Tricky Facebook Ad?
Who wouldn’t be captivated by this post below. As of writing, there are already 4867 shares and 2500+ thousand comments. This place was also featured in different newspaper and TV ads so it sounded like a great place. Thus like many others, we got lured to the scenic view and booked our trip right away.
We imagined a night and day of fellowship time. That the whole house will be for us. That we will just enjoy the exhilarating view. That we will love the foggy ambiance. That we will have genuine conversations and fellowship…
Ms. Emalin Lizardo, owner and manager was also quick in responding our questions. We requested for a TV so we can watch the presidential debate and she said yes. It seemed like we were in for a peaceful treat… We had no idea that we would experience the complete opposite.
DISCLAIMER: I am only sharing what our group experienced. Other groups may have experienced differently. Sharing this so people will have an idea what to expect. Our group did not have this type of information to prepare ourselves. This is to help travellers like our family have the information they may need.
Two hours from downtown Davao City and we found ourselves in Datu Salumay, Marilog District, Davao City. We were in two vehicles. Our car carried most of the boys (so we can talk to them how to be men of God along the way) and the other car carried all the girls. We were in high hopes. Until these “unexpected turns” greeted us.
1. Some rough road, at least 30 minutes from the main highway
The Facebook ad above says it’s “5 kilometers going inside barangay road” so we expected to be in the Villa after 10 minutes driving from the highway. Nonetheless, 30-45 minutes after we were still looking for the place and it was already getting dark. The road had some concrete pavements but about 50% of it was curvy and rough road. It was ok. We did not mind that.
2. Steep stairs going up without lights at night.
The stairs going up the Villa was steep. It was already dark when we got there and there were no lights in the path. We had to use our cellphone flashlights to see where we’re going. It was a challenge for a parent like me with small kids. But we did not mind that also.
3. There’s a loud irritating videoke.
Going up we heard this loud singing. The videoke in the Villa was blasting its volumes all over the hills. At first I though it was just the caretakers redeeming their time while waiting for us. But I was completely wrong. That noise did not stop until 1am… (Murag dili lang Davao na naay law against loud videoke, or dili siguro applicable kay layo na man?)
4. Bad customer service (not professional at all)
We did not mind numbers 1, 2, and 3. We were tired and hungry. All we wanted was to rest and eat. We expected warm welcome as most of establishments would do. At least a nice, “Hi, welcome to Hills View…” would have been relieving. But to our shock, we were welcomed by a snob not a smile. Worst was… (ready for this?) they told us that they don’t have a place for us! They said, the Villa was full and couldn’t accommodate more guests!!!
(As we looked around, it’s true there was already a group occupying the Villa. They were already playing games, singing videoke and cooking their dinner when we arrived.)
But wait, what???!!! Is this all real? They don’t have a place for us??? After we reserved and gave a downpayment weeks ago? After we planned all the details and was in good communication with the manger/owner about our stay, these caretakers will tell us that the Villa was already taken?
When all we wanted was to rest, eat, unwind and fellowship, we got stress and eventually trauma instead. 😦 😦 😦
5. No capacity to communicate to the “outside world”
We asked to talk to the manager/owner and they said she’s in Davao. The very point persons we need to be talking are the lumad couple infront of us. The husband (caretaker) suggested to his wife (caretaker) that they get the other woman who has the cellphone so we can talk to the manager/owner but the wife refused cause that person maybe already sleeping cause she’s pregnant. We were trapped with no one to help us from this establishment. We were on our own.
6. The villa is not exclusive to one group making it NOT suitable for a peaceful unwinding
When this couple noticed our frustration, they offered the basement area of the villa for our accommodation. The wife however said that we won’t fit there. This basement area was supposedly for another group but they left because they did not like the place.
So they booked 3 groups on that day. The first group which arrived at 3pm. The second group which arrived later and left. And our group…
In the Facebook ad posted, it mentioned that for, “(5000 pesos whole house overnight good for 15 persons in excess 100/head additional. Can accommodate up to 25 persons) can bring food to cook, we have complete kitchen utensils… A Villa on the top of the Hill overlooking hills and mountains, a place to unwind, group / family bonding, reunions, team building, retreats, and even lovers romantic get away.” But the whole house wasn’t to ourselves alone, we had to share it with 2 more groups (supposedly if the second group did not leave).
Thus, the “unwinding” part was impossible because the place was full of people, making the rooms, CR, view deck and living area dirty and not neatly arranged like seen in photos. There were cats eating food scraps in the view deck/dining area. The group we were with was celebrating a colleague’s birthday and sang that videoke past midnight. We weren’t able to sleep much.
With this situation, we decided not to give the remaining balance. We brought money and was very much willing to pay even more. I had 17k cash and credit cards. I know the rest of the group also brought extra cash.
