPO workers will return to their homes, he said.

Davao City, the epicenter of COVID-19 in Mindanao, has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the Davao region with 152 out of 170 as of 5 p.m.  on March 8, and the highest among Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities.

Downtown Davao City in the time of COVID-19 lockdown. On the left is Marco Polo Davao. MindaNews file photo by ANTONIO L. COLINA IV

The city was placed under community quarantine on March 15, under enhanced community quarantine starting April 4 supposedly until the 19th, extended to the 26th and extended again until May 15, and general community quarantine thereafter, unless there are new recommendations.

Ledesma said it will take some time before tourists come and conferences and seminars would be held in hotels given social distancing and other precautionary measures such as working from home and video conferences.

The fact that the disease has no vaccine as yet is a major factor.  The psychological impact on the people is to stay home or risk bringing the virus into your home. “This is not going to go away kasi (because it is) deadly,” he said.

According to its website, when the hotel opened its doors in 1998, “it began a new chapter in the history of Mindanao tourism, not only in building a remarkable landmark, but also a symbol of hospitality for the whole island,” helping it become a premier destination in the country.

Marco Polo Davao’s entrance on 8 May 2020. A small sign post says take the Ponciano Street entrance. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Tourism Undersecretary Art Boncato who was Director of Sales and Marketing and later Executive Assistant Manager at Marco Polo Davao, told MindaNews Friday night that he is “very proud of what the hotel has stood for for more than 20 years – a symbol of great hospitality in Davao and Mindanao.”

“The hotel was testament to the economic growth of the city and the slow but sure growth of tourism as a major driver of the local economy. We can only look forward to recovery under a new normal and see global tourism rise again, prayerfully stronger and more resilient than ever,” Boncato said.

The 18-floor Marco Polo Davao was the tallest structure in the city for several years.

The hotel was awarded the ASEAN Green Hotel Recognition for its pro-active stance on environmental sustainability and energy conservation and among the Marco Polo Hotels group, won the Hotel of the Year award in 2007 and 2009.

Except for Joseph Estrada who preferred another hotel, Marco Polo Davao was home to visiting Presidents and former Presidents — Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos,  Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III – and its Continental Club on the 17th floor was where planning sessions for the Presidential bid of then Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte were made by a team that included then Halifax chair Carlos Dominguez, now Finance Secretary.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)