Resort manager Nilo Quizon of The Funny Lion El Nido tells his story of poverty and rising from the ranks. And we are so inspired by it!
Something funny happened this year to The Funny Lion (TFL), a resort brand of One-of Collection, which also owns and manages the luxury resort Amorita in Panglao, Bohol.
The first Funny Lion opened 10 years ago in Coron, and has consistently topped travelers’ rankings on Tripadvisor while the second TFL opened in December 2022 in El Nido. This year, it seemed that the island gods conspired to align with the thousands of satisfied guests of TFL because both resorts simultaneously occupied the No. 1 and No. 2 positions of Best Resorts in the Philippines as ranked by travelers on Tripadvisor. The Funny Lion El Nido took the top spot, and TFL Coron (which was No. 1 until June) took the second spot.
There are 2,951 properties in the Philippines listed and reviewed on Tripadvisor. It’s unprecedented, for sure, to have one resort brand occupying the first two spots—especially in a country with so many great resorts and majority of the highly rated ones have the extra benefit of being on the beach (TFLs are not) and rated five stars (TFL is four).
But it really was no surprise to anyone that has ever stayed at either Funny Lion. Their service is impeccable, their people are sincere, and their food is fantastic. The rooms are designed around a safari theme, which references the brand name, and the facilities are top notch—not in a big hotel chain kind of way, but in that quiet luxury that the best boutique hotels often have.
The interiors by Eric Paras and the architecture by Studio Concilio headed by principal architect Pon Caparas are in sync with the brand’s mission to “go beyond the ordinary.” Together, they designed an eco-chic resort clad in vertical lines, and focused on comfort, turning the space into a cocoon for holidaymakers.
It whispers rather than screams, talks in a low voice rather than hogging all the attention for itself.
The man leading The Funny Lion El Nido team is, unsurprisingly, cut from the same cloth.
The gentle lion
TFL El Nido resort manager Nilo Quizon is not your typical hotelier even though he started his career in luxury properties.
For one, he actually went in and out of school because money always fell short. Between classrooms, he worked as a factory worker, a department store sales clerk, and a bakery hand.
Nilo is very shy and humble, but proud of his beginnings. He was born in Quezon province and spent his teenage years in Tondo, Manila. Every time someone tells you they grew up in what’s considered the toughest and one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, you always think they’d be rough or overtly brusque, but Nilo’s actually quite the opposite. He’s gentle-mannered, soft-spoken and considerate.
Papaya Beach, used exclusively by TFL guests.
What led him to Tondo was his older sister and her family moving there to put up a bakery. Nilo says she’d always acted like a second mother to him, and they took him along to study accounting at FEU.
“We stayed in Tondo for five years but I was in school for only two,” he says. When the bakery closed down, he worked at SM Manila and later in a factory in Laguna.
Then they went back to the province and Nilo was so sure he would never study college again. It was hard on him especially because the school was right beside their house. When he was in high school, he would only walk over when he heard the bells ringing for classes to start.
‘Bumili lang ng suka’
The Funny Lion Resort Manager Nilo Quizon
Well, not suka, but shampoo. I swear, you can’t make this shit up.
By then 20 or 21 years old, Nilo was in his parents’ house one morning when he got up to buy shampoo. “On my way to the store, I saw my former classmates and they told me they were taking a TESDA exam. Sabi ko, maliligo lang ako, punta ako diyan.”
He passed the exam; they didn’t. Not only that, he was also given a scholarship and he had two career options: electronics or Hotel and Restaurant Management. He picked the latter.
“I felt so blessed that I was studying again,” he says. He graduated with honors and was sent to Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Makati to do his internship. The school requirement was 500 hours; he did 600 hours.
Some rooms on the top floor of TFL have a view of El Nido’s limestone cliffs and waters.
As an on-the-job trainee, he went through all the hotel departments. He stayed longest in housekeeping in the laundry room. “Even if you have an HRM degree, you will do everything in laundry.” He worked at every single station and wanted to learn more.
