“I am very optimistic that we will be able to open our doors to everyone once this pandemic is over.”
After nearly two years of COVID-19, countless lockdowns, and regulations meant to keep the populace safe, it seems we might start seeing the end of the rainbow.
According to the presidential adviser for COVID-19 response Vince Dizon, the approach to transition from a state of a pandemic to an endemic—which in effect means that COVID-19 will now merely be treated like a common cold—will begin sometime in February, or when case levels return to the state they were in the days before Omicron.
For business leaders, this is a relief. The welcome rebound of the economy after years of shockwaves could not have come for a better time. Kevin Tan, CEO of Alliance Global Group Inc., says that the transition into endemicity will bode well for all the businesses under Alliance Global, particularly those affected by the existing restrictions.
“This will definitely speed up the reopening of the economy and will likely result in lesser or no restrictions at all, which our businesses are largely dependent on,” he says. “If such thing happens, this will certainly boost our recovery efforts and bring us faster to pre-pandemic levels.”
Underneath the umbrella of Alliance Global is Megaworld, Emperador, Travellers/ Resorts World Manila, Mcdonald’s Phil, Infracorp. This diversified business portfolio, which spans retail, food, beverages, and hospitality, is what Tan believes is the greatest strength of Alliance Global.
“We believe that this will provide us further with a strong foundation and stability as we move forward to a post-pandemic world,” he says, adding that the lessons learned will only help their growth. “The valuable learnings from this health crisis has further solidified our position to weather future economic disturbances, while our financial achievements provide a vital foundation and springboard for a full recovery.”
According to Tan, his number one priority in the company is the health and well-being of his employees. “We know that our people are our greatest resource and our goal has always been to keep them and their families safe and secure,” he says.
The biggest goal in those panic-filled days of March 2020 was job preservation, particularly in the hardest sectors of retail and hospitality. “We ensured that all our employees were still able to retain their jobs and get their monthly salaries, while those who got sick were given care packages and financial support, which we continue to extend up to this day,” says Tan.
As soon as vaccines became available, Alliance Global stepped up to ensure that their employees immediately benefit. “So far we have achieved 99 percent vaccination rate across Megaworld, while we have also fully vaccinated close to 60,000 or 95 percent of our front liners, employees, and service providers in the entire Alliance Global Group,” the executive says, adding that over 3,000 employees have availed of their 3rd dose.
As with any health crisis, the entire experience has impressed on Tan and his team the importance of health as a priority. While a smooth process from pandemic to endemic can’t be guaranteed, he says the focus in the meanwhile is to continue to ramp up vaccination efforts and the distribution of booster shots to employees and frontliners, “regardless whether this shift happens sooner or later.”
Strength to strength
Tan remains pragmatic when examining the impact of COVID-19 on company growth.
“The pandemic is a great equalizer and I believe no company was spared from its economic toll,” he says. In terms of Alliance Global, Tan says that the diversified business portfolio, strong brand equity, cost management, and digitization efforts are what helped them weather the storm and mitigate the impact of the pandemic, despite the mobility restrictions.
Tan is happy to report that there is an upswing in performance on all business fronts: “Our global diversification strategy in Alliance Global, particularly in our global spirits operations has delivered the most significant lift in our earnings,” he says. “Emperador’s international business led by Fundador has performed exceptionally well particularly in the UK, US, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Canada, and Asia including the Philippines, while our whiskey business has also gained a lot of momentum in North America, Europe, and Asia.”
With McDonald’s Philippines’ aggressive product innovations, the company’s quick-service restaurant business also performed well, due to drive-thru channels and upgraded online delivery platforms.
As for Megaworld, there is strong growth in real estate sales. “Our lifestyle malls have also shown signs of recovery as restrictions were eased towards the latter part of the year and more establishments were allowed to reopen including the bars, gyms, spas, personal care, and wellness centers, and cinemas,” says Tan.
In the last quarter of 2021, Megaworld opened more than 72 stores in the malls, including the newest Landers Superstore in Uptown Bonifacio, which Tan calls the most beautiful one yet.
Pick.A.Roo, which launched in August 2020 is an app that holds the honor of being the first startup investment of Megaworld Corporation under its digital technology arm AGILE Digital Ventures Inc. AGILE is focused on investing and building tech startups to support food, retail, and hospitality in the Philippines.
