By Zsarlene B. Chua, Reporter

ROBINSONS Hotels and Resorts (RHR) has formally opened the fifth hotel under its full-service Summit Hotels umbrella — the 138-room Summit Hotels Tacloban which serves as the company’s vote of confidence in the provincial capital’s potential for growth especially in the tourism sector.

According to data provided by the Department of Tourism (DoT) Regional Office 8, Tacloban City welcomed 559,803 tourists in 2018, 8.51% more than the numbers recorded in 2017. In all, the entire Eastern Visayas Region welcomed 1.78 million overnight guests, up from 1.51 million from the previous year.

The bulk of the visitors — 1.72 million — were domestic tourists.

The increasing numbers and the equally increasing demand for a full-service hotel led to the entry of RHR in Tacloban City.

“For our traveling populace today, their expectations now are higher. Our standards have been raised as we become a prosperous nation,” Arthur G. Gindap, SVP and business unit general manager at RHR, told reporters during a media familiarization trip in early May.

RHR is a subsidiary of Robinsons Land Corp. which operates hotels like Summit, GoHotels, Dusit Thani in Mactan Cebu, Crowne Plaza Galleria, Holiday Inn Galleria, and the soon-to-open Westin in Ortigas.

Mr. Gindap noted that the Tacloban hotel will focus on local tourism and the MICE market (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions), and as such Summit Tacloban has a grand ballroom (1,134 square meters) which can accommodate 600 guests, three function rooms (378 sqm each) which can handle up to 200 people, and three boardrooms which can seat 30-35 people.

The grand ballroom is said to be the largest in the city.

“Our future for Summit is to have a MICE component. So you will see in Tacloban, we [have] the largest facility for MICE for a hotel. We’re moving toward full-service and MICE and convention. We are even considering convention centers. Why only have one in the game?” Mr. Gindap said.

The hotel offers three room categories: the Deluxe and Premiere rooms (both 32 sqm) and themed rooms inspired by the region’s local festivals: the Sangyaw Suite which takes its name from the festival celebrated in June, features floral patterns and chrome accents; the Lubi-Lubi Suite which pays homage to the dance which uses coconuts and coco fronds with a room decorated with leaf patterns and metallic accents; and finally, the Pintados Suite, named after the Pintados Festival held in June, whose decor is inspired by the tattoos of the first inhabitants of Eastern Visayas.

The hotel has one all-day restaurant, Patron, which offers international and local fare, and a swimming pool.

Summit Tacloban is located right beside Robinsons Place Tacloban, a full-service shopping mall. Within the same complex stands Go Hotels Tacloban, a 98-room budget hotel. The entire complex is located five kilometers from the Daniel Z. Romualdez airport and 25 minutes from the San Juanico Bridge to Samar.

Aside from Summit Tacloban, the Summit brand will welcome two more hotels within the year: Summit Hotel Naga and Summit Hotel Greenhills. Soon, RHR will also introduce Go Dorms, a “dormitel” concept “purpose-built for students and young professionals,” according to a company release.

Mr. Gindap also said that group currently has 56 properties currently in operation or under development as they are “set to release its significant expansion plans for the next five years.”

Eastern Visayas offers a myriad of tourist attractions, one of which is Kalanggaman Island in Palompon, Leyte.

The island — 753 meters across — is named after the local word for bird (langgam) as it looks like a bird when seen from above. Some parts of the island are submerged during high tide. The local tourism office only allows 500 people per day to visit the island in order to preserve it. Each group is given two garbage bags for them to segregate their waste and bring it back for disposal in Palompon.

There are no resorts on the island though one can bring or rent a tent if one wishes to spend the night.

The island is about two to three hours away from Tacloban by van though several bus companies ply the road from Tacloban to Palompon. From Palompon, travellers have to journey for about an hour via boat to the island.

While the island offers white — though at times rough — sand and clear waters, tourism officers caution visitors from swimming at the ends of the sandbars as the strong currents might sweep them away.

Aside from Kalanggaman Island, Eastern Visayas also offers other “underrated destinations,” a lot of which are “raw, rustic and natural” where “a lot of hidden gems from reef to ridge await to be discovered,” according to a press release from the DoT Region 8.

Some of these destinations are the Biri Rock Formations in Biri, Northern Samar which has seven rock formations of various sizes created by the wind and waves of the Pacific Ocean; Uwan-Uwanan Gorge in Libagon, Southern Leyte where people trek, rappel, and climb bamboo ladders to reach the cascading waterfalls; and, for people who love historical and cultural tourism, they can stay in Tacloban and visit the MacArthur Leyte Landing Memorial.