October 25, 2019
“You have to check how many people are checking out, and how many people are going to check in, and how many more rooms do you have to spare, to sell. Just think about that.“
A hotel marketing icon looks back on a life lived on the road
PEGGY Angeles has held important sales and marketing positions in only three luxury hotel companies in her whole life: Hyatt; Shangri-La, and SM Hotels and Conventions.
This industry stalwart’s illustrious career may also be framed by three major phases: rising hotel operations executive; regional corporate sales and marketing expert with numerous hotel pre-opening mandates; and groundbreaking learning and development manager who was instrumental in the launch of a proprietary training program for hotel executives.
She has worked in Manila, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand, and opened hotel properties in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Australia. She has seen the industry weather the economic and political storms of the past four decades.
Angeles has been on home ground for five years now, occupying the position of executive vice president, sales and marketing of SM Hotels and Conventions Corp. Under her watch, a slew of hotels and meeting spaces are set to rise in Quezon City, Bacolod, Clark, Baguio and Davao.
When Angeles was still a high school student in the 1970s, Philippine tourism was still a nascent industry. But with the backing of then-First Lady Imelda Marcos, a hotel boom ensued, producing properties such as the Peninsula Manila, InterContinental Manila (since torn down for a new development), Nikko Hotel (now Dusit Thani Manila), Philippine Plaza (now Sofitel Manila) and Mandarin Oriental (since demolished to make away for a premium high-rise building). Not many young people at the time considered a hospitality career, which made Angeles all the more keen on entering uncharted waters.
“I thought I was going to go along the culinary track, and then, of course, I did not,” she says with her genteel, signature poise, gently laughing at the humble kitchen facilities assigned to Hotel and Restaurant Management students at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Instead, she set her eyes on the “bigger picture” — the hotel and restaurant management side of hospitality.
During her last year of college, there was a jostle for internships at the five-star hotels, with the plum jobs found in the country’s financial district. “You wanted to get into those hotels for the practicum semester…you really wanted to work in a new hotel,” Angeles says.
She landed at the Silahis Hotel on Roxas Boulevard, owned by the Enriquez family. New, yes, but far from where she wanted to be. “Disappointing, right?” she says. “Maybe there was a plan for me. I landed a job even before graduation.”
After befriending one of the Silahis hotel duty managers, she met the latter’s wife, who worked at the Hyatt Regency Manila down the road and introduced her to the chain. Angeles secured a job in that hotel as a reservations agent, dealing with the Philippines’ main tourist market at the time: the Japanese. The hotel’s director of sales and marketing was impressed by her industry and moved her to sales after 10 months. She stayed for seven years.
Her assignment was to peddle rooms for Hyatt Terraces Baguio, as well as the inventory for Hyatt Manila and briefly for Hyatt Rafols (now Rafols Hotel Palawan) in Puerto Princesa. “That was my perfect exposure [to] multiproperty sales, and later on I moved into operations,” says Angeles, who experienced what it was like to oversee banqueting, catering, rooms, housekeeping, and even security and engineering. She crowned her decade-long association with Hyatt by becoming rooms division director.
She also experienced working during the era of electric typewriters, telex machines and terrestrial phones. Hotel bookings were recorded and typed in hard copy, and delivered by courier to the other hotel properties for validation. “You’re at the back of the front office, and you have to check how many people are checking out, and how many people are going to check in, and how many more rooms do you have to spare, to sell,” Angeles says. “Just think about that.”
Daily runs between Hyatt Manila and Hyatt Terraces Baguio were the norm, and much of the paperwork was delivered that way. In her days in sales, one focused on local business conferences and domestic corporate travel. “That was the kind of market we had then,” she says. The mountain retreat, designed by the famous American architect Daniel Burnham, was enjoying its heyday as a major convention destination, boosted by Loakan Airport, which was operational at the time.
Angeles was heading to Baguio on July 16, 1990 for an internal management review with a colleague, which was cancelled at the last minute. She was forced to scuttle the plan. Lucky that she did, for a 7.7-magnitude earthquake whose epicenter was in Rizal, Nueva Ecija shook northern and central Luzon that day. Majority of the fatalities were in central Luzon and the Cordilleras, where Baguio is located. The picturesque Hyatt Terraces Baguio collapsed like the proverbial stack of cards. “I could have been there the day it happened,” Angeles recalls. Top executives from the Hyatt head office flew in to address the crisis, set up a command center in Manila and perform the painful task of identifying victims of the tremblor, which also claimed the lives of Hyatt staff and members of their families. Hotel general manager Heinrich Maulbecker lost his wife Daisy when the building collapsed. Resident manager Noli Reyes’ young daughter and her nanny also perished in the calamity.
The earthquake proved to be an invaluable learning opportunity for Angeles in crisis management, on-site emergency interventions (checking that all guests were safe and accounted for) and executing crisis communications in the face of international media coverage, “whether it was ambush interviews, press conferences or radio talk,” she says.
Despite a meteoric career rise, Angeles found the time to marry her long-time beau, civil engineer Pipo Angeles, and bear two daughters: Meg, 35 and Bea, 31. “I went back to work pretty soon after I gave birth [to my first daughter],” she remembers, displaying her trademark quiet, steely-eyed stamina even after having gone through a Caesarean section.
