From love motels to Christian hotels

MANILA, Philippines – In Manila, there lived a “king” who ran motels notorious for hosting two-timers who played with fire or couples who met for short trysts, especially during the love month of February.

The managers even urged hookers in bars to bring their patrons to their motels, so every night was profitable like no other.

But 7 years ago, Wyden King yielded to what he called a “conviction,” or “being awakened from a state of sin,” and as a result, sought repentance. It was a long time to fully obey God, as he became a born again Christian way back in 1992.

King is the son of Angelo King, the Filipino-Chinese, self-made businessman and philanthropist, who made a fortune from the popular Anito Motels.

“I had a conviction to go to the north to close the business,” King told Rappler in an interview.

From Anito to a ‘Christian’ hotel chain

The conviction led to the closure of the highly profitable Anito chain of motels, which were named after the collective Filipino pre-Hispanic belief on spirits.

King now identifies himself as a Christian who runs a business guided by Christian principles.

King leads Armadillo Holdings Incorporated (AHI), the parent company of Legend Hotels Corporation (LHIC), which in turn, operates Kabayan Hotel, a no-frills hotel catering to overseas Filipino workers returning to the Philippines, looking for an affordable overnight stay in the capital.

“It’s not fancy wancy but a nice place to stay if you just want a place to rest your head and have decent meals,” said one guest in his review of King’s hotel in 2014.

Apart from Kabayan Hotel, LHIC operates The Legend Villas in Mandaluyong, The Legend Palawan, The Mabuhay Manor, PinoyPamilya, and MyPlace.

The hotels show that King’s transformation was for real.

At each of the hotel’s lobby stands a wooden drop box, where guests could convey their prayer requests.

Prayers, too, play a role in the business. Every morning, the workers gather to pray together. It goes on for the whole week, “for them to experience God,” said King.

The story about the transformation of the former Anito Motel operator has become so popular, it has preceded King’s name.

“When people ask me where I work, I would tell them, I work for that company run by a man who used to own motels which he closed because he was born again,” said Jay Jaraplasan, the hotel’s business development officer.

The hotels no longer serve a niche market, and moved on to cater to a wider one.

“We’re not targeting couples. We work on families and corporate bodies,” said Abigail Apura, the hotel’s marketing officer.

In a way, the hotels’ shift from a “love hotel” image made sense.

Amor Maclang, an expert on brand architecture as well as crisis management for over 14 years, shared the perils of branding products for only a single occasion.

Love hotels, for instance, see a spike on sales on Valentine’s Day, but what about on other days?

“You need to extend the lifetime of a product so it’s not only tied to one day,” Maclang said.

Less profits

But for King, the re-branding was not a contrived one, but rather a statement on how serious he was about his spiritual transformation.

“We’re not so aware of the image. It’s just that, I had a conviction to the Lord to close down the business,” King said.

While marketing the hotels with this dramatic, turnaround story sparked some interest, it also brought with it accompanying challenges.

5 years ago, LHIC lost P37.91 million ($858,080.57) in net income, from earnings of P8.58 million ($194,205.52) in 2009.

They recovered in 2012 with P9.96 million ($225,441.38) in income, and in 2013 at P10.85 million ($245,586.24).

Competition from other hotel companies is part of the reason. King said he was “betrayed” by partners from Anito days who formed their own chain of love hotels.

Also contributing to his leaner profit was his fulfillment of tax obligations. They also regularly gave tithes to the church.

“There’s a moral standard we abide by. Furthermore, we join our Christian beliefs in the way we do our business,” he said.

What made sense, too, was when AHI diversified its assets to stay profitable. Under the parent company are firms engaged in garments and laundry, leasing, and real estate.

AHI owns the Titanium Corporation, Ithiel Corporation, Kalinisan Laundry Group, Clean Living Incorporated, St Raphael Development Corporation, and Kings Development Corporation. Combined, they employ more than 2,000 workers.

God’s plan

King takes the back seat in running the business now, as he’s focused on running Nameless Faceless Selfless, another AHI subsidiary which provides spiritual services chiefly for the workers.

Making a profit is no longer his preoccupation, he said. “What’s important with God is character, and not wealth.”

King foresees that his businesses will grow at a very slow rate.

When he lost the last Anito Motels chain in 2008, it meant sacrificing a cash cow that earned for him almost P2 million ($45,269.35) every day.

“What is important with God is we become in His image and likeness, because that’s God’s plan,” the transformed King said. – First published on