Interview with Rommel Gonzales
The Bellevue Resort, Bohol, Philippines
“In the hospitality and airline industry, you are not selling rooms, nor selling airline seats. You are selling service.” A man with decades worth of experience in the hospitality and airline industry, Rommel Gonzales, General Manager of The Bellevue Resort, shares with us the secrets of successfully leading a team with five-star talent.
Q: How long have you been the resort manager for The Bellevue Bohol? What other management positions have you held?
A: I have been the resort manager of The Bellevue Bohol since July 1 2012 exactly. When I arrived here in Bohol, the resort was still under construction and we had our grand opening last November 25, 2012.
I started my career in Philippine Airlines (PAL) in 1975 and was assigned in all stations in the northern part of the Philippines which is Mindanao.
During my employment with PAL, I was able to finish my “Dale Carnegie” course. Also, Mr. Roman Cruz – The President of PAL during that time have chosen selected high potential Managers to undergo an Executive MBA course in Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in which I am one of the chosen few.
I stayed with PAL for straight 14 years then joined for 5 years in a logistic company after which back to airline and set-up Air Philippine Cebu station for 5 years before I decided to transfer to the hotel industry to further challenge myself. I joined Waterfront Airport Hotel and Casino for 10 years after which I opened Crimson Resort and Spa in Mactan.
Overall, my exposure in the service industry is more than 40 years and with that background, I have learnt a lot about the meaning of “service”.
Service is not only about selling airline seats nor selling rooms, you are selling a “great memorable experience”.
Currently I actively involved myself in the betterment of the local community. I am now the President of the Panglao Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the President of the Bohol Association of Hotel Resorts and Restaurants, (BAHRR).
Q: What can you say about the reputation of The Bellevue Resort?
A: We are the only five-star resort in Bohol and we just started four years ago. When you go to Bohol for vacation, particularly in Panglao, the first resort that will come to your mind is the Bohol Beach Club (BBC) because that was the first resort ever in the area. Now, when we started Bellevue we became the benchmark of the service industry, not only in Panglao but I am proud to say, also in the whole province of Bohol. Most of the tourists mostly our guests will always compare us with our competitors in terms of facilities, food quality, and of course service. But, based on reviews, Bellevue is the best. Even the Provincial Government is recommending us, “when you go to Bohol, go to Panglao, and stay in Bellevue. We are one with the Government in terms of promoting the reputation of the island.”
Q: What are the core values for superb hospitality and customer service?
A: We value unique Philippine hospitality. We maintain and promote our integrity. We anticipate our guests’ needs, we sustain growth by utilising our resources and we involve ourselves in the improvement of the environment just as we are responsible members of the society. Overall our direction is not parochial but more focused on a comprehensive international approach. We also involved ourselves in the development of local community, we have several programs like corporate social responsibility. It is not always about making money but we wanted to involve everybody in this business.
Q: How does a good company culture and good employee relations help in the providing good service?
A: Our principle is that we never say no to our guests. If we can accommodate, we always offer solutions or options. For me, the guest is the lifeblood of the hospitality industry. Without the guests what will we do? The guests are the ones who pay for our salaries. That’s why my principle here is I don’t want to let the guests depart not happy. Now you cannot be perfect, there are always some problems along the way. But for me, we can correct things if we have done something wrong. We are not perfect but there is always room for improvement, always.
This what I always tell my staff, when there is a guest complain, “they are not complaining about you, they are complaining about the facilities and the services so try to find out how we can correct that because that’s the only way we can improve ourselves”.
Complain is a gift! This is one of our indicators on how to improve your service. It is a gift for you to know that there is something wrong in the system so you have to correct it. When handling guest complain, we always have this principle with the acronym of H.E.A.R.T. First the “H” – Hear them out, “E” – Empathise with the guest, “A” – Apologise, “R” – Respond and “T” – Take action immediately. That is H.E.A.R.T!
I always tell my team, do not talk while the guest is talking. You listen first because if they are tired of talking they will stop. Once they stop, you empathise and paraphrase the statement for them to know that you understand them correctly. Sometimes our perception is we should respond right away but we tend to missed the main cause of the problem because we are not able to listen fully.
