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Celebrating Heritage

 Young Hotel Executive Infuses Fresh New Ideas for the Industry

 Oriental Hotels and Resorts Group COO Rebecca Marie Abigail Lee brings fresh perspectives to their properties

A growing group of hospitality properties has a new COO and she is only 24 years old. The Oriental Hotels and Resorts, which has five destination accommodations located at Manila, Legazpi City, Tagaytay, Leyte, and Bataan is headed by Rebecca Lee, the eldest daughter of the business owners.

In many ways, her youth is evident — in her purple-tinted hair, and the fact that her dog comes to the office with her every day. But her youth is actually an advantage, as she sets about trying to revitalize the properties that the group has acquired and in the process, injects new ideas into the industry.

She was originally planning to take up Medicine, and took BS Biology as her pre-med course, but shifted to Interdisciplinary Studies in order to help with the family business. “I was also supposed to work outside first, but I was asked to help with the IPO of Primark (the other branch of the company) then I moved to the hotel side to learn the ropes three years ago.”

On the job

She started out by looking into the Marketing department, paying particular attention to online bookings which she says are now how people reserve their rooms. She also began to immerse herself in other aspects of Operations. When there was a vacancy to be filled, she stepped in.  That vacancy happened to be at the top position, and she admitted that she had misgivings in the beginning. “I wasn’t really ready for it. One day, they just told me, ‘you have been there for a long time already, ikaw na ang bahala”. I was initially doubting if I can do it, but the support of the people here – the managers, the directors, has been really great. They give suggestions and advice. They make things easier for me.”

Her current focus is on balancing Operations and Finance, which she believes is crucial in any business. “I oversee all properties and see to it that all needs are met on time. I also look into things that we need to purchase and those that can wait, upon the suggestion of their managers themselves.”

She also takes time to look into standardizing their service quality. The group of hotels is a diverse set of properties that they have taken over: one is a resort because it is near the beach, another has 80 rooms, while in Tagaytay they only have 7 rooms that caters mostly to couples. “What we want to do is to keep the character of the property, but at the same time offer a standard of service across the board. We want our guests to have the same service experience at any of The Oriental properties where you can come in and be treated like a king or queen with warm, friendly service in a relaxed atmosphere.”

Seeking inspiration

Rebecca, like many other millennial, loves to travel. Her wanderlust has brought her to Europe, the US, and several Asian countries. While she enjoys the sights at her destinations, she is multitasking. “I look at how the other hotels are run. What I have noticed is that the service at the Western countries comes across as very professional but impersonal while in Asia, we are more attuned to what the guests need. If they notice that you have a cough, for example, they are quick to offer you lemon tea, even if it is not on the menu. That is the level of service we are striving to offer at The Oriental.”

What she does notice with hotels in the US and in Europe is the professional way that they handle the properties. Operations are streamlined, and everything is in place. That is also something that I want to put in place.”

Creating new frontiers

Millennials have been receiving flak at the workplace, but Rebecca says that her generation has strengths that differentiate them from the rest. “I know of so many in my age group who are so creative and they think differently because they are not afraid to take risks.”

She herself has instituted fresh new ideas into their organization. The Swagman Hotel in Ermita proudly flies a rainbow flag, symbolizing their support for the LGBT community. They are probably the first local hotel to do so. They have also opened up the Bahagharian Bar, which offers comedy nights and live bands, the bar’s name emphasizing again that they are friendly to the gay community. “The staff proposed getting heavy metal bands to play, which is unusual right? We tried it out and successful naman. I think one of my strengths in being so young is that I am open to new ideas.” She was also receptive to her 13-year-old brother’s idea to put in a pizza restaurant on the ground floor. Jeremy’s Pizza Club is newly opened and serving classic favorites along with imaginative creations such as a Shawarma Pizza.

Swagman has been an icon especially for foreigners, but she admits that they wanted to attract new markets. The changes that they have instituted has been warmly received and it is now seen by the younger locals, especially music enthusiasts, as a cool place to hang out.  “We are now revitalizing the area,” Rebecca proudly says.

She still seeks her parents’ advice when it comes to making major decisions. “They have been in business for a long time, and I value their opinion. They are not hotel people but they know what they want, so I ask them for guidance, to see if I am going in the right direction. They laid the groundwork for the company and we want to continue that and expand on that.”

She also leans on the support given to her by the management and staff, and listens to their ideas. “I want to build a company culture where we have happy employees. The professionalism will still be there, but there is a feeling of reaching for a common goal through cooperation, within a culture that takes service to heart.”

To find out more about the Oriental Hotels and Resorts Group, visit www.theorientalhotels.com