Exploring Marco Polo
- Julie Cabatit-Alegre () - August 8, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines -  Sausages are made with ice. Did you know that? We know that sausages are made up basically of a mixture of ground meat, bread, milk and spices. Crushed ice counters the heat that develops while grinding the meat and keeps the sausage juicy.

This we learned from Hans Hauri, the amiable general manager of Marco Polo Plaza, Cebu. He should know: he’s Swiss, and the Swiss are well known for their sausages. In fact, it is said that no Swiss food festival is complete without it.

The traditional Swiss Alpine Festival, ongoing at Café Marco until Aug. 8, is no exception. Fill your plate with shublig, bratwurst, and fleischkaese (meatloaf) and don’t scrimp on the Dijon or Weisswurstsenf mustard (somewhat like a cross between ketchup and lechon sauce), whichever suits your taste, with sauerkraut on the side. And the cheese: Tilsit, Emmenthal, Gruyere, Gouda, not to mention Raclette. Don’t forget to leave space for the cheese fondue, the quintessential Swiss dish. And have you heard of the Rule of Fondue Fun? “If the lady loses her morsel in the fondue, she pays with a kiss to the gentleman to her right. If a man loses his, he buys her a glass of wine.”

On the eve of Swiss National Day, which is observed annually on Aug. 1, Swiss nationals residing in the country (there are about 250 Swiss expats in Dumaguete and Cebu, says GM Hans) gathered together with their family and friends at Marco Polo’s Garden Terraces by the poolside for a night of celebration. Hans recalled that in the first year that they held this annual celebration four years ago, only five Swiss nationals came. For the second year, there were 15, and the third year, 30. This year, 80 Swiss nationals were among the 200 guests who came.

Johannes “Hans” Hauri has been general manager of Marco Polo Plaza, Cebu since it opened in 2006. In 2008, barely three years into operations under his leadership, the hotel was awarded Deluxe Class Hotel accreditation by the Philippine Department of Tourism Region VII, after having complied with or exceeded the requirements prescribed for a five-star city hotel. Early this year, Hans received two major recognitions: the 2010 “Executive of the Year” award by the Philippine Association of Secretaries and Administrative Professionals (PASAP) and the “Hotel Personality of the Year” award by SKAL Makati during its 21st Tourism Awards in 2010.

If there is one word that best describes Hans, it would be the word “approachable.” He has a relaxed and friendly demeanor about him, which the rest of his staff appear to have imbibed and project as well. Laughter is easy.

“You take the Mickey out of the situation,” he says. Hospitality and service are not just buzzwords you hear but rather something you actually feel and experience. “I like to manage, not only from my office but on the floor,” he says, meaning he actually goes out and “cruises around” to meet people. A management guru once gave it a name: “Management by walking around.”

Continuing staff training and exposure is also part of the strategy. A number have been sent overseas, particularly to Hong Kong where there are three Marco Polo hotels. Those in sales and marketing also attend trade fairs. Just this June, five chefs were sent to Switzerland for their international exposure as well as to promote Filipino cuisine. They obtained a special permit to roast lechon within Zurich’s city limits.

Business people account for about 65 percent of Marco Polo’s guests while 35 percent would be tour groups. “Cebu is not only a beach destination,” says GM Hans. He coined the ABC concept: “Attractions, Beach, City.”

Arrangements can be made to shuttle guests who might want to go to the city for shopping, or to any of the beaches, if that is what they prefer. Arrangements can also be made for sightseeing, down the cultural trail for example, along the south coast. In the heritage town of Carcar, just 40 kms or roughly an hour drive south of Cebu City, you will find the St. Catherine of Alexandria church which stands on a hill, as well as the Bahay na Tisa heritage house, built in 1859. Or you might want to take your road trip even farther down south to Argao and visit the imposing Baroque church of St. Michael the Archangel. A day trip to Bohol, just 45 minutes away by fast ferry, is also possible.

