An impressive 17th century king-sized bed with crisp white sheets and an embellished duvet cover; a flat-screen TV housed in a quaint trattoria along the alley; classical sculptures of gods and goddesses; a sky dome ceiling; and a gondola located right smack in the middle of it all.

No, this isn’t Venice, Italy. It’s one of Victoria Court’s “Big Three” super thematic suites, the other two being striking replicas of the Oval Office and Moulin Rouge’s Elephant Room.

Just like The Venice Suite, all of Victoria Court’s rooms are themed, reveals Managing Director Atticus King. “It’s just the intensity of the theme that differentiates the ‘Big Three’ from the rest—they’re super thematic because the idea is to almost feel like you’re there. If I blindfolded you and brought you to the room, and you’re a little intoxicated, you’ll think for a second that you’re in the real Oval Office.”

An Evolving Market

When the business started in 1978, motels were oft considered Ptaboo. Mention the word “motel” and the image that immediately comes to mind are seedy secret hideaways for lovers engaged in illicit affairs. It wasn’t something you’d talk about over dinner.

Today, the businessmen, families and travelers reserving rooms in Victoria Court are fast changing old notions. While 85 percent of the guests are still couples, the establishment is now a popular venue for bridal showers, bachelor parties, spa parties, and even corporate gatherings. “People see Victoria Court differently now. Ever since we’ve repositioned our thrust as a drive-in hotel, we started attracting different segments of the market,” says Danilo Balderamos, hotel property manager. “Last December, we had around 120 parties in the Pasig branch alone. There were even days when we would have 50 parties a night.”

Indeed, Victoria Court has grown a lot in terms of social perception. “When people talk about Victoria Court, at least among the younger generation, it’s ‘Hey, I’ve been there.’ You wouldn’t hear that before, especially from women,” shares King. “Now it has become a party place where groups can hang out, and it’s come off almost like a club.”

While its popular party rooms are driving factors for changing the way the hotel is perceived, King attributes their growth largely to the evolving generation. “Censorship is such a different concept now. It’s not defined the same way our parents defined it. So I wouldn’t say that it was our party rooms that’s responsible for change, but the market itself has evolved.”

Challenging Norms

To say that Victoria Court is an exciting business would only be stating the obvious. “I think in any line of business, not just Victoria Court, someone has to be creative, imaginative, and willing to challenge the norms,” injects King. “Here, we consistently push ourselves to rethink our strategies, because they will not always be able to provide growth. One of my favorite sayings by Albert Einstein is, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.’ You always have to reinvent and think out of the box.”

Because of this, Victoria Court finds itself a cut above the rest of the motel chains in the metro. It has evolved to ensure that all product segments, from its Standard and Deluxe rooms to its Suites, are of far distant quality from its competition. “Right now, we’re the only premium brand—we charge higher, but we spend a lot on providing the best service, room design, housekeeping, F&B, and we invest on training our people. We’ve always compared ourselves to hotels in terms of standards; we don’t benchmark with the motels. We’re more like a drive-in boutique hotel,” shares King.

Even the way the company markets itself is nothing short of innovative. The omnipresent logo of an elegant woman shushing onlookers have sparked many an interesting conversation and has found its way into pop culture and marketing case studies in prominent business schools in the country. “Someone is always trying to interpret what the logo means. A guy was telling me that it was an egg cell and sperm combined—that it was all very subliminal. But it was never designed that way,” laughs King.

More than innovation, consistency places high on Victoria Court’s list of corporate values. “We always talk about ‘price guaranteed’,” Balderamos says. “We’re really particular about the quality of our service, and most especially ensuring the privacy of our guests. It’s a big no-no if there are events when this is compromised. In this business, confidentiality is our top priority.”

A Fulfilled Workforce

A visit to Victoria Court starts with the frontline staff warmly executing a traditional Thai bow, one among the many practices Victoria Court employees are trained to do. “Our strength is really in our people and our behavior,” shares King. “Our training is not just competency-based; we have an almost soul-searching type of training where we train people with life skills they can use beyond work.”

It’s a tradition the third generation King seeks to uphold. “My father has always taught me to respect and treat our employees like they’re family,” King shares. “He believes in a concept called the Peace of Mind Square, which entails developing the physical, mental, social and emotional aspects of life. That’s what he wants for our employees—he wants them to live a complete life and not just a hand-to-mouth existence.”

It’s a practice that works, affirms Balderamos. “I’ve been with the company for more than 20 years—I left for Canada at one point, but I came back. It’s the same for most of our employees. They really stay here for 20 years and up.”

“Our goal has always been to achieve world-class quality service,” shares King. “I’ve always admired the way Western communities are run, but I also understand that there are things they do that cannot work here. Since we’re a Filipino company, the best thing we’ve done is to fuse the best of our Pinoy traits and the best of the international values we’ve seen, and in doing so, we’ve captured professionalism.”

Published in the February 14, 2011 issue of the Business Agenda section of Manila Bulletin.