Veteran hotelier powers five-star property to deliver excellence and luxury
Few of the world’s peoples exemplify hospitality better than Filipinos, who are experts at providing the warmest of welcomes to all kinds of visitors. Their visits are often met with friendly smiles and festivities, which involve an indispensable part of the nation’s culture, food.
“I have always been a champion for Filipinos to return to the Philippines, for short assignments or moving their careers so that the Philippines can benefit from what they have learned overseas.”
Australian-born Linda Pecoraro, general manager of luxury hotel Conrad Manila, is no stranger to hospitality, having grown up in a family with very Filipino-like values. “Ours was a very multicultural society, very Filipino-like,” she recalls. “[My family] was very tight-knit. We loved to be with each other. We loved to cook.
“Cooking and entertaining was a part of my life from an early age,” Pecoraro says, adding that both her parents were passionate cooks. “There was always a big rush to the kitchen to see who would get there first.”
To her family, who were restaurant owners at one point, entertaining guest was a normal occurrence. “It was natural for me to have people around all the time,” she says. It comes as no surprise then, that Pecoraro chose a career in the hospitality industry. She declares: “I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be in [the hotel business].”
She went on to earn a degree in hospitality management at Brisbane’s College of Tourism and Hospitality. Since then, she has tucked under her belt an impressive roster of prestigious hotels where she served under different departments. “I tried out food and beverage, then moved on to front office, housekeeping, marketing, and communications, pretty much all the departments,” she adds.
Looking back, getting into the hospitality business was “the most natural thing” for Pecoraro: “I love meeting and getting to know people. It’s the most natural thing in the world [for me], from the day I started from university until now. It gives me great joy.”
Her current charge, Conrad Manila, is a deluxe property bearing the Hilton brand, certified by the Department of Tourism as a quarantine facility (among its other purposes) housing health workers, stranded travelers, long-stay guests, returning overseas Filipinos and workers in essential industries such as business process outsourcing (BPO) and banks. Situated in the Mall of Asia complex fronting Manila Bay, the hotel is easily recognizable with its nautical architectural design.
Part of what Pecoraro enjoys about her line of work is the opportunity to solve problems. “No day is ever the same,” she explains. And perhaps, no circumstance has made that point clearer than did the ongoing health crisis. Asked what challenges she faces in running Conrad, she reveals: “In the last 18 months, [we’ve] been in survival mode. Personally, I feel that I have the responsibility to make sure that the business continues, and that our team members continue to work and be able to support their families.
“I see the challenges that frontliners experience when they come home,” she narrates. “[The fatigue from] their trip; they haven’t seen their families and [on top of that] they need to quarantine for 10 days.”
On looking after their own, Pecoraro says that speaking up is vital: “It all comes down to how well we communicate with them. We try to have virtual meetings with updates and what to expect. We have online courses they can take and we even have mental health services with doctors online who can help them cope with the pandemic.”
As a quarantine hotel, the maximum capacity for in-house restaurants, social events, and business conferences had to be reduced. Despite this, Pecoraro highlights the need to deliver excellence and luxury – qualities that have become synonymous with their brand -with guests’ health and safety at the forefront.
The pandemic has also forced Conrad to innovate its products to adjust to business travelers’ need for unique experiences in a safe environment, all the while remaining on the cutting edge. Conrad Manila’s E-Store, along with a wide variety of food and beverages, offers Meetings To Go, which aims to provide the hotel experience to virtual meetings by way of specially prepared “HotBox” meals complete with handcrafted bamboo utensils and Eco-Tumbler.
They also offer “Bru on Wheels,” a mobile coffee bar catering to bikers in the Mall of Asia area, which offers breakfast dishes as well. The hotel’s C Lounge and Seaside Blvd also provide al fresco dining options for its guests.
Focusing on basics
Conrad Manila turned five years old on June 15, marking a string of successful years in the country. This sustains Pecoraro’s hopeful outlook for the industry’s future. “It’s not all unicorns and roses, but I can certainly see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “I think that as vaccines continue and borders open up, we can look forward to a more positive 2022, and Conrad will continue to [adjust and] transition. Continuity is key.”
During her time in hotel management, Pecoraro recounts that she has learned resilience, adaptability, flexibility and hard work (“It’s not just all glamor”) – all values that have served her well amid Covid-19. “Resilience and recovery will come,” she says. “Sure, the unprecedented effects have been unfortunate in very different ways among industry brands, but there’s one commonality: hospitality is still and will always be about people. We will always focus on the basics: what does the guest want, what are their expectations of the brand.”
The demands of Pecoraro’s job, she says, is made lighter thanks to her spouse, Raghavan Nanoo, who is a hospitality consultant and designer. In fact, that is how they met. She says: “I have a great husband who keeps me grounded. It’s helpful to be married to be someone who knows the trials and tribulations of the hotel business.”
Cooking is a shared passion of the couple, which they indulge in by learning different cuisines and experimenting creating new dishes with each other. “We also try to give back to the community,” she says, adding that they sometimes cook meals for the underprivileged children of Pasay City.
On days off, Pecoraro reveals that she has also started bike riding. Once borders open up, she also hopes to explore more of what the country has to offer. “The Philippines is such an amazing country, and I’ve only seen small snippets of it,” she admits.
Her advice to aspiring hoteliers and workers in the hospitality industry comes down to having an open mind. She says: “When I was starting out, they asked me if I was a food and beverages person, a marketing person, an operations type of person. You just need to go through several departments and see what you really like and where you can progress.”
“You need to have an understanding of all the departments to understand how to run a hotel,” she continues. “You also need to be thick-skinned as you can’t please everyone. Every person, every guest is different.
“In dealing with people, the main thing is that you have to know your stuff: your job, your brand, your products and services. “At the core, it’s about authenticity, telling people the real story. And if there’s someone unhappy, it’s about listening and trying to solve a problem, if there is a problem.”
Overall, Pecoraro believes that hospitality is “an exciting career.” She says: “It gives me the opportunity to travel; I’ve spent more time abroad than I have in my own country. And [as for] the people that I meet, sometimes I feel like I’m in the UN [United Nations]!”
“Everyone’s got an exciting story to tell, and you learn from it.”
Source: The Manila Times