Marco Polo Plaza itself is an attraction. Considered a landmark in Cebu City, it stands 600 feet above sea level within the prestigious Nivel Hills district, just 25 minutes from the Mactan International Airport and 10 minutes from Cebu City’s business and commercial center. Its expansive lobby immediately gives you a warm “sense of arrival.” A scenic elevator brings you up to the exclusive Continental Club lounge at the top of the 24-story hotel where you get a panoramic view of the city and the mountains on one side and on the other, the busy Mactan Channel.

And when night falls, you get a stunning view of the city lights below from the open-air Blu Bar and Grill at the penthouse. From “twilight to moonlight,” Blu is the place to park one’s self at day’s end, to unwind and enjoy award-winning cocktails and extraordinary appetizers, pica-pica and desserts.

At the basement is the Wellness Zone, where you can totally surrender yourself to the hands of professional spa therapists and succumb to their tender loving care, be it a facial treatment, a body scrub, or a massage. You also get complimentary use of the sauna. There’s also a beauty salon as well as a gym and even a children’s playroom.

The outdoor mango-shaped swimming pool is fed by a manmade waterfall that is soothing and relaxing. The El Viento Restaurant and Pool Bar features a wood-fired oven. Mango wood is used, which gives “a distinct flavor that will delight the gourmet in you.” For a change, you might want to try their pizza sisig, or better yet, pizza lechon. After all, you cannot be in Cebu and not have at least a taste of their world-famous lechon.   

How about wine tasting? “We are also looking towards promoting a wine culture here,” says GM Hans. Are we ready for it? “Filipinos are naturally curious,” says Stephan Wieprich, food and beverage manager. “They have been exposed in their travels.” Wine and food go well together, of course. But how do we know that we have the right paring? “It does not have to be complicated. There is no right or wrong way. It all depends on individual taste,” says Stephen, whose years of experience in the hospitality industry (he started when he was 17) include a number of years working with a wine importer. But he would not call himself a wine expert. “That would be an exaggeration. There is no such thing.” he says. He simply has this passion about wine. He likes to talk, drink, and bring it closer to people. Marco Polo Plaza has been celebrating the annual wine festival “Soiree Beaujolais,” which brings the tradition of serving the newest wine from the harvest.

Stephan explains the difference between New World and the Old World wines: the latter are produced in the classic wine-producing regions of Europe and labeled as such, like Bourdeaux, Champagne, etc. while the former refers to those vins produced elsewhere such as the United States and Australia which are labeled according to grape variety such as merlot, Riesling and chardonnay. New World wines are fast gaining popularity and have become more accessible and perhaps are easier to appreciate.

Still, the “main item” here is the food, says Hans. No other hotel has it “as good,” he says with genuine pride. This is “by design.” The centerpiece is the daily buffet at Café Marco which features four show kitchens, each specializing in Asian, Japanese, and Western cuisine and desserts.

Their chocolate truffle is unforgettable. You can also order à la carte. Everything is freshly cooked. The secret in the buffet spread is to cook small portions so the turnover is fast. Moreover, the reasonable pricing reassures you that you are not paying for fancy chairs and chandeliers. “The value is on your plate,” says GM Hans.

Executive chef Luke Gagnon, a native of Canada, had been with Marco Polo Plaza in Cebu since it first opened. He is well known for his “innovation and dedication” as well as his hands-on management style. His favorite phrase is “management through inspection and not expectation.” He is continuously “fine tuning his ability and perspective to create the perfect dish.”

In the olden days, travelers marked their stops by the places where they knew they would find good food for themselves and care for their horses. “That was the first concept of inns,” GM Hans says. Today, a great hotel may very well be your home away from home, plus all the perks.

*  *  *

Marco Polo Plaza, Cebu is located at Cebu Veterans Drive, Nivel Hills, Apas, Cebu City. For more information, call (32) 253-1111 or e-mail mpplaza@marcopolohotels.com.

CEBU CEBU CITY CITY HANS MARCO MARCO POLO PLAZA SWISS
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