Taal Vista gets new groove
At 79 years old, the Taal Vista Hotel, the oldest in Tagaytay, is being updated to stay current and relevant in a heavily saturated market.
By August, the 27 Ridge Rooms, facing Taal Lake, will be completed. Aside from the generous cuts of 45 square meters each with private balconies, these rooms open to views of the Taal Volcano. Meanwhile, 100 rooms in the Mountain Wing will undergo complete renovation for three months. Bathtubs will be replaced with freestanding showers. Doors will be replaced in the Lake Wing, meanwhile, to buffer the noise.
Overseeing these efforts is Taal Vista general manager Richard Gamlin.
“I’m a caretaker. My job is to revitalize the brand and keep elevating it in stages in a more competitive market. I continue to sustain the brand, keep the engagement of the team, and improve guest satisfaction. The future is rosy even in a competitive landscape with more properties coming on. We are in a good position now,” says Gamlin.
“Competition has grown with the food and beverage as well. It’s a challenge to keep people interested in our outlets. Our target for business is generational,” he adds.
Taza, the farm-to-table private dining, is bullish about promoting creations by executive chef Jayme Natividad. The all-day restaurant known for its fresh ingredients, Veranda, has added more Filipino food on its menu, as demanded by the market.
“We are a Filipino company and we want to stay true to the Filipino style,” Gamlin explains .
Weekends can be challenging for turnover of the rooms. Although the check-in time is at 2 p.m., guests tend to arrive earlier and wait while their rooms are thoroughly prepared. The rainy weather can also intimidate the hotel’s main clientele from Manila from driving down to Tagaytay.
Nonetheless, without revealing figures, Gamlin says, “We are doing better than last year.”
Likewise, Gamlin is hands-on in sales.
The hotel is offering different strategies such as flexible wedding packages, intimate socials for smaller function rooms and team building packages with Sky Ranch theme park as the hotel’s partner.
Taal Vista is also exploring new markets such as the Chinese and golf groups.
For the hotel to stay profitable, Gamlin keeps his nose to the grindstone. “We pay attention to everything and make sure that the return is right,” he says.
Gamlin began his career in food and beverage in New Zealand. He developed his passion for baking from his grandmother, who was also an expert cake decorator. At 14, he worked in bakeries.
To become a professional chef, Gamlin joined the Air Force which offered a training program under the City and Guilds of London Institute. After being an army chef, he worked his way up in several restaurants; became head chef in Marlborough, New Zealand’s wine country, and chef de cuisine at The George Christchurch.
Gamlin enjoyed the rush of a la carte service.
“You are prepared as everything has been set up, but everything happens at once. There is a flurry of activity. Even if you know what you’re doing, things feel as if you are out of control. That’s when your training comes in,” he says.
A turning point in his career was working in Shanghai at the Regal Hotels International as executive chef and assistant food and beverage manager. In 2001, Shanghai hosted Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meet, months after the SARS scare. The hotel held a special event where Gamlin met heads of state.
“Here’s this little Kiwi guy shaking hands with Vladimir Putin and other presidents,” he recalls.
However, he had to work under four F&B directors in his short four-and-a-half year tenure.
“Every time one left, I’d be running the operations from two to six months for the whole division. When a new guy came in, he’d be telling me how to do the job that I had been doing for many years. I wasn’t sure what the direction to go in. After the fourth, I said I didn’t want to work for another F&B director,” he recalls.
The Hong Kong head office preferred to hire an outsider than promote Gamlin.
He then moved to Vietnam as food and beverage director of Swiss Belhotel Horizon Hotel.
“It turned out to be the best position. The F&B controlled that destiny,” Gamlin says. The post would eventually lead to general manager.
In Hanoi, he met his future wife.
For eight years, Gamlin worked for the Hilton hotels in China where he moved his way up from F&B director to director for operations.
The shift from kitchen to executive duties was seamless for Gamlin.
“Chefs are always focused on revenues. I learned every inch of hotels when I became part of hotel openings. You see everything going in and how they are installed. It’s a good opportunity to learn how things work and why they are there,” he says.
Before the Philippines, Gamlin became resident manager of the Amari Orchard in Pattaya, Thailand. A learning experience was managing the potential chaos in a New Year’s Eve outdoor party. As the staff was about to set up the buffet, it rained hard. They had to be creative in relocating the party to other venues despite the fact that the latter had been booked. Still, they managed to hold an enjoyable party inside the resort. Fortunately, the skies cleared up at 11 p.m. for the fireworks by the poolside.
A year into his post as Taal Vista’s general manager, Gamlin’s aim is to make the staff and guests equally happy. An internal survey revealed that the team satisfaction was high.
“It’s a matter of listening and making changes,” says the hotelier.—CONTRIBUTED
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