To contribute pages to the Pen’s 35 years
An uncanny ability to bring out the best in people, intimate knowledge of both profit statement and hotel services menu and enviable experience working with different cultures from across income classes are the qualities that Sonja F. Vodusek will be harnessing to do well in her first stint as general manager of a five-star luxury hotel.
Vodusek, who was born and raised in Australia to immigrants from Slovenia, is the new General Manager of The Peninsula Manila, which is celebrating its 35th year of providing corporate travelers and the local community with its unique brand of luxury and service; and she intends to add to the vibrant personality that has made The Peninsula Manila a favorite among hotel habitués.
The graduate of the Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology is the first woman to hold the high pressure job and the veteran hotelier is excited to make a difference in the running of The Peninsula Manila, which was the first hotel established outside the Peninsula Group’s home base of Hong Kong.
The timing of her taking over the reins of the landmark hotel is auspicious, says Vodusek, as the hotel industry both here and abroad is on its way back up after being laid low by the global financial crisis, which strained the budgets of corporate travelers that make up a good portion of The Peninsula Manila’s core market.
“The hotel industry is coming out of a slump. There has been an increase in occupancies and there are opportunities for further growth,” Vodusek tells the Inquirer in an interview at the perennially busy lobby of The Peninsula Manila.
And much of that growth in the global hotel industry is expected to come from Asia, which the nine-hotel Peninsula Group knows intimately, thus putting it in a unique position to take advantage of opportunities to boost the bottom line.
To do just that, Vodusek says the group is coming together to tap emerging markets abroad, not just in the region but also in the United States and Europe where the group has a small presence compared to other chains.
“We are a small brand, we are just a nine-group hotel, so we don’t have a big presence in other countries unlike some of our competitors, but what we do have is brand presence in Asia and we have to take advantage of that,” says Vodusek, who came to the Philippines two months ago after a short stint as Hotel Manager of The Peninsula New York.
At the same time, Vodusek says it is part of her mandate to further strengthen The Peninsula Manila brand in the country, considering that more hotels are scheduled to start operations in and around the Makati central business district over the next few years.
“Over the next few years, there will be a significant increase in competition, so we have to continue to seek more emerging markets and be even more active in the loyal community,” says Vodusek, “We have to think outside the box.”
Fortunately for Vodusek, she is inheriting a hotel that already has very strong ties with the local community, such that it continues to enjoy high occupancy numbers and its food and beverage outlets are almost always full. She puts this down to the hotel’s brand of personal service and continuing investment in innovations and hotel improvements.
After completing the room renovations of the twin towers that started in 2006, The Peninsula Manila added Escolta in 2009 and Salon de Ning in 2010. This year, Vodusek is excited about the delivery of the Peninsula Fitness Center with a specialized spa attached to it.
“We have to continue investing in improvements. Old Manila is also up for renovation and so is the Peninsula Suite. But if there’s one wish on my list, it’s the addition of a new ballroom. That would have changed the dynamic of this hotel,” says Vodusek, who has had a long career with The Four Seasons Hotels in the United States, Europe and Asia.
But since that new ballroom will remain a wish for the meantime, Vodusek and her team will work with the assets that The Peninsula Manila already has, such as its cadre of veteran managers and employees.
The Australian does not feel that it will be difficult for her to work with her mainly Filipino staff considering that she is no stranger to the Filipinos’ culture and way of life, having lived with Filipinos in Australia and working with them in hotels around the world.
“This is why when the chance to come over and work here came, I grabbed it,” declares Vodusek, who has enjoyed different types of adobo and pansit in her lifetime.
And by the time she ends her tour of duty in the Philippines, she wants to accomplish at least one thing: to contribute lines to the story of The Peninsula Manila that is still being written after 35 years.
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