APRIL 4, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo welcomed yesterday the investments of Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud and Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, saying these will serve as "magnets" for more investors to the Philippines.

Mrs. Arroyo also said the investment of the Saudi prince’s group is a clear vote of confidence from the Middle East, where more than a million Filipinos are employed.

Alwaleed’s Kingdom Hotel Investment (KHI) has entered into a joint venture agreement to build a $153-million hotel complex in Makati City’s central business district, while Li Ka-shing’s PCCW Limited, the largest telecommunications firm in Hong Kong, has signed a deal with the Philippine-based IP-Contact Center Outsourcing Inc. (IPCCO) for call center services in the country.

"They are the latest, so we have what you call marquee names coming into our country... like in the case of Prince Alwaleed, he’s really a trendsetter. When he goes somewhere, everybody else follows because he is considered an investment genius," Mrs. Arroyo said.

During their dinner meeting at Malacańang Monday night, she said Alwaleed told her that the investment was the fruit of her state visit to Saudi Arabia last year where the King told him to invest in the Philippines.

"He (Alwaleed)... is known to be able to identify good investments before others do. So he’s very enthusiastic about the Philippines," she said.

During the meeting, Mrs. Arroyo pointed to numerous investment sites in Central Philippines where KHI could set up hotels and resorts since most of the country’s tourists flock there.

Also present during the meeting were Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, Trade Secretary Peter Favila, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, Ayala Land Inc. president Jaime Ayala, officials of Citibank Philippines, the Prince’s wife and the rest of his delegation.

Favila said the entry of the Saudi investment is a "strong magnet for business in the Philippines."

Socio-economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri described the latest investments as a good start.

"The fact that you have big people and trendsetters from Hong Kong like Li Ka-Shing and from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia like Prince Alwaleed because (when) they come, the others tend to follow," Neri said.

Favila said Prince Alwaleed also confided to him that he is interested in developing one of the islands in Palawan.

According to Favila, during the Palace dinner Mrs. Arroyo showed the prince a map of the country. "The President told him he could develop an island in Central Visayas into a tourism hub," Favila said.

Favila said the Saudi prince is interested in Bohol and Palawan.

During his visit the prince inspected the site of the Ayala Land Inc. (ALI)-KHI project, billed as the single biggest hotel-related investment in local business history.

The soon-to-rise upscale hotel and residence complex is said to be a key component of Ayala Center’s redevelopment into a world-class business destination. Ayala Center’s makeover, which includes the development of business process outsourcing (BPO) office buildings and another hotel, is just one of the 33 new projects which ALI has lined up for this year.

ALI and KHI will develop a 7,377-square meter property along Makati Ave. corner Arnaiz Ave. into a luxury hotel complex that includes a 300-room Fairmont Hotel, a 30-suite Raffles Hotel, and 189 Raffles-branded private residences.

The land is currently occupied by Park Square 2, Ansons Department Store, and a bus terminal. Park Square 2 will be demolished to give way to this redevelopment while a new parking building between Landmark and Shangri-La Hotel is expected to be operational by the fourth quarter of 2007.

A landholding company, KHI-ALI Manila Inc., will be established to own the property.

ALI will own 60 percent while KHI, through a wholly owned subsidiary, will have 40 percent. Also, KHI-Manila Properties Inc., an operating company, will be established to manage the development, construction and operations of the hotels. ALI will own 20 percent in this other company while KHI, also through a subsidiary, will own the remaining 80 percent. - With Ma. Elisa Osorio

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved