WITH the earthshaking changes in the country’s political landscape, it is a fact that besides Malacanan, all eyes are simultaneously on the city of Davao, the progressive metropolis down south, from where the new Philippine President hails and is beloved.
But one Dottie Viajar Wurgler-Cronin is not in the least bit anxious with the situation—even if she is the current general manager of Mindanao’s sole five-star hotel, the Marco Polo Davao, and to boot, its first-ever Filipino and female top executive.
For as everyone knows in turn, since the city’s erstwhile Mayor Rodrigro Roa Duterte won the May 11 presidential elections, the number of visitors to Davao has experienced a dramatic increase. And as expected, Cronin and her team have been very much at the receiving end of this sudden influx of guests, with the hotel catering to regular tourist, and many of the country’s most important figures in business and government, including the diplomatic corps, and then President-elect Duterte himself.
Rather than be overwhelmed by all these changes, however, the highly qualified and good-natured lady hotelier is taking everything in stride. In fact, she is both excited and optimistic that these turn of events in the nation’s history will bring about further growth, not only for Marco Polo Davao, but the entire hospitality industry as well.
“The victory of our mayor as President will definitely spur an overall growth for Davao because there is an assurance for all stakeholders, and current and future investors that the business environment is stable and will be given immediate attention. I see an uptake in tourism from both domestic and international groups,” Cronin told The Sunday Times Magazine.
Specifically, for Marco Polo Davao, the general manager looks forward to a double-digit growth in occupancy rate in the next several years.
All on the up
Under Cronin’s watch, the hotel which is known for its tagline as the “Heart of Davao,” has already registered a 16-percent growth in occupancy rate from 2015.
In April alone, guests filled up nearly three-quarters of Marco Polo’s 245 rooms. Besides the Duterte victory, however, Cronin generally attributes the hotel’s thriving performance to a vibrant real estate sector and the presence of an income-churning business process outsourcing industry in the city.
“From here on, we expect more traffic from government and business groups to come to the hotel, meaning those who were mainly stationed in Manila will be traveling to Davao within the next few years,” the general manager related.
“On our end, we can guarantee that we will continue to be proactive in our service and anticipate changes in guests’ profiles.
“You see, it is important to put all these changes in the proper perspective in order for us to be constantly and appropriate prepared for the market, so as to avoid being caught off guard and derailed from our goals.”
Safe, easy travel
With the tourism and hospitality sectors closely intertwined, Cronin hopes the new government will keep its word in prioritizing airport improvements as well as other long overdue infrastructures to make the Philippines more attractive to international travelers and Filipino tourists alike.
“We should take advantage of Asia’s burgeoning tourist market and boost the country’s hospitality industry,” she added.
According to research conducted by credit card company MasterCard, more than 1.18 billion people travelled around the globe last year and several Asia Pacific cities captured close to a quarter of these arrivals.
Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, alone, received 21.9 million international tourists as the world’s top destination in 2015; Singapore, 11.8 million, Hong Kong, 8.3 million, and the Philippines 5.36 million, based on government reports.
“Government should support and give incentives to stakeholders who are willing to invest and reinvest in services needed in the hospitality business,” Cronin pointed out. “[It should also] address accessibility and international traffic to destinations like Davao to make connectivity to and from foreign countries easy for travelers.”
She went on to say that tourists must be protected and ensured of their safety and security, more specifically “to counter the image that Mindanao is not a safe place to visit.”
Cronin believes tax incentives should be given to businesses dealing with hotels, like buses and coaches for example. She added that local airfares must also be freed from high taxes and that local tourists should find it convenient to move from one destination to another.
“Travelling should be less of a hassle to our country and within to truly boost the tourism and hospitality industry,” Cronin stressed. She noted that local tourists in fact, account for over 90 percent of Marco Polo Davao’s clientele.
“Our countrymen generate a lot of revenue for the government. It is only right to give them more comfort, even in seemingly simple things like having clean toilets and clear signs in the terminals and ready taxis or ferries to bring them to their destinations.”
According to Cronin, Marco Polo Davao’s clients are predominantly business travelers for meetings, incentives, conferences, and events (MICE). Although Davao is an ideal leisure destination, offering highland to island getaways, their leisure tourism market is seasonal, peaking only in August for the city’s famous and colorful Kadayawan festival to celebrate good harvest.
“The merriment happens right across Marco Polo Davao,” she proudly related.
Cronin’s detailed ideas in improving the tourism and hospitality sectors are not only sourced from her work experience but in a large part from her experiences as a traveler.