He began as a sorter, separating used linens and towels, then he fed the huge pressing machines, and loaded the tumble dryers. He washed, dry-cleaned and pressed linens until finally he was allowed to handle the guests’ laundry.
“Makulit ako. Even when I was assigned to laundry, I would go up to the rooms when they were doing housekeeping to learn how to make beds, to clean the room and bathroom. My manager, the late Steve Perez, said, ‘You will be like me someday.’ Naisip ko, kelan kaya mangyayari yon?”
From Mandarin Oriental to Balesin and Amorita
Hunt restaurant, the signature outlet of The Funny Lion.
After his OJT, Nilo was hired by Mandarin to continue working in the laundry room. He left after several years to transfer to Vivere Hotel in Alabang. There he started as a laundry attendant and later became supervisor.
“The executive housekeeper there gave me the chance in housekeeping until I learned how everything worked.”
Maybe it was the constant movement in his life when he was younger, or maybe it was the traffic from Makati where he lived to Alabang where he worked, but Nilo left the city and went back to the province.
He got a job at Balesin Island Club in Polilo, Quezon, the 4.2-square kilometer private island that’s open only to members (it’s a whopping P3 million upwards for membership).
“I began as housekeeping supervisor since I had experience in laundry and rooms. After six months, I was promoted to housekeeping manager,” Nilo says.
After three years, when his general manager at Balesin moved to Huma Island Resort, he took Nilo to head the housekeeping department there. Like Balesin, Huma opened to great fanfare as the luxury resort is one of only a few resorts in the country with water villas.
That’s where Nilo was introduced to the One-Of Collection Group via Huma’s HR head.
The king room in the 50-room The Funny Lion El Nido
Asked about his observations on guests in super luxury resorts like Balesin, Huma and Amorita, Nilo says, “Different locations, different people, different behavior. At Mandarin, guests were more sophisticated, more international. In Balesin, Huma and Amorita, it was mostly very rich locals and because they were on vacation, it was more relaxed.”
Even though he was the housekeeping manager at Amorita, Nilo interacted with guests during the resort’s free happy hour every Wednesday and Friday. “I was very shy in the beginning even just to ask them if they were happy with their rooms but I overcame that. They would start talking about their lives and their travels. Some guests would email the resort after they left the Philippines, and some would mention me by name on Tripadvisor.”
One of them was a Japanese lady whom Nilo saw picking kalachuchi flowers that had fallen in Amorita’s gardens. The next time his team cleaned her room, they left a beautiful bouquet of kalachuchis that Nilo himself picked.
Now roaring in El Nido
The Funny Lion El Nido was conceptualized for the next generation of travelers.
The Funny Lion El Nido has 50 guestrooms in two buildings and was conceptualized for the next generation of travelers—young, on the move, digitally connected, and open to new experiences.
The resort brings its guests to Papaya Beach (used by TFL exclusively) for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. And just lying under the sun or eating at the huts.
Nilo is at the reception every day to see guests off in the morning and to welcome them back in the afternoon.
One-of Collection COO Lyba Godio says that in 2019, when they were beginning to build TFL in EL Nido (a third will open in Puerto Princesa in December), she asked Nilo if he was ready and wanted to helm the new resort.
“We believe in local talent. We always promote from within and that’s what we’re doing as we’re expanding The Funny Lion footprint,” Lyba says. “Our people are ready, capable and willing to go all the way to the top in hospitality.”
Lyba has worked in the most luxurious resorts in the Maldives, Malaysia and the Philippines, and she says, “It’s ironic that it’s countries abroad that recognize Filipino talent first before Filipino brands do. At One-Of Collection, we look at our people first—and we see that they are all talented and have the potential to become resort managers. That’s something we’re very proud of.”
For bookings, call The Funny Lion El Nido at at (02) 5318 3388/ (048) 553-1879 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit their website here, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.