Eighteen days after Charlie’s El Nido opened on March 1, 2020, it was forced to temporarily cease operations due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It was the month in which the country began registering new cases of COVID-19 following the confirmation of the first three instances in January and February. A 48-year-old male Filipino with a history of travel to Japan was diagnosed with the fatal disease on March 5, following his return on February 25 in the same year.
On March 9, President Rodrigo Duterte issued a declaration proclaiming a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 threat. In the days that followed, he ordered the shutdown of all airports in Luzon’s main island to stop the spread.
Ed Franco, pre-opening General Manager of Charlie’s El Nido, said they found themselves in this situation after expecting significant success as a hotel offering secluded comfort to domestic and international travelers within the lush terrain of one of the country’s most famous destinations.
“From March 18, we were closed not knowing exactly when we would be able to reopen. So, wala kaming tinatanggap na guest at all. Those were the times we were trying to comply with various government regulations, implement new health and safety standards, invest in new equipment endorsed by the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Tourism (DOT). The natural course of direction, of course, is to look for alternative sources of business and to manage our operational expenses. Overhead costs and variables had to be controlled,” he said.
Charlie’s El Nido is a sister property of Hue Hotels and Resorts (Puerto Princesa & Boracay), which is also managed by Hospitality Innovators Incorporated (HII), a company that specializes in providing excellent value, personalized experiences, and the best in hospitality through its various hotels & resorts throughout the Philippines.
In order to stay afloat and manage its finances, the resort, like other businesses in El Nido, were forced to retrench personnel. This was a difficult decision to make for obvious reasons. Franco said their remaining staff learned to multi-task on the job after 87 employees were cut by 45% by late September 2020.
He admired how the remaining personnel maintained their emotional and mental strength in the face of overwhelming uncertainty and hardship. Throughout the process, the HII management team, as well as the hotel owners, provided unwavering support. Psychologists were employed to assist hotel managers, supervisors, and rank-and-file staff in nurturing their mental health throughout the pandemic.
“No matter how fragile the business environment was, seeing the capability and resiliency of the staff lifted us out of the most difficult moments in the last 2 years. Kahit ganoon ang sitwasyon sa kapaligiran, pumapasok pa rin ang mga staff and their respective supervisors, without complaints. In hindsight, we were all drawing strength from each other to get through the day,” he said.
Franco himself feels fortunate to work with a team that demonstrates a proactive attitude towards teamwork and collaboration. Admittedly, it was from here that he drew the strength necessary to continue leading the resort’s operation.
He also noted that the skill sets of local workers have improved and can be further strengthened through training provided by private firms and the local government.
“Ang realization ko dito ay – we must always value our hotel staff. They’re the real asset of every hotel organization, full stop. I have been challenged in all angles during the shutdown. Pressures were mounting in all aspects of operations, but at the end of the day, when you have a team that’s nurtured, challenged and inspired, anything is possible. No matter how tough things get, they can be resolved by an inspired team,” he explained.
Adjustments and Slow Recovery
When the resort reopened in October 2020, there was a notable number of bookings. The tourism sector returned, specifically coming from local markets, such as Puerto Princesa residents and “staycationers” who wanted to seek refuge due to frequent power shortages.
However, a few short months after on April 2021, Lio Airport was forced to close due to a new wave of COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila and El Nido, creating a roller-coaster ride for residents of the town.
Charlie’s El Nido opted to once again temporarily cease operations in July, August, and September 2021 due to a lack of bookings and leads.
Franco flew back home to Cagayan Valley, where he decided to receive his vaccination.
“Most of my department heads returned home under “Work From Home” arrangements. We left behind a skeleton workforce composed of the security team, housekeeping supervisor, and engineering personnel. It was very challenging for us not knowing what would transpire again, “ he said.
Fortunately, he was able to secure an agreement with a well-known international television reality show by October 2021, reviving Charlie’s El Nido.
“I was given only eight days to reopen the entire hotel with a skeletal workforce present on-site. We all had to work together to swiftly jumpstart operations. I even acted as a gardener, along with the security team, to trim all overgrown plants and remove dead leaves, while the housekeeping team endeavored to wash, sanitize, and disinfect all rooms, linens, and public areas. The restaurant staff had their fair share of work too, washing down the entire kitchen and all equipment to ensure proper compliance with health protocols,” he said.