I am also always reminding my staff that it’s not only you who are dealing with the guests, it’s everybody’s job! When you talk to the guests you share it with your colleagues.
We must serve our guests with all our HEARTS. Provide Service with sincerity and honesty because the guests would know if you are authentic or not. So, if you don’t love your job, if you are not happy with your work, this will exude in your personality and you will not be able to give excellent service.
Confucius once said, find a job that you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Q: How do you run a five star resort?
A: In everything you do, you have priorities. You plan ahead, you list down what are the most important things to do, in between you do multi-tasking. With proper planning, I would know what will happen the next day, who are the people responsible, and what will I expect from them. So during the meeting in the morning I just ask questions – what will you do, where will you go, what if Plan A does not work out, what is your Plan B? We distribute accountabilities and everyone must have a sense of ownership of doing things. I empower my team because if I do not do that, I would be doing everything by myself.
Q: How do you provide a memorable experience to guests?
A: First, we give personalised service to our guests. When we talk to our guests, we say the most beautiful word that they would like to hear, their name! Because it shows that we acknowledged their presence and we remember them. For example when we greet, we will say, Good morning, Mr. Smith! By mentioning their names, we are creating an impression that we value them. Second, we also ask their preference because not all guests have the same needs. They might need something else that the other guest doesn’t need. Guest preference is very important.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: For me I have planned my life because I am looking forward, after five years I’ll be a lawyer so I could shift to another career, maybe consultancy in the hospitality industry or a practising lawyer.
We should always think of something, planning is very important. If you don’t have plans you are just come what may, you know there is a song “Que sera, sera:”. Whatever will be, will be – which is not good for me, you should plan ahead.
Q: What is a memorable experience you have had in the hospitality industry?
A: For me, the most memorable experience in the hospitality industry is giving satisfaction to our guests. Some of our guests would thank me personally for a memorable stay they had. Other guests would write me a letter. For instance, I received a letter from Australia thanking me for my assistance. What I did was very simple, I noticed that they were having problems with their trip to Cebu. Then I called our Cebu office and make arrangements for everything. For me it was part of our service, it was nothing really extraordinary. But I was surprised when I received this letter appreciating me for what I did. Other guests will leave personal note as well that they wrote before checking out. These makes my heart beat and I am thankful that I did something good for somebody, without expecting anything in return. A simple thank you from our guests is something that makes me feel good.
Q: What happened during the Earthquake in 2013?
A: The earthquake happened at eight o’clock in the morning, Tuesday. The building was quite okay. When it happened, I had to transfer all the people to the other side of the resort. We have a Pavilion for events, it’s like a tent so there is not much structure around it. I gathered all the people there, I got all the mattresses in the room for the comfort of our guests. We set-up a food station and a TV set for everyone. We stayed there for three (3) nights because there were aftershocks.
Upon check-out, our guests made comments online that in spite of the earth-quake, Bellevue Resort was able to gave them a five star service.
I was surprised reading those comments, because after all that happened, we were still able to deliver an excellent service. The guests were happy because they were safe and well taken care of.
Q: How do you take customer feedback?
A: We always welcome comments. What is important is you respond to it, respond with the personalised service. When they make a comment, either bad or good, you must appreciate their comments. They may be trying to get some of their time to really speak out. That’s what we mean, for me positive remarks are very good and I appreciate that but what is important are the negative remarks because I want to improve, we want to improve and at least if you know what is wrong with you, you can improve.
In Trip Advisor I see a lot of positive remarks and I responded personally because it shows that we appreciate their comments. I also appreciate that they were able to give time to write us a good review.
Every time I talk to our guests they often say you know, we are here because of the good Trip Advisor reports. In last New Year’s party, three guests approached me and asked “Are you Mr. Gonzales?” Yes. “How are you? I read a lot of your name on Trip Advisor and they say you are good.” Personally, I feel elated because they recognise me and by reading the Trip Advisor reviews, they decided to try Bellevue.
So for me Trip Advisor is important. All reviews are important because we learn from our mistakes and we validate our service through the positive remarks of our guests.