But we choose not to pay the balance because we signed for the WHOLE house and not the basement. We signed in believing that it’ll just be for our group and not share it with the other groups. The wife (caretaker) even asked us to leave the living area because it was for the group which came first. She wanted us all 20 heads to stay in the basement and just use the kitchen and view deck area. I had to rant and expressed my strong views about their vague marketing and cold customer service. We really feel tricked. We were overly NOT satisfied. We were even willing to just go home even without refunds if we did not have security concerns. Some of our group members had to sleep in cold floors because the basement wasn’t enough for us. 😦 😦 😦
The part of the ad that says it “can accommodate up to 25 persons” was maybe meant for one group. Unfortunately because 3 groups were booked in that day (thank God the other group left), we had to squeeze ourselves in spaces neat enough for sleeping.
Lastly, it was more a camping site not a villa. It may be nice for people who did not travel much. But for people who have been exposed to quality service and great customer service, this place was a let down.
7. Security concerns
After we were told that there was no space for us (going back to the time when we arrived), we remedied to meet the second group who was following us, get Irene and Susan (not real names) who reserved the place and were in communication with Ms. Emalin so we can go to where the cellphone signal is to talk to her. We needed to hear things first hand from the manager/owner. The caretakers weren’t very helpful. There was no point person in the Villa to resolve issues.
Jay and I did that (with our kids in the car) as we asked the boys to prepare dinner while we’re gone.
We met the second group a kilometer away from the Villa’s location. But they were not alone. They were “escorted” by 2 men on their motorbikes (habal-habal drivers). As we were talking about the situation and remedy we planned to do, these men interrupted and introduced themselves as part of the NPA detachment down the hill. Very assuring right? They told us that they also heard a lot of complains from other Villa guests about Ms. Emalin’s mismanagement. They talked decently. One however was drunk.
So we changed the plan. Instead of going to the highway, we resolved to just going back to the Villa and get that basement.
The way to the main highway was still 30 minutes away, with these “escorts” present in that pitch dark night, our kids in the car, the other group in the Villa — we decided to just accept staying the basement area. Our escorts asked P150 pesos when they left us saying they need money to buy lapad (alcoholic drink).
We told the couple (caretakers) that we will just take the basement and not go home anymore for security reasons, the wife said the NPAs are just in the barrio (so they shouldn’t be a threat) which I assumed is the place down the hill with lighted houses. About 10 minutes from the Villa.
It should not be an issue. But my mind ran wild. The villa is 30 minutes away from the main highway. Communication is almost not available. There was no security guard. It’s a scary scenario that I had to silence in my mind. As the leader of this church group, with my own family and kids in this trip; I felt responsible in some way. I had to have faith in order to feel secure. That God is with us no matter what.
To add, the view deck fencing is also not finished. Children need to be supervised especially at night because they can fall off the deck to the hill…
8. It is an unfinished building, not a fully functional and safe Villa
There were wires sticking and hanging from the ceiling. No power at daytime. There’s generator at night. There was a computer and TV in the basement but we did not see any sockets we can plug in. We asked the caretaker and he said we needed to wait because the extension wire was being used. (Goodbye presidential debate. 🙂 )
There were roaches under the covers (in the basement). The caretakers were nice enough to change it when we asked. There were first aid medicines so it was good. But we also found SEX TOYS (at least 2) in the basement room. Really not good for families with small kids. Why in the world would a establishment for unwinding and retreats hide sex toys in the very rooms they’re giving to their guests?!
There were lots of pillows and blankets. So it was good.
No fans… It was hot in the basement rooms until around midnight.
The kitchen truly has all the utensils. No fridge though. And you need to bring drinking water if not the water in the faucet is your only option.
The villa is also not sound proof so when you’re using the basement room, you can hear the footsteps of those in the view deck.
9. Confusing information
Our group just decided to enjoy the time. Despite the co-sharing set up, loud videoke and bad customer service… We talked, laughed at jokes, played Uga-Boga, took photos, after dinner. We just tried to lighten up the situation. We decided to just make it through the night and get some sleep after the videoke was turned off. It was all going smoothly so we thought. We adjusted… Breakfast time the next day however brought new challenges to spice up our day.
We were greeted by 2 new characters. They said that we need to pay the remaining balance because we were to be housed in another place called D’ Captain’s Haven. One even added that the staff there even waited for us…
😦 😦 😦
I ranted again. “Then why are you telling us this info just now? We booked our stay for Hills View Mountain Villa NOT D. Captain’s Haven. Why were we greeted coldly last night and were told that you guys DON’T have a room for us when we were supposed to stay in another place?” They did not answer. They just left. I finished my breakfast commanding myself to embrace self-control.
10. Bad customer service (yes, I have to stress this again because…)
They followed Irene wherever she went because they want her to pay. We were all already in the parking lot about to leave when they “illegally detained” Irene so she pays. When Irene explained and showed their Facebook posts of the WHOLE house thing, they keep quiet and said that we will be the one to explain to Ms. Emalin Lizardo which we were very much willing to. But they still “illegally detained” Irene. It was just her surrounded by a group of people. Some of (I think) their relatives from the nearby tribal village gathered and intimidated her.
So some of our guys went up the Villa again to get Irene. This time, they said we need to pay extra P200 for the use of the kitchen. Payment for the kitchen? It is supposedly part of the whole house? This was not communicated to us that there’s an extra kitchen payment.
