15 FEBRUARY, 2024

Dae Sik Han: Visionary, Dreamer, Builder

When Chairman and CEO of Hann Resorts Dae Sik Han first came to Clark Freeport Zone in 2005 as a tourist, there was hardly anything in the vast township in terms of luxury being developed in the former US Air Force Base. There were a few hotels and a golf course, but nothing five-star. Yet he was drawn to Clark, he felt that it had its own “charm.”

The former base have been converted into the Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ) and just cleared of lahar from the Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption over a decade ago; the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), the highway connecting Metro Manila to the northern part of the country, wouldn’t be opened until 2008. But when he saw Clark International Airport, he knew Clark had enormous potential.

In Mr. Han’s mind, a vision emerged. He would build facilities here—and people would come. After all, he had experience in building in South Korea with the company he established, Seewoom Construction, in the early 2000s.

“I am a dreamer,” he once said. “I spend at least a couple of hours just looking at the master plan. What would be the next step? I plan at least five or 10 years ahead.”

He envisioned Clark becoming a hub for the seven provinces of Central Luzon and the 16 cities of Metro Manila, and beyond. All told, Clark could be a huge hub for more than 20 million local people seeking new experiences—and international tourists from Asia, North America and Europe. Mr. Han wanted to shape Clark into a compelling destination and the only way to do that was to build luxury hotels, casinos, golf courses, and shopping and lifestyle centers that this part of the Philippines hadn’t seen before.

Hann Casino Resort is Pampanga’s first fully integrated luxury resort.

There was only one problem. Mr. Han had no experience in developing casinos—and he hardly knew people in the Philippines except for his golf buddies. But as visionaries throughout history have proven (or disproven the doubters) , there are great things to be had when they “see the invisible, believe in the incredible, and achieve the impossible.”

In 2006, just a year after he first visited the Philippines, Mr. Han established the first hospitality business, the Widus Hotel. “I thought to myself, ‘What can I do here?’ And then I was looking for a property, I found this one and I built the first hotel,” he said.

He opened Widus Hotel & Casino in 2008. It had 24 tables and 150 slot machines. Fifteen years later, the 11-hectare Hann Casino Resort now features the 372-room Swissotel and 260-room Marriott Hotel, a casino comparable to Las Vegas with over 868 slot machines, 147 gaming tables, and 44 electronic table games—and so much more in the pipeline.

For non-gamers, the integrated resort features more than 18 restaurants, bars and cafes offering local and international cuisines. Among them, 10 establishments have earned a prominent spot on TripAdvisor’s prestigious list of top restaurants, solidifying its reputation as the culinary capital of Clark while its soon to open retail space will have exciting food and non-food brands.

The story of how Mr. Han brought the Marriott Hotel to Clark gives a peek into his determination. In 2014, when he was negotiating with Marriott Asia, he was told that Clark wasn’t the market for the more premium Marriott Hotel, but Courtyard by Marriott was, catering to business travelers and offering a more casual and practical atmosphere.

Luxury experience at Hann Casino Resort

“But I was very stubborn. I said, ‘No, I want Marriott. If not, I need to talk to somebody else.’ And that’s how I got the Marriott brand. Even during the construction, the Marriott team came and we ran some numbers and they were not very confident that this Marriott would perform. But a couple of months after we opened in 2018, we were running at about 80% occupancy. Since then, this Marriott has gone on to become one of the top five performing Marriotts in Asia,” Mr. Han says in an interview with Inside Asian Gaming magazine.

The gaming and hospitality industry took notice of how Hann Resorts had changed the game for Clark. Mr. Han was awarded the prestigious Outstanding Leader Award at the 2023 ASEAN Gaming Awards by Asia Gaming Brief, a renowned global news and intelligence organization; and was recognized as Executive of the Year at the Global Gaming Awards Asia-Pacific 2023, a widely known awards ceremony hosted by Asian Gaming Brief, a B2B gaming publication.


Hann Resorts Chairman & CEO Dae Sik Han


Bigger dreams, bigger plans

Born and raised in Jecheon, South Korea, Mr. Han grew up in a lower middle class family that lived in a house with one room. During the bitter cold winters, he says, the heating came from charcoal inside the room. While it somehow kept them warm, it also meant he was inhaling smoke and would sometimes have to be hospitalized.

A self-made man, Mr. Han’s father started a business that produced ready-mix concrete and asphalt. After the younger Han earned his degree in Business Administration at Western Michigan University in the US, he went back to South Korea to run his father’s company.

When he was building Widus, he didn’t tell his father that he was doing it solo, but that he had only a one-third stake in the company so that he wouldn’t worry if the venture failed and he lost $4 million. It was only when Widus was completed and his father visited Clark that Mr. Han revealed he had staked everything he had in his first casino hotel.Widus underwent rapid expansion with the addition of a convention center and a second tower. Following a rebranding to Hann Resorts, the Hann Casino Resort opened its doors in 2021during the pandemic. It now stands as the leading fully integrated resort in the region, featuring Central Luzon’s first five-star hotel, Marriott, and the country’s first Swissotel.

