Former Asian Spirit owner diversifies into tourism, air ambulance


A look at Archibald Po

Written by Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo

BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan—Archibald Po, former majority shareholder of Asian Spirit (now Zest Airways), is now going full blast in his investments in the tourism industry by opening another boutique hotel.

A pilot by profession, Po also recently set up an air ambulance service in Singapore, bringing in patients as far as Nepal and India to hospitals in the city-state.

In an interview, Po said his new resort, called Hotel Soffia, was built at a cost of P100 million under his property concern, Kifessia Realty Corp. “It’s always been a dream of mine to build a hotel on this island, which I passed so often during my flying days in the 1980s.”

Architect/interior designer/master plumber Chi-chi Victoriano, who also did the Amorita Hotel in Bohol, designed the boutique hotel. Because he is an environmentalist, Po explained that the hotel uses only natural lighting aside from its energy-saving light bulbs, solar heaters, and filters its waste in a leaching field which produces fertilizer, instead of emptying into the island’s sewerage system.

It employs 50 employees in three shifts for its round-the-clock operations, making it a “very lean” hotel, he added. Room rates of the hotel are “affordable”, ranging from P3,500 ++ (standard, twin/triple-share) to P5,000 ++ (superior, twin/triple-share).

Although nestled on a hill in barangay Yapak, the hotel, Po said, will attract Boracay tourists who want quiet and privacy, but still need quick access to the restaurant strip and main white beach. “You just relax here and swim in our infinity pool. Or have your cocktails while taking in the 340-degree view of the island. If you want to go to the beach or the party places, we’ll transport you there. It’s only seven minutes away.”

This is the second boutique hotel to his name after the 48-room Hotel Fleuris in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, built at a cost of P90 million. Said to be a “favorite” among diplomatic embassies, consular offices, Fleuris is now on its 11th year of operation, “but it still looks brand new,” said Po. At least 84 percent of Tripadvisor members who have stayed at Fleuris have dubbed it the “cleanest and friendliest” hotel in Puerto Princesa.

Po said he is considering to build another hotel in Basco, Batanes, and is currently evaluating other possible hotel sites in the country.

“I think the Philippines has no way to go except tourism. That is what will save our economy, not manufacturing, which is already the stronghold of China,” he stressed.

Meanwhile, Po recently bought a Hawker jet to beef up his fleet of air ambulances via Executive Jets Asia, a company in partnership with other Asian and American air transport experts.

Po said he invested some $4 million in the company, based in Selatar Airport (East Camp), Singapore, supplying the company’s four-plane fleet. The company also provides cost-effective executive jet transport services to the region’s high-powered businessmen.

“All the jets are convertible to air ambulances,” he explained, adding that the planes, mostly eight-seaters, are chartered by hospitals, insurance firms and individuals needing quick medical evacuations for critical medical conditions.

Po praised the Singapore government for its efficient bureaucracy, allowing businesses to operate with the most minimal permits and signatures required. “An air ambulance, for instance, has to mobilize quickly in less than 45 minutes,” he stressed.

He said he is eyeing to invest another $2 million to expand the operations and maintain four planes in Singapore. He is also eyeing to expand to other countries.

Po also operates LionAir Inc., a charter service with 20 helicopters and two LET aircraft. The company is also the licensed distributor and service center of the Torrance, California-based Robinson Helicopter Co. in the Philippines. A number of well-known politicians and high-profile businessmen in the country are owners of Robinson choppers. LionAir is also the favorite go-to charter service by politicians running in national elections.

In 1995 Po set up Asian Spirit with two other businessmen—Antonio Turralba Jr. and Noel Oñate—capitalizing it a cost of $3 million. In May 2007, he sold his shares in the airline to Antonio Ang, founder of CATS, the distributor of Mercedes-Benz locally. Ang, in turn, along with the airline’s minority shareholders, subsequently sold their shares to juice king Alfredo Yao in March 2008.

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