My husband got fed up with this bad service and ranted… They also started coercing our group by saying to each other “atangan nato…” We were out on our own without the capacity to communicate to anyone downtown and this is what they tell us. We managed to get Irene and got inside our cars in the middle of these caretakers yelling and cursing us… (nice customer service right?). And just as we were driving away, two men in their motorbike came to the parking lot where we were. One with machete in his back…
We drove off seconds before they can get out of their motorbikes…Accounts from the second car (we were ahead of them) saw these men throw stones at them. We were traumatized that we were always watching our side mirrors checking if they followed us. If they hit us and we stopped to confront them, did they plan to attack us with their machetes? We don’t know. At least that was the message they sent to us. Hope we’re wrong.
PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Where in the world would you see a business doing this to their customers? This is totally absurd. If they have issues with us not paying the balance because they don’t understand our feeling of being tricked and frustration, they should have talked to us nicely. We would have paid because despite the “no-place-for-us-even-after-reserving-the-place-weeks-before” incident, we could have understood if we were treated nicely. If there has been miscommunication… or that they want us to stay in that Haven’s place, or whatever we can adjust if there was a clear communication, direction and respectful dealing.
We forgive them though. We understood that the caretakers were lumads. They may not have the right knowledge how to deal with the situation.
Don’t Go Unless…
Good thing they did not follow. We planned to stop at the nearest police station to report if they continued with their “harassment”. That place needs to be closed and be fixed before it needs to be open again. It is not safe and not customer-friendly as of the moment.
These recommendations are given from a concern customer to save other customers and the business:
- The Villa needs to be finished and functional. Complete fencing, rest rooms… Clean rooms.
- The management needs to be honest in their advertisement details. It is unfair for customers to realize that they are in for a let down, after they’re already there.
- There needs to be a good security and communication set up esp. when emergencies arise (like when someone is abducted by the NPA, a security should be able to communicate the incident to the nearest 911 despatch).
- There should be a stay-in manager to address concerns and not leave customer relations to caretakers who don’t treasure the importance of customer satisfaction and will harass customers instead when they don’t get what they want. The incident above would have been pacified immediately if a manager was there to address issues and make tired, hungry and ready to relax customers, happy.
- The manager/owner needs limit the number of visitors daily. I believe customers are willing to pay more for solace. This is what this place is selling. And it can’t be delivered when there are at least 50 people in that villa good for 25 persons.
To be fair with the Mountain Villa, the place has a nice view. It was a series of hills with some clouds suspended on top. But these are also common among other resorts in Buda area. After the sunrise/sunset, it’s not that exciting anymore too.
In some of the Facebook photos, there were fogs but we did not experience it. It can be a sweet spot for relaxation if only it’s not that crowded and the people serving are nice. Customer service always alleviates and amenities can be set aside. Unfortunately both we’re missing in this place during our stay. Thus the great view this place is offering does not soothe the ill-feeling we had in our hearts.
Until now I am still shaking as I relive the moments in writing. Ms. Emalin Lizardo texted Susan a text she (supposedly) sent to her caretakers. The text said told that the caretakers need to apologize (to us?). That the group that arrived first should be in D’ Captain’s Haven (and the whole house to ourselves? How about the second group which left?). That we won’t have to pay the remaining balance anymore since we just stayed in the basement (another confusing story again). Isn’t it that few hours ago, they told us that WE were supposedly for D. Captain’s Haven (breakfast time)? Isn’t it that the reason why they “harass” and verbally attacked our group because they showed a text from Ms. Emalin Lizardo to get money from us? It all got mixed up because instead of apologizing for the poor management and unacceptabe customer service, they try to cover up one issue with another situation. It maybe be true… But our groups feels like she was just saying that to cover up the name of the Villa.
Just like presenting great photos and inviting info covering the bad side of the Villa? Maybe. Whatever their motives are, we rest our case. God sees everything…
We did not have a great experience, we had failed expectations but we learned our lessons….
- We need to always consider travel reviews about a place first before going there. We always do in our local and international trips, in our case however, most reviews were positive and did not mention these things above.
- Check if the place is registered with Department of Tourism (DOT) and the business bureau. In this case DOT Davao contacted us (after reading this blog) and mentioned that they are not registered with the DOT (as of writing). Our group also did not see any business certifications like those big BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) orange signs we see in all registered business establishments framed with other papers. They might be hidden somewhere. Or maybe they are not registered (as of writing).
- Pictures can be tricky.
- Vague ads are hiding something.
- Rant but have self-control.
Again, this post may or may not completely reflect other group’s experience. This was our experience. Writing this so others can be warned… also so the management can be guided in their operations. Because…
God bless us all! 🙂
UPDATE: Miss Braeden Annz Yu Noh, daughter of the owner/manager of Hills View Mountain Resort, Emalin Lizardo reached out to me to apologized. I made a follow-up blog on this here: https://julmargrace.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/hills-view-mountain-villa-apologized/.