Mr. Han isn’t done with his dreams for Clark just yet. In the pipeline is Hann Reserve at New Clark City (NCC), the next phase of development spearheaded by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA). New Clark City spans 94.5 square kilometers or 9,450 hectares, located in two municipalities in Tarlac in what used to be the US Base’s Camp O’Donnell.

Dae Sik Han (right) with representatives from Accor hospitality group, Banyan Tree, BCDA, and Tarlac LGU.

As of last year, Hann Philippines has invested between $500 and $600 million (P29 to P34 billion) in its properties, and an additional P9 billion in new developments at NCC. Hann Reserve will build luxury hotels and three golf courses on 450 hectares of land.

It is also bringing in the Banyan Tree brand, which will be an ultra-luxe mountain resort with pool villas and a tropical garden spa, while the golf courses will be designed by KJ Choi, Nicklaus Design and Nick Faldo.
Banyan Tree has made a name for itself as a sanctuary for the senses. With over 70 hotels and resorts, and 14 branded residences around the world, each Banyan Tree has a distinct intimate sense of place through design, architecture, and locations that embrace the environment and local community. Banyan Tree Clark will carry the same ethos and design.

Mr. Han has also signed agreements with three international hospitality groups for Hann Reserve, which will house a casino, convention facilities, luxury residential and premier commercial and retail areas. Under Accor, there will be Sofitel Hotel and Emblems Collection, and Marriott International will have Marriott Luxury Collection and Westin.

New market and lifestyle

In a world where time is a precious commodity, people are now more deliberate about how they spend their leisure moments and this has shaped the way they seek enjoyment and relaxation. International travelers and local tourists are looking for an escape from their routines, for mindful relaxation, places for social interaction, personalized service, and unforgettable experiences.

As a golfer himself, Mr. Han believes that the sport must be part of this new lifestyle offering. “The gaming industry is very, very dynamic. It started in Las Vegas, it moved to Macau and it is spreading in Asia. So I’ve always been thinking about how to make this thing, my product, different from everybody else,” he said in the same previous interview.

Hann Reserve, the new development of Hann Resorts in New Clark City

Hann Resorts is investing heavily in building beautiful golf courses and luxury hotels. At Hann Reserve, the course and resort designs are in tune with their surrounding environments: rivers, mountains and valleys. First to be completed in 2026 is the mountain golf course by Nicklaus Design, to be followed by the valley course designed by South Korean pro golfer KJ Choi in 2027, and the river course by Nick Faldo in 2028.

“The reason I’m trying to focus on golf here is because I think our strategy has to be different from market to market. We have around 13% growth because our market in Clark is very, very different from the Entertainment City in Manila. A lot of our visitors are coming for golf and different entertainment options. And even in this local market, golf follows the economy, so when the economy experiences growth, golf grows together with it. That’s what happened in Korea.”

Mr. Han added that in the Philippines, younger people are playing more golf. That’s also the reason why it was important to bring in luxury brands in both hospitality and the sport. The market is “VIP players and if they are serious golfers, then 10% of them will look for an integrated resort where they can enjoy themselves and play golf.”

Mr. Han said that golfers in Asia, particularly the Philippines, don’t play for money when competing with friends—instead, they make the game more interesting by betting on who should pay for their meal after 18 holes. “When I play with my Filipino friends, that’s what we do. Asian culture is very different.”

An added advantage of golfing in Clark is that it’s not beset by endless traffic, which means more time on the links for players. Getting stuck in a four-hour traffic jam, he said, “is like spending one round of golf—on the street. Accessibility is very important. The run from the airport to Hann Casino Resort is 10 minutes, and New Clark City is also 10 minutes away from the airport. Even from Manila it is maybe one hour and 40 minutes, so it’s very accessible. And as soon as you enter the property, the view is very different—it’s the mountains. That’s one of the reasons I decided to invest in Clark.”

Golfing at New Clark City

Clark also has a lot of space, he says. “There are three golf courses here now, and outside, nearby, there are quite a lot of them. Plus I’m building another three and there are a lot of Korean companies coming here to build golf resorts. So in five years’ time there will be quite a lot more golf courses, and this is going to be a golfing destination.”

Mr. Han’s golf dreams are not limited to building courses but also bringing in big-time tournaments to Clark. “The reason I want to bring together betting and golf is that I’m already talking to promoters right now, but I’m going to organize either KLPGA or LPGA events, if not European tour events, and these are going to be aired from the Philippines for the first time. I don’t need to talk about casino gambling, I’ll just show the beauty of the property and everybody is going to see the Hann brand and everybody will link this with our casino. That is a way to promote this entire property all over the world, so I think the marketing exposure is going to be very, very big.”

With the development of Hann Reserve as a luxury eco-sanctuary, he envisions a destination that will attract not just locals, but also enthusiasts of golf, gaming, and entertainment alike. “This,” he emphasized, “is how we redefine excellence.”