Henry Chusuey was born a businessman.
Hailing from Iloilo City, he grew up in a family of entrepreneurs beginning with his grandfather who built supermarkets, and his father who operated movie houses. As a third generation Chuseuy, he went a step further and specialized in real estate and financing, developing subdivisions and commercial establishments at the onset of his career.
Beyond business, Chusuey is a natural lover of the Philippines seas, most particularly that of the world-famous Boracay Island with its powdery white sands and crystal clear waters. Little did he know, however, that his passion for the once undiscovered paradise in Aklan would open up a whole new direction for his business, and enable him at the same time to do his part in placing the Philippines on the worldwide map.
Today, Chusuey owns and runs three famed resorts in Boracay—now
hailed as one of the world’s best beaches—with another four scheduled for opening very soon. And in his advocacy and capacity as one of the prominent promoters of tourism in the southern Philippines, his company has also ventured into a resort development in Panglao, Bohol, which is fast becoming another top destination in the country.
In this exclusive interview with The Sunday Times Magazine, Chusuey shares how fortunate he feels to be able to run a business that directly plays a role in achieving his hopes for the country.
Setting the standard
Inside Boracay Regency’s Corporate Office in Malate, Manila, the same welcoming ambiance of a top resort can be felt. The interiors are cozy and modern, with a staff that is gracious and beautiful. Even the conference room carries the signature scent of the Boracay property—clean, cool and fresh, evoking images of the sea.
All this reflects Chusuey’s serious commitment to the hotel and resort industry, which he believes has to be anchored on quality. This after all is what pushed him to open Boracay Regency in 1998, for the lover of the sea found it very hard to find a place he would love to stay in.
Chusuey recalls, “I frequented Boracay but I never liked the accommodations that were there at that time. They were expensive and not so nice. I had actually thought of putting up my own house even as early as the ‘80s, but I was discouraged because back then I wouldn’t have a title [for a property], only a tax declaration, which is not a document that says you really own the land.”
Come the 1990s, Chusuey was amazed how developers big and small were still erecting structures in Boracay even if they only had tax declarations. He then had a change of heart and decided to take part in the development of his favorite destination, no longer with a house but a small hotel. In his mind, the place could also function as his family’s vacation house all the same.
Thus, Chusuey chose the best spot in the island—right in the middle of the white beach strip—where he opened Boracay Regency Resort. And even if his first venture only had less than 50 rooms, a single swimming pool and a restaurant, he made sure the construction met his standards for quality accommodations, and that 65 employees were hired to make sure that from opening day onwards, quality service would also be given to its guests.
Beginning with very reasonable rates, the resort not only gathered a loyal following but also became the first establishment to gain the highest resort rating from the Department of Tourism.
From 43 rooms, the Boracay Regency has grown to house 302 hotel rooms today. Impressive as these numbers are, however, Chusuey is quick to admit that he was “conservative” when it came to expansion plans some years back.
It even took him a whole decade to decide on opening a second resort by acquiring a Korean-owned resort beside Regency in 2009. But the moment he accepted the idea that expansion is the most logical direction for his company, there was no stopping the man. In a span of four months, he renovated his new acquisition and built another one from the ground up.
Both located at Station 2, these properties are the re-branded Henann Garden Resort and Henann Lagoon Resort, respectively. Together with the Henann Resort Alona Beach in Panglao, Bohol and the Boracay Regency, the four properties comprise what is now known as the Henann Group of Resorts.
“By the end of the year, Boracay Regency will be renamed Henann Regency as well,” reveals the group’s chairman.
Thus, within five years, Henann amassed a grand total of 800 rooms in Boracay alone. As the biggest fan of the island, Chusuey says he was fuelled by his confidence in the destination’s tourism potential. In fact, four more new properties are scheduled for construction by the group, still within his favorite place, all due for completion in two years.
“By then we will have seven resorts in the island totaling 1,450 rooms,” he counts.
Further explaining his reasons for expansion, Chusuey continues, “When the airport is done in Boracay, I believe we will have more tourists arrivals because it will be less of a hassle for them to fly to Kalibo [International Airport] and then travel by land via buses and vans. They can instead fly straight to Caticlan [via the Godofredo P. Ramos Airport].”
Currently undergoing renovation, the Caticlan airport at nearby Panay Island will have an extended runway, which Chusuey hopes will be further lengthened in future to ensure safety.
“What is good is that all this development in Boracay, not just by Henann, will benefit not just the businessman but the overall economy,” he enthuses. “When we expand, we create jobs; we earn dollars for the country; we pay taxes; and ultimately, we make our economy better.”
Besides being one of Boracay’s pioneer and premier hoteliers, Chusuey also serves as the chairman of the Boracay Foundation Inc. (BFI), a non-profit organization comprised of over 150 members from the island’s leading establishments. These include resorts and hotels owners, restaurateurs, other service providers, and representatives from banking companies, as well as expatriates and residents of the island.
Driven by the motto “Preserve what we have, and restore what we lost,” BFI leads the cause for conserving the natural beauty of the Boracay, and is therefore actively involved in activities and projects like solid waste management and underwater environment protection through close cooperation with the local government, environment departments, and other concerned organizations. (www.boracayisland.org)
The Sunday Times Magazine asked Chusuey to comment on a recent column by Atty. Dodo Dulay in The Manila Times titled, “Boracay: On the edge of disaster,” which questioned the island’s “incomplete sewerage and drainage system.”
“Let me clarify things,” Chusuey begins, “We have a sewerage treatment plant [STP], and there is no problem with that. The only problem is the drainage system in which some residents and small hotel owners tap their sewer into, which is not supposed to happen.”
