Camp John Hay's log cabin de luxe
By Earl D.C. Bracamonte
250 kilometers north of Manila, in the heart of the Pine City, lies the sprawling Camp John Hay special economic zone. From Manila, visitors can take the five-hour bus ride via NLEX and SCTEX through Palispis Highway (formerly known as Marcos Highway), Kennon Road or the Naguilian Road. Once you get there, savor the crisp and clean mountain air as well as the panoramic vistas amid lush conifer trees. Baguio occupies 57 square kilometers of hills about 1,524 meters high in the southwestern portion of the Cordillera Central mountain ranges.
Baguio City, known as the ‘Summer Capital of the Philippines,’ derived its name from the word “bagiw,” which in Ibaloi dialect means “moss.” It has morphed from what was once a greasy marshland into one of the cleanest, greenest and highly urbanized cities in the archipelago.
“Pinoys travel now. There’s a surge of nationalism pervading the air. The cleansing that’s going on has created an upbeat drive toward our ethnicity and heritage. We created the Forest Lodge because we want to give respect to all travelers and acknowledge their efforts and expense. What make hotels expensive are the frills that not many need at all. Here, we give every traveler something different for the same money they spend somewhere that’s not giving their money’s worth. Here, we provide the things that meet their travel requirements,” enthused Tito Sobrepena, president of Club Leisure, the managing and operating arm of Camp John Hay properties.
Tourists and travelers will be delighted to know that inside Camp John Hay is a new hotel that offers deluxe amenities without creating a dent in their pockets. For a twin-sharing superior room at P2,900 for an overnight stay with buffet breakfast for two, the newly-opened Forest Lodge is truly value for your money!
“We are a domestic market. And with the increase in domestic travel in Baguio City and around the country, the possibilities are rosy. While functions remain the same, you deal with people differently so your approach to each also varies. You simply respect people and races. You don’t have to feel superior. You motivate them, build them up and give them the necessary tools so they work efficiently.
“I didn’t like Baguio when I first came here in the ‘70s. With the Kennon Road closed after a massive typhoon, the first thing I saw was a cemetery upon arrival. But everything changed when I saw the Banaue Terraces. It was like being in Switzerland! Despite the mushrooming populace you see around, nothing has changed in Baguio. It’s still the same through the years.
“So I stayed and pointed out what was wrong with how the hotel was run before. But I sought a commitment, which the owners gave, or I would have left. After which, I found a way to upgrade The Manor. It took me ten years to turn it inside out, eventually making it a very nice property.
“The full development of Camp John Hay is not yet finished. There’s no sports club and a town center as yet but in time there will be. Now, everything has become too expensive. That’s how Forest Lodge came to be. People will always seek value for their money.
“Forest Lodge will have a complete rebranding that’s separate and distinct from that of The Manor. Travelers won’t lessen in the future, there will be much more,” enthused Heindrick Maulbecker, managing director of The Manor and Forest Lodge, who’s been a hotelier in the last five decades, starting his first international assignment in the south of France at the age of 21.
Herr Maulbecker did a two year stint in Thailand before starting his foray in the country that started with his management of the erstwhile Hyatt Terraces in 1979, until it was destroyed by the earthquake in 1990.
“I know more people in Manila than in my hometown so I know I’d always come back here. Besides, I also have a family here,” he added. His return to the country began his taking over the reins of The Manor. “30-40 years ago, you need Europeans to run a hotel, unlike now. Europeans learn their profession from scratch. In the pioneering days, you work with people who don’t know a thing and you teach them. As hotelier, you need to have a good working knowledge on everything: kitchen, a bit of marketing and sales; good housekeeping in essence. Today’s hoteliers are finance people and one day they’ll run into problems because they’re all about revenue generation. But the hotel business is not just about the money.
“I was around when the Jumbo Jet came to be in 1972. Without the Airbus phenomenon, nobody would have left their respective countries to work elsewhere because air fare was so expensive; it just wasn’t worth it. The tourists before were just the elites.”
At 5,000 feet above sea level, Baguio is the perfect gateway to such destinations as Sagada and the Banaue Rice Terraces; and an hour’s drive to the beaches of La Union and a four-hour drive to the Ilocos Region. “Baguio City is a world-class tourism development and destination. And Forest Lodge is the first of its kind in the summer capital. Other significant developments will unfold in Camp John Hay, under the Bases Conversion Authority mandate. These plans are made so as to attract much more tourists to Baguio. Also, more roads now lead to historical sites in and around Baguio City,” declared Congressman Bernardo Vergara in his speech during the opening night ceremonies.
Camp John Hay was transferred by the American government to the Department of Tourism in 1991. Since then, the administration and upkeep of the sprawling facility has been undergone by the Bases Conversion Authority.
“We can’t duplicate the Manor market here. Forest Lodge is an affordable proposition for yuppies and frequent travelers. Our rates may be low but we still blend it with our impeccable service, ambiance, and a modern twist with the Cordillera look. It’s the best deal in Baguio and inside Camp John Hay. Our guests can reserve their rooms through on-line booking. This facility is anchored on the DoT’s campaign of being ‘fun’ in the Philippines. And here in Camp John Hay, that’s very true with all the shopping spots and the techno hub of the Ayalas. We are starting with 55 rooms that will have 109 more by year’s end. Phase II will add 50 rooms more. All in all, there will be 208 rooms from the Lower Ground level up to the fifth floor,” informed general manager Ramon Cabrera.
And while here, you can also savor and enjoy the gourmet cuisine of Chef Billy King at Le Chef in The Manor. Just take the pathway that passes through a rock garden and let the master chef take you on a gustatory and epicurean journey.
For booking dates, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org and/or visit their Web site www.campjohnhay.ph.