Much as it was an overwhelmingly difficult period, so was it also a time of discovery, learning and innovation for Anna Liza Vergara.
For the past eight months that the Philippines had been and continues to be under varying levels of quarantine, the general manager of Sheraton Manila faced what could be one of the most challenging periods in recent history. The COVID-19 outbreak, which brought many economies to their knees and upended all facets of day-to-day living, also dealt a heavy blow to the hospitality industry as the pandemic necessitated travel bans and restrictions in movements.
Despite all these, Vergara and her team instead sought to find ways to cope with such an unprecedented health crisis that tested not only one’s physical well-being, but also one’s grit, mettle and fortitude.
“I think none of us imagined that it would take this long. Initially, we thought (the lockdown) was just going to be a month. We were still in denial then. We were obviously underestimating the impact of the pandemic because at that time, it seems impossible that we will stop the business, that the airport would close for international travel. But then, it started happening,” Vergara recalled.
What made this even more challenging is the fact that, apart from needing to deal with the mounting concerns at work, they also had to deal with ensuring the safety of their families and their own well-being, she added.
Surviving the pandemic
Given the available resources it had, Sheraton had set up platforms through which employees could connect with one another. Interactive online activities, including games and contests, were held while its parent company, Marriott International had an online platform that offered ways to help employees deal with the stresses and anxieties due to the pandemic.
In terms of helping the business survive, Vergara said she and her team had to innovate fast, to find new and ingenious ways to cater to a market that is unable to dine out and stay in hotels like before. It also called for resourcefulness and prudence, amid ensuring that everyone remains safe against the virus.
“What we have discovered through those months is the ability of the team to innovate and when we say innovate, innovate fast. As in less than a week, we were able to conceptualize, come up with the mechanics, develop a story for it, promote it and execute it. We’re all after the same market—no international, it’s all local. But local demands also evolved because right now, the market doesn’t want to go out or dine out. We had to create something that would entice them to still want to eat hotel food even in the comfort of their homes,” Vergara said.
Hence, Sheraton Manila offered various kinds of takeaways from S Kitchen and Oori Korean Restaurant—whether you’re looking for complete course menus for your online meetings, forums, webinars or press briefings; a festive spread for intimate celebrations among family members; or personal takeaway sets with all the bestsellers to satisfy your cravings in the comfort of your home. Also offered are dessert platters and grazing tables for cold cuts.
“We also discovered a lot of systems and processes that have proven to be effective and efficient, that we will continue even after this pandemic. In the past, we had the luxury of time, the luxury of manpower, the luxury of resources. Now, because we had the opportunity to look into the nitty gritty of things, we discovered that there are opportunities for us to make ourselves better. So that’s one takeaway–moving forward, we can always challenge the status quo and hopefully bring efficiency, better productivity for everybody, without having to sacrifice the quality of food, service and the overall status of our associates,” Vergara explained.
Nowadays, Sheraton Manila is kept busy ensuring that all health and safety protocols are in place as it has finally reopened its doors for staycations.
Sheraton Manila is, in fact, the first hotel in the Resorts World Complex to have been granted a Certificate Authority to Operate for Staycation (CAOS) by the Department of Tourism—a much awaited development that provided a semblance of normalcy amid the pandemic.
“We made sure to gain the confidence of our guests and patrons that all protocols are being followed. We are confident that we can provide them a safe environment. We want people to be able to live their lives as much as possible and enjoy. At Sheraton, we have opened different room types that also include loft and junior suite, and soon we’re opening the executive floor with the Sheraton Club. We also have a co-working space in the hotel, while the gym and the pool are open,” Vergara explained. “It’s basically an escape from the quarantine, the homestays you’ve had for the past nine months now. Plus, we are soon re-opening the salon and the spa.”
According to Vergara, they are offering six staycation packages that include “Kids Eat Free”, “Work Anywhere Stay Pass”, “Stay with Surf & Turf Feast”, “Family Indoor Picnic Staycation”, “Couple Indoor Picnic Staycation”, and the “Christmas Room Package”. Guests could also simply book a room based on the best available rates. Details for these packages can be found on the hotel’s website: www.sheratonmanila.com. Apart from these packages, Sheraton Manila is also offering holiday gift ideas from hampers to festive platters.
“All these are part of our efforts to bring everything back to the normal you are familiar with. We know it’s not going to be back to what it really is before, but we have to be able to learn how to move on and, instead of getting scared of the virus, be able to live with it,” Vergara said.
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