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SUNRISE IN THE PHILIPPINES

TODAY’S WRITING TIP: ALWAYS KEEP YOUR EYE OUT ON WHAT’S NEW, EVEN WHEN YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT SOMETHING OLD.

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LAS VEGAS-STYLE LUXURY One of four villas reserved for the highrollers at Solaire Resort & Casino, which promises to change the game not only in Manila but also in Asia and the world.

Summer in the tropics is not so much a season of warmth as a scorching, sweltering time, but for those from the cold regions, it is a time best spent walking on sunshine. This year, summer swept into Manila some time in the middle of March, soon after Solaire Resort & Casino, whose name has been derived from the French “breeze from the sun,” opened its doors to the world.

This $1.2 billion gaming and entertainment venture, dreamed up by Filipino industrialist and billionaire Enrique Razon Jr., has since the announcement in October last year claimed to change the game. It is by all measure a big leap to the future, in which the Philippines is to claim its pride of place in the new hotspot that Asia is fast becoming not only in global finance and economics, but also in culture and tourism. Solaire is the first of four major casino-resorts to rise on the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation-owned Entertainment City, a 100-hectare complex reclaimed from Manila Bay, literally a “new ground” broken” in Paranaque City, near the SM Mall of Asia, one of the biggest shopping malls in the world.

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HOTSPOT: ASIA The VIP room at the signature Chinese restaurant Red Lantern at Solaire Resort & Casino

Sometimes, the collective ego in developing countries like the Philippines needs a big boost like Solaire, whose vision is to be at par with the likes of Las Vegas and Macau as a gaming and entertainment destination. Mr. Razon’s mission is clear and that is to make this “gamechanger” as Filipino as it is global.  While he did recruit the very best of the casino world, plucking some of them out of Nevada’s top casinos or, in the case of Solaire’s culinary director Wolfgang Fischer, from such other high-profile places as the Emirates Palace, “the world’s most expensive hotel,” in Abu Dhabi, the Bloomberry Resorts Corporation owner, chairman, and CEO—and chief of Manila-listed port-handling giant International Container Terminal Services, Inc.—also made it a point that Solaire would showcase the best of the Philippines, whether in the selection of art pieces on the property walls or in the service of Filipino migrants returning to the Philippines, over 400 of them out of the 4,500-strong workforce, after long stints in places like The Venetian Las Vegas or the Sands Macao.

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GAMECHANGER The man and the vision behind Solaire Resort & Casino, industrialist, billionaire, tycoon, and Filipino Enrique Razon Jr.

Razon, indeed, has such faith in the old movie prescription “if you build it, they will come” that, as high rollers, although they provide only a small fraction of casino “action,” help set the standards, raise the bar for gaming and entertainment in the casino capitals Las Vegas and Macau, he is also prepared to lure them in with private jet transfers, Bentley service, opulent accommodations, the works.

Among Solaire’s targets is to help bring in 10 million tourists to the Philippines by 2016. Unlike Macau, Manila has so many wonderful things to offer other than a little luck on the gaming table. For one, it is a gateway to so many tourism gems, such as Boracay, one of the world’s best island destinations, and the vastly untouched Palawan, or even Tagaytay, a hilltop destination just an hour’s drive from Manila. Within Metro Manila alone, thanks to the economic optimism of the times, entertainment options, from the concert scene to the dining scene, are becoming increasingly dizzying, dazzling, and diverse with more players—investors, entrepreneurs, consumers worldwide—coming to play. If I were to make a judgment based on all that is new, happening, and coming up, I’d say the future is bright and, more important, the Philippines is in a good place right here, right now. Over dinner at Solaire’s signature Japanese restaurant Yakumi, over generous helpings of Hokkaido spider crab, live oysters, and other fresh imports from Japan, an expert in politics and economics admitted as much to me that this could all be a bubble, but he quickly qualified his statement and said, “but a bubble is good. Optimism is a great economic boost.”

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PRE-OPENING PARTY We were among the first guests prior to the public opening. Trying out the drinks at the steakhouse Strip after a special five-meal course at the signature Japanese restaurant Yakumi, from left: Katrina Razon, Jennie Epperson, Pepper Teehankee, Hector M. Reyes, the author, and Danica Valdez.

Still, a pat in the back is more of what the Filipino needs. Solaire, built from scratch by a Filipino in the Philippines, is one such boost, a show of force, a  testament to what the country and its people are capable of doing, so that the national pride need not depend solely on international recognition, without which it is possible the Filipinos might have overlooked the gems among them, even the likes of world theater legend Lea Salonga, globally acclaimed designer Michael Cinco, or even Asia’s Next Top Model’s big contender Stephanie Retuya, whom America’s Next Top Model host and owner of the franchise Tyra Banks considers a “model noun,” or supermodel material who only needs a little more training in “model-ing.”

Give me 10,000 Filipino soldiers and I will conquer the world.

                                                                                  —Douglas MacArthur

With hope, Solaire does deliver on its promise to help make a bright spot of the Philippines and its future.

NOTE: This post has been adapted from the editor’s note in the April 2013 issue of the author’s magazine Sense&Style.

 

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