Because of this irresponsible act, wastes seep into the drainage that empties onto the other side of the white beach, which is Bulabog Beach.
In effect, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources found the bacteria level in the said beach to be in excess of the safety levels.
And while the local government is already trying to solve the very serious situation, the root of the problem for Chusuey lies in the people.
“Sometimes, because of this democracy of ours, we really cannot implement [programs or solutions]instantly,” he shakes his head in frustration.
From Boracay to Bohol
And while Boracay is definitely one of the most important destinations for Philippine tourism—currently neck and neck with Cebu in terms of tourism revenues—Chusuey has also set his eyes on another beautiful destination in southern Philippines. And of course, he has gone on to build a resort over there, the Henann Resort Alona Beach, now known as Panglao, Bohol’s “Little Boracay.”
And just like his properties in Boracay, this resort is currently undergoing expansion. Chusuey is in fact set to inaugurate the resort’s new building with 200 rooms, which is half of the planned 400 rooms, in May.
Currently, the resort only occupies 3.5 hectares of the property’s total 6.5 hectares.
“It’s the biggest property in the island so I can even build another resort in the remaining 3 hectares because that has its own beach access too.”
Asked about the difference between Boracay and Bohol as destinations, the seasoned hotelier explains, “Boracay’s beach is definitely the better; remember, it’s one of the most beautiful in the world. Bohol’s is almost the same, especially its sand, but the water is unlike Boracay’s because it has sea grass. Nevertheless, Bohol is a better diving destination.
“There are also many places to see in Bohol. If they cross to the mainland, they can see the Chocolate Hills, the tarsiers, and the churches, and they can also take the famed river cruise,” he enumerates.
At the end of the day, those choosing between Boracay and Bohol will simply have to consider their priorities.
“If they just want to swim, then I would say, go to Boracay. If they want to dive, then go to Bohol. If they want to be able to shop and go to malls, go to Bohol, which has Tagbilaran City [the capital]. Boracay only has Boracay, of course, keep in mind that it also has that famous night life for those who like to party.”
Besides Henann’s ongoing developments in Boracay and Bohol, Chusuey’s company also plans to build resorts in Coron, Palawan. He has already acquired an exclusive island and a blueprint designed by renowned Filipino architect Jun Palafox ready for the building.
Chusuey, however, revealed that the project is currently on hold because research reveals that nearby exclusive island resorts currently have low occupancy rates. He has therefore decided to develop a property in Coron’s mainland first.
And after brining the Henann brand to this beautiful island west of Philippines, Chusuey is thinking of going to another southern surfing destination, Siargao in Surigao del Norte, for his future projects.
With no signs of slowing down in pushing the best destinations the Philippines has to offer through his business, Chusuey clarifies, “There is no measurement in terms of wealth for me. No matter how big you are or how rich you are is one thing, but what is truly important for me is that you enjoy your work when expanding in business.”
PH’s full potential
As an expert in the hotel industry, Chusuey believes that the Philippines has not yet reached its full potential in terms of tourism.
The businessman cited three very good reasons. He elaborates, “First, we’re an English-speaking country [so we are]easy to deal with for the tourists. Second, we are cheap. You go to other destinations, the rooms are [priced]$400 to $700, and they are similar to what we have but we only charge from $150 to $200. And lastly, people in this country are very warm and are hardly rude.”
How then can the Philippines achieve its rightful place as a tourist destination?
“The government has to do its part overall, because the private sectors can only do so much. It should be a 50/50 participation between us.”
According to Chusuey, the government should focus on safety and infrastructure, most importantly airports.
“Airports are the no. 1 problem of Philippine tourism,” he laments. “All destinations must have its own international airport. And moreover, when you look at Boracay or Bohol, their airports are far from world-class.”
Chusuey is bewildered why the Panglao Bohol International Airport (PBIA), which was inaugurated by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2008, is still not operating, so that the province’s main airport yet very small airport in Tagbilaran is left to accommodate one plane at a time.
If and when the government resolves the country’s airport problems, Chusuey hopes they will operate interconnecting flights among the various destinations. With this, local and international tourists can fly from one point to another.
“Just imagine tourists flying from Boracay [via Caticlan]to Bohol [via Panglao]? Then, business will start,” he enthuses.
Currently, Chusuey is also waiting for the final plans for the Boracay leg of the coming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, and promises that the Henann Group will do the country proud in hosting the neighboring delegates.
Besides being a hardworking businessman, Chusuey is also a loving husband to Ann, and father to Alfonso Louis, Karl Hendrik, and Christina Ann, who he considers his life’s biggest blessings.
“I’m very lucky because my family is very understanding,” says the ever-busy Henann chairman.
He realized this when he was conferred a Doctor of Humanities Degree, honoris causa, by the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City in 2013. He recalls, “My daughter was crying. She said now they understand why I was always away when they were younger. Why I had less time for them as if they were just my second priority. They knew then that it was all for them.”
Even if he was constantly traveling when his children were little, Chusuey is grateful he and his wife were still able to raise them well without ever spoiling them.
“I’m quite strict. I always tell them, ‘You can only be treated like a treasure, if you are a treasure.’ I do not spoil them, because you’re only getting them into trouble if you do that.”
Chusuey is also in the process of passing on the torch to his two sons.
“My eldest [Alfonso] is like my right hand. He is now in charge of the expansion and building of new resorts. My second son [Karl] is in charge of marketing here in our Manila office.”
As for how he is as a husband, Chusuey quips, “I think you’ll have to ask my wife.”
But on a more serious note, he ends, “As a husband, I provide everything that she wants. And I make her happy, that’s very important.”