“It was a humbling experience kasi kulang ng tao. Skeletal workforce kami, less than 10 staff spread out in all areas and departments. We reopened the hotel on October 1, 2021. Gradually nadagdagan nang nadagdagan ang workforce—medyo controlled kasi we were also watching our hotel occupancy. We had to ensure that our revenue would be able to sustain our operational expenses,” he added.
Upon the hotel’s initial closure in 2020, its leftover stocks were donated to the local community. Additionally, resort staff assisted in other community activities such as collaborating with Villa Libertad’s Barangay Council to plant Narra trees in the mountains of Lio.
The resort subsequently began to slowly rehire previously retrenched staff while also offering opportunities to a new set of employees.
“We were beyond ecstatic that we survived all the shutdowns, curfews, and community lockdowns during this pandemic. Reopening the hotel gave us a ray of hope for the El Nido community’s recovery,” he said.
Why Charlie’s El Nido in the New Normal
Charlie’s El Nido is located in Barangay Villa Libertad, along the National Highway, and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding hills and Cadlao Island.
“Charlie’s sits accessibly on higher grounds, while still remaining very close to LIO Beach and the trekking-friendly Eco-Trail. Inside the confines of the resort, Charlie’s offers a pristine and cozy place in the evening. Guests can go partying on the beach, hangout in bars downtown, but upon return, resort guests get to enjoy the peace and quiet they deserve. Truly a place to relax and rest,” Franco quipped.
Away from the crowds of El Nido town and Lio Estate Resorts, the hotel is a stylish, self-contained, and quiet retreat. It boasts seven different accommodation styles to provide the ideal backdrop for anyone’s tropical getaway, according to its website.
Its rooms have exclusive access to a refreshing well-maintained swimming pool and have terraces with breathtaking views of the municipality’s terrain, whether visiting as a couple, with friends and family, or on a single holiday.
Well thought-out Facilities & Amenities at Charlie’s El Nido focus on pampering the body and energizing the mind. Whether it’s a relaxing massage or a yoga and meditation sessions, or even simply a dip in the pool, guests may rediscover their inner peace and reconnect with the natural environment.
It also offers a restaurant where freshly-cooked meals are served, a cocktail bar for cool and invigorating drinks, and a fully-equipped fitness center for workout junkies. Charlie’s El Nido also has a gift shop that sells exclusive resort souvenirs and small items that are suitable for “pasalubongs” (gifts).
Those who want to visit nearby local establishments can take advantage of the hotel’s free shuttle service, which runs between Lio Beach, El Nido town, and the resort (a 5 to 15 minute drive).
“It’s like you get to retire from an active busy day outside and sleep comfortably as soon as the guestroom door shuts. With El Nido’s notorious power outage and internet shutdown, Charlie’s offers uninterrupted services. That’s really something we can guarantee for our hotel guests,” he added.
It promotes an organic lifestyle and food conservation through the farm-to-table concept, along with a few hotels. It decreases the amount of plastic wastes produced by functioning with less plastics. All food wastes from the bar, restaurant and kitchen are donated to KALAWILI FARMS, which in turn converts it into organic fertilizers by way of feeding food wastes to black army flies.
Taking Care of Guests’ Health vs COVID-19
“Charlie’s El Nido, HII and Stakeholders’ top priority right now is to invest in new cleaning and sanitizing tools and equipment in accordance with safety protocols designed to protect the public from local virus transmission”, Franco said.
The ultimate goal, he explained, is to keep hotel guests, employees, and suppliers safe. Acrylic barriers at the front desk, automatic hand sanitizing and body temperature checking equipment, signage on the floors, bedrooms, and public areas, misting machines, UV lights, personal protection equipment (PPE), and footbaths are among the new features for safety.
Employees are encouraged to be vaccinated in addition to wearing face masks, which resulted to a 100% turnout. Every month, in collaboration with Adventist Clinic, random swab testing for employees is undertaken, as a measure for employees safety and monitor health conditions.
Charlie’s El Nido was one of the first hotels in town to have its own supply of antigen test kits, made available for employees, as early as April 2020.
Franco finally quipped, Charlie’s El Nido is living proof that staying in the game through these tough times reveals the true and genuine value of the resort. Not only a sophisticated or stylish product is important, but also the genuine enthusiasm, hard work, and dedication of the individuals that work ceaselessly behind the scenes are truly the essence of a resort’s success.