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Davao’s first hotel has hosted presidents & beauty queens

Outdoor weddings are held at the gazebo with the sea as a backdrop. Julie Cabatit-Alegre

MANILA, Philippines — This is the first hotel in Davao,” says Bryan Yves Lasala, hotel manager of Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao. Built by a group of investors led by the Ayalas in 1960, it first opened on Sept. 1, 1961 as Islandia Hotel with buildings one, two and three, designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro V. Locsin.  In 1962, the name was changed to Davao Insular Hotel.

It has had a number of reincarnations since, as Davao Insular Inter-Continental in 1980, Insular Hotel Davao in 1991, and Insular Century Hotel in 1994. In 1999, Waterfront Philippines acquired the property and it has since been known as the Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao.

“We retained ‘Insular’ in the name since it’s how it is popularly known,” Lasala explains. “It is already an institution here in Davao.”

There is something comforting about a place that has withstood the test of time. In its present incarnation, Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao is redefining its place in the sun.

“We are in the process of rebranding,” Lasala shares. “Our tagline is ‘We are at the center of it all.’ The movement in terms of infrastructure is starting to decongest from the city, heading towards this direction where we are now. We’ve been located here for quite some time already, and we want to be at the center of all the developments.”

 

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Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao is located in Lanang, Davao City, just a few minutes away from SM Lanang shopping mall and the SMX Convention Center. It is an easy, 15-minute drive away from the Davao International Airport, and just about 25 minutes from the hotel to downtown.

With a beachfront facing the Davao Gulf, Waterfront Insular Hotel has its own jetty, which serves as jump-off point to the other islands. Samal Island, with its numerous beach resorts, is less than 10 minutes away by ferry. Chemas by the Sea, a charming beach resort on Samal Island, has a special arrangement for the use of the hotel’s jetty, which is the only way their resort can be reached by sea. While Paradise Island, another popular beach resort on Samal Island, has its own jetty, “we have guests who would also like to go there from here,” Lasala says.

“This is one of the things that sets us apart from the other hotels in the city,” he continues. “We are the only hotel with a beachfront that offers easy access to the islands. At the same time, there is also easy access to the highlands, such as Eden Nature Park,” with its flower gardens, forest trails and sky adventure rides.

“From islands to highlands,” which refers to the region’s topography, is the tourism campaign tagline of Davao, reputed to be the largest city in the world, covering an area of 244,000 hectares.

Waterfront Insular Hotel occupies an area of about 12 hectares, including four hectares of foreshore beach property. There is a 10-year master plan to develop the property into a mixed-use complex. In 1973, a fourth building was added to the three original two-story buildings, for a total of 159 rooms. They are targeting about 500 additional rooms. There are plans to build about three or four high-rise buildings in the next five to six years, “no more than 11 floors, since we are in the flight path, being near the airport,” Lasala shares.

There will also be more convention facilities. At present, there are six function rooms. The smaller function rooms can accommodate between 60 to 100 persons. The ballroom can accommodate 300 for banquets, while the pavilion can accommodate about 1,000 to 1,200.

“It’s a MICE hotel, basically,” says Lasala, who was director of rooms in Waterfront Cebu, where he started his career in 2002. He has been with Waterfront Insular since November 2013.  “Most of our corporate clients come here for their meetings and events. I would say Waterfront Insular has experience in terms of handling VIP events.”

President Duterte and members of his family have been guests at the hotel on separate occasions.  The hotel was the main venue of activities during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “PM Abe ate durian at one of the kiosks during his visit here with the President recently,” Lasala relates.

An EAGA regional meeting was held here. The gala dinner or culminating event of conventions at the SMX Convention Center would often be held here. The hotel hosted the Miss Earth candidates, and the ceremonies for the naming of the Philippine eagle was held here as well.

They have a sprawling garden with gazebos that are often used as venue for outdoor weddings. “We often get back-to-back weddings, about three to five weddings in a week, which are held usually towards the weekends,” Lasala says. Adding to the tropical vibe are the tall, mature coconut trees, which must have been on the property from the start, as well as the original 10-foot-deep swimming pool, which still bears the iconic Insular logo.  The poolside bar, Pool Aquarius, is open daily.

Guests can enjoy al fresco dining at La Parilla, which specializes in grilled seafood and barbecues. “We get our seafood fresh from the local market,” Lasala shares. And for fresh vegetables, they would source as far as Eden in the highlands, which has its own greenhouses and organic vegetable and herb gardens.

The Vinta Bar is “a cozy place to unwind and enjoy your favorite drinks and cocktails.” They say Pizzaiolo offers “the best pizza in Davao.” With Italian chef Giovanni Sias on board as corporate executive chef, this is not an empty boast. They are proud of their freshly baked cakes and pastries as well. Café Uno offers all-day international dining — a la carte as well as buffet for breakfast and lunch.

Soon, all the dining outlets in the hotel will have a touch of Filipino with chef Laudico, who is well-known for his focus on Filipino cuisine — be it traditional, modern, or fusion — as consultant.  “The majority of the five-star hotels are international, so being the largest fully Filipino-owned hotel here, we want to be known as serving authentic Filipino cuisine in our outlets,” Lasala remarks. While Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao continues to evolve and grow, it remains firmly connected to its roots.

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