For a man who has seen the transition of the island, from a quiet paradise to now one of the world’s busiest tourist destination, Leopold “Bong” Tirol believes that Boracay is his calling.
During his childhood years, he would always risk taking more than an hour boat trip from the port of Nabas on board a pump boat that could carry only at least 10 persons, just to get a feel of the long stretch of fine white sand beach.
A native of Ibajay, Aklan but the pristine Boracay was his playground.
“Boracay is part of my childhood and my teenage years. I’ve been here since the 70s,” Bong shared.
He witnessed Boracay’s once raw beauty until it evolved into a giant tourism hub.
It was on 1980s when tourists started coming in and out of the island, mostly backpackers and majority of them stayed, Bong shared.
The experience became Bong’s inspiration, to bring development to the place he considers “home.”
For his education, Bong left the province and studied in Manila.
After finishing a business degree at the De La Salle University, with only two summer months as a break from school, Bong immediately entered the corporate life and landed an executive job at Fil-Estate at the age of 21.
At a young age, the skills he inherited from his parents, and with the influence of his grandparents, business development turned out to be an expertise for Bong.
With his father, Leonard Tirol.
He came back to Boracay and became a part of the team that first brought the biggest development to the island.
Upon his comeback in the mid 1990s, he was with Fairways Bluewater Resort Golf and Country Club.
He was there when Fairways acquired a property in the island in 1992 from the most landed
Tirol family and as it started the development in 1995. He was also there when the Resort and Golf Course became operational in 1997 which lured more tourists especially from other countries. He also organized the opening of the Golf Course which hosted the 1st Johnny Walker Super Tour with world famous golfers, like Ernie Els and Nick Faldo as guests.
This development initiated and jumpstarted for more business and establishments to sprout.
In 1998, he went back to Manila to fulfill his duties as a corporate head until he decided to settle in Boracay in 2004.
“I travel back and forth to Manila. But at the end of the day, I still come home. Boracay is my calling,” he said in an interview with the WV Informer.
Bong started at Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa in 2004 as a Project Manager. Now, he is the Director for Government Affairs of one of the island’s most reputable business establishment.
With his affable personality, Bong manages to easily get along with people in all walks of life – from his business partners, guests of varied nationalities, to the hotel’s staff and employee down to the island’s street vendors.
But more than being the manager and the boss, he is a friend to everyone.
In his almost 19 years in the corporate world, this 40-year old man still considers work as an opportunity.
“Along the way, you get opportunities to work with your friends; opportunities that opens up for you to have advocacy,” he said.
Asked what his advocacy is, Bong said it is what he can do for the island.
Though he is related to a political family, Bong believes that a position in public office is not a prerequisite to promote the betterment of the island.
“I am not a politician, but I do what I am supposed to be doing in the island – conservation and sustainability,” he stressed.
That is why his contribution spans from development, sustainability and relationship with the local community and the stakeholders of the island.
“I don’t look at the island here only in Shangri-La. I don’t look at the island at the properties our family own. I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as a whole. What I do here (at Shangri-La) will affect the whole island. What I do on the other side of the island will affect the whole Shangri-La,” Bong shared.
Believing that Boracay must have responsible and sustainable development, Bong shared that the government and the private sector should work together.
“They really should have a conscious effort in their methodologies of development and not compromising the environment, and to sustain the basic services that the island has,” he said.
One effort is the conservation of the natural resources including what made this island famous – its white sand beaches, he added.
In Shangri-La, environmental practices like the use of solar panels for electricity and the use of water treatment plants for reusable water for domestic use.
This was started for other hotels to see, as a way of them to follow, Bong explained.
Aside from his duties at Shangri-La, Bong spends another two days of his week at the Boracay Airport.
He also serves as the airport manager of TransAire Holdings Corporation, a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation which is currently operating Boracay (Caticlan) Airport also known as the Godofredo P. Ramos Airport.
His start at the airport on 2010 was a challenge for Bong. With the takeover of the TransAire, Bong inherited the employees of the airport which was previously government operated.
But he got the full cooperation of the group naturally.
With its vital role in keeping tourism alive in Boracay, Bong faces another challenge – giving a good impression to tourists as they arrive at the airport, and keeping it as they leave.
With more than 50,000 passengers monthly, Bong trained his people to always satisfy their guest with utmost service; sharing a 5-star level of service from his involvement in Shangri-La and extending it to the passengers and partners at Boracay Airport.
“Tourism is all we have. And Boracay is on top of it. Next to tourism is the people,” he said.
Sharing his own experience as the airport manager since 2010, Bong said that as the tourists come in, they are more focused on the destination; and it’s Boracay.
But when they leave, that is where the airport will be appreciated and remembered.
“Therefore, you really have to manage them well. Delight them. That is where the impression will last,” he said adding that these people will tell other people about Boracay.
MANAGING HIS TIME
With his busy schedule, holding two of the most influential positions in Boracay and both equally demanding, how does he keep up?
It is just discipline in time management. Bong shared that being busy is where you see how good you are.
“A good leader should also be good in his time management. If you can manage yourself well. You can also manage other people,” he stressed.
With so many responsibilities he face, Bong also ventured in publication business. He is currently the Chief Executive Officer of WV Informer, the first Boracay based regional newspaper in Western Visayas.
Meanwhile, one more tip from this manager is to follow what you scheduled for the day and the week.
Another secret is prioritizing what is important.
And on top of his priorities are his family and his time for himself.
“Always have time for your family and for yourself,” he said.
Though he considered himself lucky to have a very understanding family, Bong advised other businessmen to not compromise their time for their family.
Saturday is Bong’s personal time. Evident with his physique, Bong is into a number of sports, even extreme.
He runs, swim; plays golf, tennis, Jet Ski safari and the list goes on.
Sometimes, if needed, his spillover work is done on a Saturday.
But Sunday is a non-negotiable day for him. He doesn’t pick up the phone. No more emails and phone calls; because it is a time for his family, most often spent at the beach for the family’s Sunday lunch tradition.
On Sundays, he is just a father to a nine-year-old daughter, Sasha, and to his two sons, Lucas and Ethan, aged six and three, also, a husband to Amanda
“Family must be more than anything else. I see to it that every year, I take a break,” Bong said.
That’s how sacred their vacation is, for it is the only time where they could be together alone as a family.
Bong also recognizes that part of his success is his wife.
Amanda, aside from having her own business, is a seasoned wedding planner based in Boracay who has a more demanding schedule, as a sought after brand in island destination weddings.
She has been his best executive partner and consultant at work and the best partner in life, as what Bong described her.
“We are like best friends. We share things and opinion. We argue, but at the end of the day, we decide as one,” Bong added.
With most of his precious moments in life anchored in Boracay, including his famous underwater proposal to his wife of 11 years, Bong said he could never see himself in another place.
“My life is here. I can see that my life is this island. Boracay is my life,” Bong stressed.*