For many years, Asian chains, Accor and InterContinental ruled the luxury hotel scene in Manila. But more recently the large US chains have “uncovered” the capital of one of the fastest growing economies in Asia and opened up hotels. The latest to the party is Hilton Worldwide with their upscale Conrad brand opening near Manila Bay. And while the new Conrad Manila has a lot to offer, they still have ways to go to upset the competition!
Location: The Conrad Manila is located by the Manila Bay and connected to the SMX Convention Center near the Mall of Asia and Arena. There is a new, upscale mall in the same complex and they are a short drive from the City of Dreams and Solaire Casinos and entertainment complexes. That gives the Conrad easy access to a lot of places you might want to be – very important considering the horrible Manila traffic. Thanks to the new skyway, the ride from the airport should be 20-45 minutes, depending on the terminal. If you are in Manila on business with meetings in Makati, Ortigas or Fort Bonifacio Global City, the Conrad is not a good candidate – travel will be anywhere between 1-2h depending on traffic.
Service/Rewards: The front desk welcomed us to the hotel, checked our reservation and eventually acknowledged my Hilton HHonors Diamond membership, directing us to the Executive Lounge. While I appreciate Executive Lounge benefits (a lot!), check in there is not one of them, if it ends up taking longer to complete than at the front desk. Staff at the lounge was professional and friendly, completed the check in and explained the hotel amenities and Executive Lounge benefits to us. The Lounge staff was very attentive and friendly throughout our stay, offering the level of service I’d expect from the lounge of a luxury hotel. Housekeeping had done a great job and prepared our room perfectly, with everything clean, stocked and in good working order.
Access to the lounge is one of my favorite benefits of Hilton HHonors Gold/Diamond elite and was granted on this stay. We had booked a “Bayview Deluxe” room and received an “upgrade” to an executive level room – which I consider a “fake” upgrade as it is the exact same room on the level of the executive floor, not much of an upgrade considering that the hotel only has 7 levels! From a new hotel that was not sold out, I had hopes for a more meaningful upgrade! We did receive a nice welcome amenities of dried fruits and chocolates – comparable to US hotels, but a far cry from the generosity at the Sofitel Manila! I requested a late checkout (an Elite benefit based on availability), but despite being on a Sunday, it was declined!
Room: I’d consider our room classic luxury as you’d expect from a conservative luxury brand, held mostly in beige/brown tones that are inoffensive. The king-size bed was very comfortable, carpets are thick and soft and the furniture is held in light-wood look. There is a nice sofa by the window to relax with a great view over the bay. The work desk has all the modern outlets, including USB and international power plugs and a chair that seemed somewhat out of place, like snatched from a conference room. The cupboard holding the fridge, coffee/tea facilities, glasses and snacks is very functional and stylish, with rounded edges and many drawers for everything, including gummi bears (my all-time favorite!). Despite the very high-end furniture, there is a scarcity of artwork I’d expect in a luxury hotel – the room felt rather spartan for it – that’s the last “feeling” you want to give in a luxury hotel!
The bathroom has a the toilet in one corner, the large sink and vanity at the center and a glass-enclosed shower on the other side, with a frosted glass window to the bathroom for more light. The bathroom is held in brown/grey marble and certainly looks very high-end! A full set of bath amenities, thick towels, a hairdryer and even a scale are provided. In a luxury hotel of this category, I’d expect a separate shower and tub, like at the stunning Conrad Macau, so the shower-only is a little disappointing.
The free WiFi internet was very fast at an average speed of 11.6Mbps and reliable throughout our stay! That’s the fastest I have found at any hotel in the Philippines so far!
The worst “feature” of the room is its location. While I enjoy the bay view, there is a fair ground between the hotel and bay, with rides, loud music and boisterous crowds til late at night, making these more expensive rooms without proper sound insulation very noisy. I didn’t get much sleep and I would not recommend to pay for a bay view room (or to accept an “upgrade”) – stick with a quieter interior, pool view room instead.
Amenities/Restaurant: While I usually don’t consider the lobby or hallways an amenity, the Conrad Manila deserves mentioning. It has the most impressive exterior and public spaces design I’ve seen in Manila. From the soaring ceilings and beautifully shaped wood walls to the elaborate glass chandeliers and the designer furniture, the Conrad is very impressive. Oddly, that beautiful design seemed to have run into cost cutting measures along the way – half the designer chairs were missing their designer tables and half the walls hadn’t gotten their artwork.
The hotel has a good size fitness center with cardio and weight equipment, enough for a full workout. Despite the Manila Bay location, the pool is surrounded by the hotel wings, leaving it without a view and feeling cramped. There are loungers on one side of the pool and on a little “island” in the pool. Between the limited space and the surrounding walls, families with children playing made it rather noisy for a luxury resort. Pool staff was not very attentive, leaving us to find chairs and towels on our own. Cold towels or water typically offered at hotels in this category in Asia were not available, and neither was staff coming around to take drink or food orders.
The Executive Lounge was just as beautiful as the other public spaces, but also seemed to lack the funds to complete it or operate it. There are different spaces with comfortable couches or more restaurant style seating, as well as a buffet area at the end of the lounge. While the furniture was very nice, artwork was missing. And so was a food offering that would be appropriate for a luxury hotel in the region. During happy hour, soft drinks, wine and beer are available, as well as a limited selection of cold cuts, cheese, breads and snacks. During breakfast, there are coffee/tea, juices and a limited selection of pastries, breads, jams and hot dishes. While this compares favorably to a lounge in the US, it can’t compete with what the Sofitel Manila or even the lower category Novotel Araneta offer.
Bottomline: At a rate of $175/night, the Conrad is more expensive than the nearby Sofitel or Hyatt, but can’t differentiate itself sufficiently, despite being the newest hotel on the market. The rooms are nice, but not impressive. Service is good, but neither as friendly and attentive nor professional as the competition. The Conrad also lacks the spacious amenities of the Sofitel with its great pool and garden or the excellent and luxurious lounge. Overall, the Conrad feels like it was designed with a vision – and operated with a tight budget, falling short of what I’d expect from a brand new luxury property in Asia. The poor sound insulation and noisy neighborhood robbed me of my sleep and that’s something I wouldn’t even accept at a budget hotel! If you are a HHonors elite member, you can expect the guaranteed benefits, but don’t expect any more. Where other hotels like the Sofitel Manila or Conrad Macau wow their guests, the Conrad Manila tries to get by at minimal cost – and that means that I’ll return to the Sofitel instead. Let’s hope that the Conrad Manila can improve its game to deliver on the brand promise and the high prices!