‘Just a coordinator and member of the group’
Christopher Park knew it was a daunting task.
But the general manager of the Manila Pavilion Hotel gamely took on the arduous challenge of bringing one of Manila’s historical landmarks back to life when he took over in 2007.
“My initial task was to bring the Pavilion back to life. The hotel has a strong, rich history so what I had to do was to actually put it back to the standard to which Hilton and Waterfront stand for,” Park recalls.
Formerly known as The Hilton Hotel, the Waterfront Manila Pavilion was one of the most prestigious hotels during its heyday but had unfortunately found it difficult to keep up with the growingly fickle needs of the local and foreign tourist markets despite several changes in name and management.
“I wanted to put the Pavilion back on the map as to what the Hilton had 20 years ago. I took on the challenge because I felt there was something which cannot be put into words when you describe taking such a historical building and turning it into a beautiful flower again,” Park explains.
“The main challenge was basically how to bring the hotel to the Waterfront standard of excellence in terms of service and product, and eventually turning it into a profitable business. Putting it back to being a proper five-star hotel required a lot of personnel revamping and structural change,” he further says.
Without having to divulge much details on the hotel overhaul, Park discloses that the challenges he encountered during the early stages of transformation were— simply put—not for the weak of heart.
Thankfully, his strategy and management style allowed him to get through the process unscathed.
“I would never say my role was crucial but what I would say is that I am just an instigator. It’s the people around me that made all these happen. We could not have gone to where we are if it wasn’t for the determination of the owners to do the project and the management team that I have to complete everything. I was just a conductor, a member of the group,” Park adds.
Park, a British national, is no stranger to the Philippines, coming in the country more than 26 years ago to, as in his own words, “work in the kitchen as a chef.”
“When I came here in the ’80s, I served as an opening chef for a restaurant in Makati. But my first hotel job was in Subic, where I opened the Legenda Hotel and Casino. After that, I also spent time working at The Manila Hotel and then I moved to Laoag to work at Fort Ilocandia,” Park relates.
It was after helping restore Fort Ilocandia that Park went back to the restaurant business, joining Roasters Philippines, which is the holding company of Kenny Rogers and Seattle’s Best Phils. But as fate would have it, he was again back into the hotel industry in 2007 at the Manila Pavilion, which is under the management of the Waterfront Hotels chain.
“I have worked for Waterfront before when [it was still the owner] of Fort Ilocandia and I have high respect for the owners. So even though I was already aware of the daunting task that lies ahead, it was for me a very easy decision to make,” he discloses.
Mission ‘almost’ accomplished
Currently, much of the transformation work at the Manila Pavilion has already been completed, with 50 percent of the rooms and 90 percent of the public areas already renovated. In terms of management, facilities upgrade and service standards, the hotel has already achieved its set goal, according to Park.
“Although we have captured other markets, the Waterfront Manila Pavilion is majority a corporate hotel, a businessman’s hotel and as such we want to establish ourselves as what a Waterfront hotel is recognized, a four-star hotel with five-star service and facilities,” he claims.
One of the most notable changes at the Manila Pavilion is the introduction of a one-of-a-kind specialty floor—The Ambassador Club—where guests are assured to experience comfort, convenience and luxury.
“The Ambassador Club is a hotel within a hotel. It is a staple in all Waterfront hotels whereby we provide full-service complete with butler and a lounge for guests to enjoy,” Park explains.
“Right now, I’m just very proud to work for Waterfront and be the general manager of the Pavilion because the vision has been put to life. I know for a fact that I could walk away and the people would still do their job. But if you asked me that same question two years ago, no I wouldn’t be. I have so much confidence on my team because of what we’ve been through in the last two years and in what we have achieved,” Park claims.
While Park is much satisfied with what he has accomplished over the past six years, he believes that this isn’t the time yet to relax as there remains, still, a lot of room for growth.
“I can’t relax just yet. In fact, I’m far from it. We still have 25 percent more of our original plan to work on and if we sit back and relax, what took five years to develop would disappear in six months. It’s a constant push to keep the Waterfront standard and to make sure what we developed wont go into ruins so quickly,” Park concludes.
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