As a little girl, Cronin grew up in Surigao, another urbanized province in Mindanao. She moved to Manila for college at St. Scholastica’s College, and went on to further her studies in Switzerland on the opposite side of the globe. There, she mastered service operations and sales in Les Roches International School of Hotel Management.
Returning home, she worked her way up different management posts in prominent hotels in Cebu City for many years. Finally, in March 2016 Marco Polo Hotels hired Cronin to manage the brand’s first property in the Philippines, Marco Polo Davao, which was established in 1998 by local firm Halifax Davao Hotel. The company’s owner is the new government’s Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.
Thriving in her post today, the general manger took a moment to say that she is not related in any way to Marco Polo Hotel’s president, Jennifer Cronin, who is Australian. The Filipina executive is married to an American of Irish descent.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong-based group Wharf, with businesses in container terminals and communications, owns the Marco Polo Hotel brand, known for its full-service hotels located in gateway cities and business districts across the Asia-Pacific region.
Happy, techie guests
Barely a year after Cronin took the helm of Marco Polo Davao (MPD), the property was named “2015 Hotel of the Year” by its international umbrella group Marco Polo Hotels.
MPD bested 13 other hotels under the chain all over Asia.
The Davao property previously bagged the Hotel of the Year award in 2007 and 2009. The award recognizes which among the chain’s properties excelled in critical areas like financial strength, guest satisfaction, and marketing strategies. MPD was noted to have fared best in guest satisfaction ratings.
Since becoming general manager, Cronin has made it a point to personally answer comments or concerns about Marco Polo Davao on online agent TripAdvisor’s website.
“I recognize the value of our guests, as they are the key to the growth and survival of the business,” she explained. “I believe a GM who gives personalized attention to our guests’ satisfaction will always be concerned of their feedback, and respond accordingly.”
Cronin also takes much pleasure in writing welcome greetings to arriving guests who, in turn, are impressed by such a personalized gesture.
“It makes them feel at home,” Cronin related.
Truly satisfied are the hotel’s guests that Marco Polo Davao also won the international 2015 Gold Circle Awards from Agoda.com, one of Asia’s leading hotel booking sites and part of the Nasdaq-listed Priceline Group. The accolade is given to properties around the globe that embody the best qualities of online booking experience.
Cronin also takes pride in winning the 2015 Bold Leadership Award, which, she says, symbolizes Marco Polo Hotels’ philosophy of management—that of “doing the right thing despite challenges and circumstances.”
Cronin joined the Davao property at a time when the hotel’s business plan was already laid out. Armed with an extensive exposure in hotel management, she boldly and dutifully implemented the said plan, even if she had not been preseitn during its development.
“I was part of a transitional management,” she shared. “At that time, there were a lot of vacant critical positions, like in sales and marketing and food and beverage. These are key departments, where some people were also new. So I endeavored to create an environment to get the team together and align everyone with the hotel’s vision and goals.”
She implemented a monthly evaluation of the hotel’s achievements, beginning with occupancy. She says the practice has a proven motivating effect on the hotel’s staff, as they not only take stock of their performance but they also celebrate their small successes on a regular basis.
Cronin is known as a disciplined and systematic manager.
“I can be meticulous at times,” she professed. From the outset, she ordered her staff to do their jobs right, and to learn from their mistakes if they err. Perhaps, her style is part and parcel of being a female manager, whose upside is that she can also be a “mother” to her associates.
“Being firm with them when I need to and guiding them when they deviate from the path or organizational standards, which are set ahead,” she detailed.
Above all, she is open and fair.
“I always ensure that I lend an ear to my team, and factor in their respective concerns and ideas in my decision-making process,” she related.
Moreover, being a Filipino hotel manager in the Philippines, for Cronin, is also a plus in her leadership as it makes communication with her staff and the majority of guests a lot easier.
“I can communicate easily in the same dialect with our team,” she elaborated, well aware that many foreign hotel GMs often find difficulty in getting their message across. “I also have a natural sensitivity and deep understanding of Filipino culture and tradition, and I have the ability to empathize with their needs and priorities, especially when it is related to family concerns.”
With such a huge responsibility for a well-known property, Cronin is grateful that her husband and 15-year-old son are very supportive of her, being both flexible and understanding of her job’s demands.
Although she says she feels humbled being chosen as the first Filipina general manager of a premier international hotel, she humbly asserted, “The challenges that I encounter can be experienced by anyone who is managing a hotel operation, regardless of gender or nationality.”