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Reflecting on our Journey: Opening the hotel

Chronicles of Nuuk Taal - Vol 1.


Welcome to Nuuk Taal Lake's new blog !


Connecting with our guests in this written form has always been something we've wanted to do and hopefully this will allow you to feel connected to us even when you're not here. I should probably start with introducing myself - I'm Katleya Nielsen, Founder, Co-Owner and President of Nuuk Taal. Although I'm writing this blog post today, I'll also be opening this up to our team at the hotel to write about our experiences, topics that affect us and ones we are passionate about. From design, food, the lake, current events or special packages, we plan to cover it all. So, please do stay tuned.


Nuuk Taal Lake hotel with Tagaytay in the backdrop

Our Journey to Opening the Hotel: Back to the Beginning


Five years ago, we embarked on an exciting and challenging adventure – to convert our family vacation home into a boutique hotel by the tranquil shores of Taal Lake. This journey has certainly been filled with its fair share of ups and downs, but it has also been incredibly rewarding. For our first post, I’d like to take you through the highlights and the lessons we've learned in our path to becoming hoteliers.


The Vision


My journey, specifically, began with a far-fetched dream. Looking out at the hustle and bustle of Fleet Street through the windows of my London office, I was contending with a niggling thought that kept creeping into my mind for weeks – that I had another story waiting to be written. A story beyond the daily grind – the underground commute, the never-ending household chores, and the general predictability of the next day. Although on most counts happy with my job and the lifestyle it afforded me, it somehow still felt like living life and getting time with my family would always happen “tomorrow” – like it was a can that could be kicked down the road. Then amongst those thoughts, fond memories of my childhood in the Philippines kept coming to the forefront of my mind.


My workplace on Fleet Street

After weeks of contemplation, the call to come home kept getting stronger. And if I was to move back with my family, the easiest option would be for my husband and I to stay in the world of investment banking. But at this point it wasn’t about choosing the easiest option. If we were already going to uproot our lives, why not take the plunge and make a substantial change? Amidst the flurry of business ideas that I sifted through in my mind, there was one that I knew had my heart. But it was going to be a huge challenge fraught with risks and complications. It was the dream of bringing life back into our vacation home in Batangas by transforming the property into a one-of-a-kind boutique gastro-hotel.


The halls of our home used to echo the laughter of my youth. The footsteps and the tracks on the floors used to tell the story of endless games of hide-and-seek and the first time my father taught me how to ride a bike. The walls were adorned with memories – of posing for family portraits, of my mother’s passion for art and antiques, of artefacts from my father’s travels, of heirlooms from my grandparents. Even the air remembered the love – the love between my parents, the love we shared as a family, and the love in the warm embrace of my mother. Visiting as an adult, I would roam the property and be greeted with flashbacks from every corner I’d stumble upon. I remember the warm glow of Christmas lights and seeing my father pretending to be Santa Claus with a beard made of shaving cream. When I stand at the balcony, I see my father reading a booking with a pipe in hand. When I look at the lounge, I see all the hours spent with my grandma playing cards. Walking through the garden and stopping under a tree, I would relive the countless hours I would play ‘house’ and play ‘kitchen’ with leaves, sticks and coconut shells. Then there was the lake. Till this day, I look out at the waters and am reminded of my father’s sailboat, wading on the lakeshore to collect shells or make slimeballs out of the mossy seaweed with my sisters. But time passed and those footsteps began to disappear, and the light began to fade. The place had a soul, and this was our chance to revive it.



The Planning Phase


The planning phase was intense and required meticulous attention to detail. Whilst taking the Les Roches Postgraduate in Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts at Enderun College (Yes..I went back to uni for another degree with kids half my age!), I began planning, researching, procuring, designing, drawing, cooking, running the financials….the list goes on – working tirelessly to absorb as much information as possible and then, simultaneously, to translate those concepts into tangible plans. Every aspect of the hotel, from the room decor to the landscaping, had to align with the serene and intimate atmosphere I wanted to create. And it also had to remain a true reflection of our home’s original story, by bringing my family’s two cultures together – Filipino and Danish.


Hotel Construction & Setbacks


As with any major project, we faced our fair share of challenges during the renovation and construction phase. Weather delays, budget constraints, and contractor issues (among many other things) tested our patience and resolve. Just when we thought we were nearing the finish line (being about three months out from completion), the volcano erupted. And we did not see that coming… We probably should have factored that in more seriously into our risk assessments, (and before ploughing a huge chunk of our savings into the project!) but hindsight is always 20/20. We thought we lost everything. We were distraught for weeks. But God was merciful and protected our property from devastation. Then just as we were ready to bounce back and recommence the construction, the COVID-19 pandemic struck.