Q: What can you say about your contributions to the hospitality and tourism industry?
A: I am so happy that I sat on the Association for the President and also on the Provincial Tourism Council. I have instituted several programmes that we have adopted. Before we didn’t have anything. We have this fiesta every year and I introduced the idea of having a food festival at the Plaza where all the resorts in Panglao participated. We promote our resorts and at the same time our delicacies at a lower price so that the local people can try it. Bellevue is a high end resort and sometimes people are afraid to come in because it’s they have this perception that we are expensive, though not everything.
When we started this International Fusion Night it became a part of Sandugo Festival in Bohol, every July.
I introduced something, now they are continuing it, that is in addition to the usual festival activities which I have initiated and we have adopted. I think it is already a continuous project and that is something which I am very proud.
This is also something I did when I was in Tacloban during my PAL days. I remember when some members of our Rotary, my friends and I researched on what would be the best activity for the province? We discovered that a long time ago the natives of Leyte, Samar, they have tattoos on their bodies and the natives called it “pintados” so we created the Pintados Festival! Up till now, it is still celebrated in Tacloban, every July. I did this way back in the 80s, around 1985. I have left my mark and it is in the records, the Pintados Festival in Tacloban.
Q: What is your vision for The Bellevue as it continues to establish its identity in the global market with regards to its recent SCN Green Hotel Award for 2016-2018?
A: This green theme is not a one time theme, this will be a continuing environmental practice and a reason why we exist. I always believe in sustainable tourism, we will not have a sustainable tourism if we do not preserve our environment so that is very basic for me. We might have good business but for how long will this be good if we do not sustain our environment and preserve the marine sanctuary? Being green does not only involves your facilities, but how do we manage our garbage, how do we control the cost of our electricity and other consumptions?
The Bellevue is the only resort to have a three chamber zero emissions sewage treatment plant, and the water is recycled and used for watering the gardens and plants, it is not flushed into the sea. We not only encourage but we make sure that members are practising the correct water and sewage treatment. We mention to all establishments that they should have a good sewage treatment plant, you cannot just dump your waste into the sea.
Q: Who inspires you or who has influenced you the most in your professional career and management style?
A: Well first and foremost is my family. When I started working in 1975 I wanted to get married, I got married in 1980 because I didn’t want to end up being a bachelor doing the work. When I was in college I really studied hard because I got a scholarship with the government, if my grades will be down I lose the scholarship. That was for my higher studies so I had to really study and I graduated salutatorian during high school so I got a 50% discount, I got a scholarship from the government which paid everything – tuition fees, board and lodgings, books, transportation. So I got a 50% discount. The government pays everything so I got back 50% so I gave it to my parents because they are poor, we are not that rich. If I had not gotten the scholarship I could not do studies. My older brother during that time was in De La Salle, which is a very expensive school, so my parents told me, “you have to stop schooling to let your older brother do it”. Fine, but first I passed the scholarship exam and I got to go to college. For four years I just studied – no vices like smoking, nor drinking. I did everything because I had to obtain good grades. Practically I didn’t spend a single centavo during this period and after I finished my studies, I worked immediately. I didn’t want to be a burden to my parents. I earned my own money and I got married in 1980. I got married, that is a partnership and it changes you. I had a daughter and I have a wife, that changes everything. When change comes, that is your inspiration to improve yourself.
I developed my own management principles and styles from my family, from myself and from interweaving my education, and my own personality
Also, I love reading of books, I love history. In history you learn so many things, history inspires you to do something because I am a very voracious reader. I read, I read, I read. When you read history, you read about Abraham Lincoln, he failed so many times until he became President. He failed in his law subject, he failed as a lawyer, but eventually he became the President, that is something. I see myself, I had so many ups and downs in my life but you know, every time you are down, you have to stand up. I am happy now that I have reached this point and as far as I am concerned I have done so many things. But, behind all these things is my experience of not giving up. I always tell my people, do not look at failure as something that will bring you down. Failure will teach you to do something more. There is a world of failure and there is a world of success. If there is a problem, there is a solution – if there is no solution there is no problem at all.