“Life is service and the one who progresses is the one who is willing to give his fellowmen a little more, a little better service.” — William Statler
THE words above from the founder of one of the United States’ earliest hotel chains, the Statler Hotels, has long inspired Anthony de Leon, head honcho of Baguio Country Club, to give guests to his famed golf resort only the best of experiences.
Considered an “innovator” by his colleagues in the hospitality industry, De Leon even furthered his passion for service by founding the Hotel and Restaurant Association in Baguio (HRAB), which just held its 13th Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Weekend in the City of Pines. [See related story on page 5]. He is also the present executive committee chairman of the summer capital’s Flower Festival, famously known as Baguio’s Panagbenga Festival.
Overflowing as his plate is, De Leon thrives in his multiple responsibilities and advocacies, not for any accolade, but simply to pursue his life’s passion.
“I wouldn’t describe myself as successful. For as long as you’re alive, you need to keep on learning, and you need to keep on striving because once you go into your comfort zone and consider yourself successful, that’s when you cease to become so,” De Leon told The Sunday Times Magazine in this exclusive interview.
De Leon remembers how he was first exposed to the hotel industry. “Even when I was a kid—about seven to eight years old—and particularly high school, my grandma whom I grew up with, had always wanted me to work in a hotel. So my mom and my uncle took me to many hotels and exposed me to the hospitality industry. They even took me to bars,” he chuckled. “We used to frequent Regent of Manila before it burned down.”
De Leon’s grandmother owned two piano bars in the ‘60s, the Beehive and Honey Comb, where he also had an immersion in the service business. She guided him to take a Tourism course at the University of Santo Tomas, during which time he gained experience as a food server in US fast food chain Dunkin Donuts’ first branch at the Quad Car Park in Makati City.
“I was a working student. I had to work the graveyard shift and go to school the next morning in UST. I got very thin, but with the experience, I was challenged all the more to pursue this profession,” recalled De Leon.
He considers himself very fortunate that at the end of his Tourism course, he underwent hotel training at five-star properties, namely InterContinental Manila, which closed its doors in December 2015, and Westin Philippine Plaza, now known as Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila. More so when he went for further studies in 1997 and 2000 at New York’s Cornell University.
By 1983, De Leon’s family opened another resto-bar called The Other Office in Malate, which drew the capital’s top businessmen. Shining at its helm, the young restaurateur was soon invited by then Baguio Country Club (BCC) president and chairman, the late Potenciano Ilusorio, to come up to Baguio and turn the property around.
“That was back in June 1989,” he reminisced. As the story goes, then BCC general manager Donald Nye interviewed De Leon and informed him how the club needed to improve its services. Appointed as Maitre D’ Hotel initially, the Manileño did his grandmother proud as he climbed up the ladder in the years that ensued, as Food and Beverage Manager, Acting General Manager, and finally, General Manager, which is the post he continues to fulfill to this day.
Even with his extensive training, De Leon admitted that getting BCC into tiptop shape back then was a lot of work. He professionalized the entire organization as well as standardized operations from the outset.
A believer in continuing education, the wise man turned BCC around while pursuing a course at the Dela Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s School of Hotel Restaurant and Institution Management (SHRIM). He got wind of their Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program (ETEEAP), and enrolled through the Taft campus in Manila City, along with other professionals who sought to gain a bachelor’s degree through their ongoing work experience.
Specifically tailored for industry practitioners, the program is conducted via distance education so that students need not take time off their jobs. Today, course requirements are sent over the Internet, with only the validation process required in the classroom setting at the tail end of the program.
Despite the demands of his job in faraway Baguio, De Leon was able to successfully hurdle the program and earned the distinction of becoming its first graduate. He also pursued his Masters in Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management at Benilde, and returned to Cornell University for his post-graduate studies.
Today, after 27 years since he took on the helm of BCC as general manager, the majority of the property’s improvements, innovations and projects can be attributed to De Leon’s vision, expertise and flair for hotel and restaurant management. Together, these trademarks of Baguio Country Club have become the standard of a modern and well-managed facility in the tourism hub up north.
As De Leon rose up the ladder of the hospitality industry, so did his awareness that hotel and tourism practitioners concurrently play very important roles in the development of community-related endeavors. His ability to lead coupled with his passion for change compelled him to establish the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio (HRAB) in August 2003. He laid out HRAB’s objectives in the following: (1) To lead the standardization of training programs and practices in the hospitality, marketing and tourism-related industries in the city; and (2) To design programs and activities that will augment tourists arrival.
“It was a challenge for us to put up the association, as there were already two organizations up and running in Baguio then—the Hotel and Inns Association and the Restaurant Association. But with the creation of HRAB 13 years ago, all our endeavors benefited not only Baguio but the entire Northern Luzon region,” informed De Leon, whose ultimate goal is to make the tourism hub globally competitive.
Again, from his experience, De Leon believes that it is through continuing education that the association’s vision will come to fruition, and already they are taking small steps in this direction.
“We’ve started out with Chef Inc. (“Center for Hospitality Education Foundation, Inc.,) which is now on its third year under HRAB in providing seminars and trainings for our 200-membership, from the original 15,” he shared with pride. “Eventually and with God’s help, we will put up the building of the HRAB school in the near future.”
De Leon also remains positive that the hospitality industry is on an upward growth in enticing young people to its varied professions, next to nursing.
“Filipinos are naturally hospitable and service-oriented,” he stressed. “And that’s why I firmly believe that the growing number of students taking up hotel and restaurant and other tourism-related courses today is a manifestation of the booming global tourism industry. Ultimately, I also know that Filipinos will be major players in this field because Filipinos are innately diligent and tenacious in their brand of service.”