Tan says that the investment has started reaping success, with fast-growing delivery app Pick.A.Roo, with more than half a million or 550,000 active users as of today. Servicing 21 cities in the country, it delivers over 1,400 brands in 30 mins to one hour, from food to medicine to pet care to even specialty shops.
The app is the official delivery partner of major retail stores including S&R, Shopwise, Robinsons Supermarket, The Marketplace, The Landmark, MerryMart, True Value, Toys R Us, Toy Kingdom, and Power Mac Center. It is also the preferred delivery partner of dining brands and restaurant chains including McDonald’s, Shakey’s, Max’s Group of Restaurants, Wildflour, Cibo, Cafe Mary Grace, Tim Ho Wan, Manam, 8 Cuts, Wolfgang Steakhouse, Shangri-la Hotels, Marriott Manila Hotel, and Hilton Manila.
Intending to open more investment opportunities for more Filipinos, Alliance Global launched a real-estate investment trust company, MREIT. According to Tan, MREIT was the second top-performing IPO last year, with an increase of as much as 39.8 percent as of the end of January 2022 since its debut at the Philippine Stock Exchange.
“It has also been recognized as the Most Trusted REIT Company in the prestigious 2021 Finance Derivative Awards just 54 days after MREIT’s PSE listing,” he says, proudly.
If the last two years have been full of challenges that must be weathered, Tan is optimistic that Alliance Global will ride the wave and continue beating the odds that have risen against businesses. “We are very optimistic that despite the continued challenges, we will be able to sustain this growth momentum this year upon the easing of restrictions and reopening of the economy,” he says.
Along with Alliance Global’s diverse business portfolio, one of its biggest strengths even before the pandemic was its digitization effort. Tan says this came in handy when it came to resolving the many obstacles posed by restrictions and lockdowns.
“By pursuing a contactless strategy and migrating to more digital processes, we were able to connect and fully address the immediate needs and remain relevant to our customers and clients, while ensuring business continuity,” he says. In essence, while most other companies were struggling to pivot toward digital because Alliance Global had already invested in digital technologies, they had all the tools at their disposal.
These timely innovations included e-wallets, digital payment systems, contactless parking, virtual showrooms, and after-sales service. Mobile applications like Megaworld Hotel’s E-Concierge, for example, allow guests to have contactless interaction with hotel staff from check-in to checkout, including virtual ordering of food from various Food & Beverage outlets inside the hotels.
For Tan, the pandemic was an opportunity to identify any gaps in Alliance Global’s management plans. The entire ownership group now knows what to do in the event something more catastrophic happens.
“We’ve bolstered our preparedness and scenario planning during the early stages of the health crisis,” he says, adding that communication is key. “Our goal right from the beginning has always been to earn the trust and confidence of our stakeholders and employees by ensuring transparency on our pandemic response.”
What they learned early on was that the pandemic was not just about prioritizing the health and welfare of the employees, but to secure their financial future. “We focused on business continuity while protecting and preserving the health and safety of both our customers, partners, and own employees,” says Tan.
Relying on the strength of their core values and innate versatility, Alliance Global was able to fine-tune their strategies and adapt to altering conditions. “This allowed us to remain functional and fully operate within the limitations of the business environment.”
Because hotels and lifestyle malls are so heavily dependent on traffic, Tan and Alliance global knew they needed to find creative ways to reinvent their existing properties to ensure that both partners and customers were served well. They learned that Megaworld’s pioneering township concept is effective.
“With their highly integrated design, we were able to isolate our townships and protect our stakeholders, which effectively solved the lockdowns and restrictions in mobility and transportation,” says Tan. He is proud to report that outbreaks were averted in the townships.
When Alliance Global noticed that outdoor dining was the safest and most preferred way of dining out during the pandemic, Tan says they were among the first mall developers to respond to this new trend by maximizing their abundance of open spaces and converting them into alfresco dining areas.
“We reimagined patio dining and made an extra effort to spruce up these alfresco dining areas to make the dining experience more enjoyable, palatable, and comfortable for our customers,” he says. “Alfresco dining became a big driver in the recovery of our malls particularly when restrictions were eased towards the end of the year.”