Angeles’ journey through the hospitality world has been nothing short of eventful. Her next meaningful association involved working for the Kuok family — Malaysian sugar titans and owners of the Shangri-La group whose pre-opening teams came to the Philippines to promote stylish accommodations in Mandaluyong and Makati cities and on Mactan Island, Cebu. “I was so excited to be part of something new,” Angeles says. Her first task was to launch Edsa Shangri-La. Delays in construction led the management to offer her an international assignment, one of many in the next 23 years she was to stay with the Hong Kong-based company. She and her sales team were seconded to the Shangri-La property in Beijing, which they marketed to a Hong Kong clientele. The three Philippine properties soon opened within three years — 1992 to 1994 — adding about 1,400 rooms to the overall inventory and establishing Shangri-La as a market leader for many years.
“The Edsa Shangri-La was the first hotel in 17 years to open [in the Philippines], so there was a lot of hype,” she says. “We opened the doors, and [it felt like] we were in Luneta Park because people were so excited to see something new.”
The tumultuous 1980s had come and left their mark on the economy, which saw the collapse of the Philippine peso against the dollar in the years following former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.’s 1983 assassination; the EDSA People Power revolt of 1986, and the power generation crisis of the 1990s that led to years of regular power outages. Angeles remembers working during those years, sleeves rolled up, without the benefit of generator sets. “If you didn’t have power, you didn’t have power, and it could last half a day or so. You had to be resourceful,” she says.
She would work out of a coffee shop if she had to, writing copy for marketing brochures or working on her marketing plans. Many of her large institutional clients, including the Asian Development Bank, followed her to her new company.
Readying for its Asia Pacific-wide expansion, the Shangri-La corporate office in Hong Kong began offering Angeles overseas posts, first in Jakarta, which she turned down. “I wasn’t prepared to move there at the time. I had two young daughters who were growing up,” she says. But when she was asked to consider Bangkok, she accepted, bringing the girls with her and working out a monthly commute schedule with her husband, who would fly in from Manila to see them. “He went back and forth while the kids were still studying there [in Bangkok].” She was managing an international team of 65, many of them Thais, selling the 865-room property, competing with the other luxury hotels along the Chao Phraya river and promoting her destination against Malaysia and Singapore.
Even when the Asian financial crisis of 1997 sent several Southeast Asian nations, Japan and South Korea reeling, the Kwoks remained bullish in their outlook, and Angeles’ career continued to thrive, leading to a corporate headquarters posting in the former British olony. But this time, her growing children wanted to stay in Manila, so it was Angeles’ turn to do the commute to her family back home. She admits she tried to resign from the Shangri-La group more than once to stay close to home, but management wouldn’t hear of it, and allowed her to work out of their Manila office, flying into Hong Kong for crucial meetings. Her main responsibility was overseeing regional sales and marketing and handling the Philippine and Chinese properties in the portfolio.
She went on to a Singapore assignment, overseeing Indonesia and Malaysia projects. This kicked off the familiar commute to spend precious time again with the family, a bit more difficult this time on account of the increased distance between the Lion City and Manila. Then, it was back home for a chance to handle Shangri-La properties in Australia and India, as well as a widening roster of hotels at the pre-opening stage.
The corporate carousel did not stop, and Angeles was asked to return to Hong Kong, which allowed her to go on weekend trips and reunite with her husband and daughters, who were, at this stage, enjoying their own careers. On these runs, she hooked up with a group of Filipino expatriates — her “bus mates,” she calls them — who were also taking the same late evening Cathay Pacific flight to Manila. They were mostly bankers or financial specialists. Business journalist and television presenter Cathy Yang was an alumnus as well. “We’d always meet in the airport every Friday night, and because we were such frequent travelers — we were all diamond tier members of the Cathay flyer program — we’d all end up having Happy Hour at the First Class lounge. On the plane, we wouldn’t even eat; we’d just sleep, land, and…meet again two days later at 5 p.m. to take the 7 p.m. flight out. That was our routine.”
Angeles looks back on those halcyon times, saying: “I could be traveling back to Hong Kong on a Sunday night, but Monday morning, I could be traveling to Paris…to the Middle East…to Russia…or to wherever.”
These days, Angeles has cut back on the plane-hopping. She finds fresh adventure in nurturing the ambition of SM Hotels and Conventions to rise in more locations; retreating to Antipolo with her husband to witness their fruit trees yield sweet harvest; and seeing her daughters bloom as mothers and their children growing happy and healthy.
This million-miler has landed on terra firma, and she is loving it.
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As SM Hotels and Conventions Corp. (SMHCC) embarks on greater expansion, it has gotten serious about investing in green buildings and sustainable hospitality and procurement. Peggy Angeles cites some examples:
• The Conrad Manila, SMHCC’s flagship property at the Mall of Asia became Gold LEED-certified in 2015. This is the second-highest building rating standard certifying the environmental integrity of the structure’s design and construction process.
• Pico Sands Hotel in Batangas and Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay both plan to remove in-room single use amenities by year-end. Park Inn by Radisson Davao is already doing this.
• Pico Sands Hotel is now using refillable glass jars and water stations installed in the hotel’s hallways, and has gotten rid of water bottles in rooms. In just one year, they have achieved a reduction of 106,000 water bottles.
• SMHCC has partnered with the Philippine Center for Environmental Protection and Development, which has taught them about green procurement and ways to recycle older kitchen equipment.
• Hotel kitchen waste is weighed daily and recorded, and kitchen teams are constantly challenged to find new ways of reducing waste.
PHOTOS BY MINDY GANA
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