The Impact of 2020


The pandemic hit the hospitality industry hard, and we were not immune to its effects. We had to implement and adapt quickly to changing safety protocols, keep our occupancy low, implement rigorous sanitation and cleaning procedures, and maintain all our staff even through the lockdowns. While it was a tough period, it was also, in a way, the perfect storm. Our hotel was different from the others. Our concept from the outset was to keep the number of rooms limited in order to maintain the privacy of our guests and to create an intimate environment; and it was this aspect of our business model that played to our advantage and saw us through the period. Our guests felt safe leaving their homes and coming to us. It was heartwarming to see extended families seeing each other for the first time in months.


Sunset view of Taal Volcano from Nuuk Taal boutique hotel with the volcano steaming post its 2020 volcanic eruption

At times it felt like there was no end to our woes. If it wasn’t a COVID lockdown, it was the rumbles from the volcano causing an Alert Level to increase and another Taal Volcano-related lockdown to be announced. Not only had we consulted doctors repeatedly to ensure our safety protocols were up to international standards, we spoke to PHIVOLCS so much that it felt like we were turning into rookie volcanologists! We now look back at this time in Nuuk’s history and can see how far keeping your head up, remaining positive, working strategically, and being nimble can see you through some really tough times.


To this day, we are thankful for the resilience of our staff (or who we call, our Nuuk family), in standing with us through thick and thin. And we are humbled for the support of all the guests that have walked through our doors – we don’t take a single one for granted.


Creating Memorable Experiences


From the very beginning, we focused on providing exceptional guest experiences and for every guest to leave with unforgettable memories of their stay. For us, the key to this has been building a real team, persisting despite staff-related setbacks, working with them to understand the true meaning and importance of hospitality and focusing on our mission and vision. We’ve had to live and breathe our core principles daily and to get our team to embrace their purpose in the most simplest of terms – to bring smiles to our guests’ faces. A smile can be underestimated these days, and yet it carries so much power and significance. A genuine smile is the fastest method of communication and is the sincerest of expressions that can bring people closer together. Smiling represents happiness or, at the very least, being at ease and comfortable. Smiling is healing.


As we reflect on how the operations have gone since opening, we’re grateful for the overwhelmingly positive feedback that we have received thus far. We have been taken aback by all the compliments given by our guests and we certainly realise that they don’t have to share their sentiments, but we are humbled every time they do. It really makes it all worth if for all of us and it never gets old. Every review, every kind word and every smile. And for those of you that may have visited us already, enjoyed your stay and haven’t left us a review on Google or TripAdvisor, it’s never too late and it really can go a long way ;)


Of course, no one is perfect (despite trying our level best to achieve that) or immune from making mistakes and judgement errors. So, we’ve had to learn to take the good in with the bad and instil the mindset into our teams of taking feedback as constructive criticism that will allow us to grow and get stronger. We focus on what we do well, but we don’t forget all the little things that we can do to make the next guest happier than the last.


Looking Ahead


People often ask, what’s next for Nuuk? And all I’ll say for now is that we won’t be resting on our laurels. What the last five years have taught us is that absolutely anything can come our way, so our priority is to continue to stay patient, build a resilient brand that can navigate any storm ahead and to continue to make small improvements that will enhance our delivery to our guests. We’re in this for the long haul.


Reflection

Nuuk Taal has been a dream come true. It's a testament to what can be achieved with determination, hard work, and a clear vision. This incredible journey has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, challenges, and successes and the lessons I've learned along the way have made me a better hotelier and a more resilient entrepreneur. But this industry and this type of project is not for the faint hearted. It’s certainly harder than I ever thought it would be.


In the beginning, it was all a ‘dream’. The idea of actually opening our own business and playing hotelier. But then reality hits and it tries its best to tear you to pieces. But you don’t let it. You stay strong. Strength comes from different places for different people. Mine mainly came from leaning on my husband (my partner in life and in this business), the unwavering support of my sister and parents, the comfort of my children, our incredible staff, my faith, lots of deep breaths, and at the very top, a humming inner strength that wouldn’t let me falter.


When finding yourself ruminating on a challenge or a choice, you can always ask yourself what’s really important to you and why you choose to persevere in this direction? Nuuk Taal (before it was ever called that) has always been a touchstone for precious memories during my formative years and it has been a symbol of our family’s shared love and values. And by persevering on this journey and keeping our doors open as a hotel (no matter the challenge), we’ve been able to share this gift – allowing other families and friends to make their own unique memories here. Because of this, I remain driven by the knowledge that the choices we made five years ago will allow the heart of Nuuk Taal to keep beating for (what I pray will be) decades to come.


Yours,

Katleya Nielsen

President, Nuuk Inc.




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