Properties were reinvented to make bigger and better destinations for customers, while at the same time responding to their needs.
“A great example of this is our Greenhouse at Village Square Alabang in Las Piñas, which is a community mall that we converted into the country’s first plant mall sanctuary as we looked to cater to the growing community of plant-lovers and gardening enthusiasts,” he says.
Tan is proudest of the decision to repurpose vacant spaces within the lifestyle malls and townships as vaccination centers to help LGUs in the speeding up of the distribution of vaccines for more Filipinos. As of today, there are 11.
“We also partnered with various government agencies including the Department of Foreign Affairs, Land Transportation Office, Bureau of Quarantine, COMELEC, and the Philippine Statistics Authority, among others and provided them with spaces for their satellite offices to speed up the delivery of essential services to our countrymen,” he says.
Tan notes the pandemic allowed them to explore creative opportunities for Megaworld Hotels & Resorts and Travellers International, even if the tourism and hospitality industry were one of the hardest-hit sectors. Resorts World Manila now has a new food delivery service called Delishvery. Hilton Manila has The Vubble, which are the Philippines’ first-ever luxury outdoor pods.
In addition, the hotels were also used as quarantine facilities, which greatly helped the government in managing the influx of returning Filipinos and OFWs.
Sustainability is the key
As someone in the business of malls, there is no question Tan would like people to continue spending because this encourages economic growth. However, he is conscious of his role as a responsible corporate citizen.
“We have the resources and the influence to effect change and we must work extra hard to enjoin our customers and communities into this noble cause,” he says.
Being more conscious and responsible for the long-term social, economic and environmental impact of their businesses, he continues, is “something we have been advocating and we continue to lead by example by pursuing more sustainable developments such as LEED-certified buildings and by infusing more renewable sources of power into our energy mix including solar panels.”
One of the steps within Alliance Global is the Zero Waste Lifestyle campaign. The long-term goal is to achieve plastic neutrality. “We aim to fulfill this by encouraging and incentivizing proper waste segregation at the source,” he says.
Targeted toward all members of the community including tenant-partners, residents, the property management office, service providers, and all visitors of our townships, they initially launched the pilot program in Eastwood City and McKinley Hill. They hope to expand this to the rest of our townships moving forward.
When the pandemic ends, as a businessman Tan is looking forward to the day when he can welcome customers of all ages back to the malls, hotels, and tourism development.
“Nothing satisfies me more than being able to bring added value and happiness to families and our customers and I am very optimistic that we will be able to open our doors to everyone once this pandemic is over,” he says.
Away from that, as a normal man with a family, he would like to continue traveling once again with his family. “I do enjoy discovering and experiencing new places, cultures and cuisines, and of course, learning, which is something I look forward to sharing with my kids.” Tan is also a huge fan of going to big events like concerts. “This is something I’ve really enjoyed and sorely missed.” He mentions that he would like to see Coldplay again.
Like many of us, Tan has used his free time to explore himself and rediscover old passions. “I had more opportunities to read more books than I used to read before,” he says.
Many of the new books he read, he shares, were instrumental in providing a fresh perspective and a more meaningful outlook in life. Two of these books were Bezonomics: How Amazon Is Changing Our Lives and What the World’s Best Companies Are Learning from It by Brian Dumaine and The Book of Joy by the 14th Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.
“Reading more books changed the way I see and view the world, how I understand the way things are done and how to connect with other people on a much deeper level,” Tan says. “It also gave me new insights and sparked new ideas, which proved to be very useful in keeping me on top of my game despite the unique and less than ideal circumstances we were in.”
He finds himself also thinking of the lessons his father taught him when he was growing up. “He taught me to see beyond what is in front of me and to always look for opportunities even in the most challenging of situations,” says Tan.
He wants to impart this same lesson to his children when they grow up. “There are new opportunities even in the time of crisis,” he says. “It is really up to you to discover these opportunities.”
Photos DOOKIE DUCAY, assisted by MARK JASON CATUNGA
Creative direction MARC YELLOW
Sittings editor DONG RONQUILLO
Styling ROKO ARCEO
Hair CATS DEL ROSARIO
Videographer JOSE RAMIREZ
Video director FERRENA ENRIQUEZ
Shoot coordination MAE TALAID