A passion for storytelling

OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO. Alice Queblatin found her calling in taking visitors on tours around Cebu. (Contributed photo)

THE best tour guide brings a destination to life with his passion, storytelling and wit.

This has made Alice Kintanar-Queblatin a leader in Cebu’s travel and tours industry. Her love affair with tourism came as an accident, borne out of her love to communicate, build relationships and, of course, travel.

Queblatin finished an arts degree in speech and drama in the University of the Philippines. Back in college, she busied herself by joining theater. She also took a short course in mass communications.

When she returned to Cebu, she was invited to teach in the University of Southern Philippines Foundation, and eventually transferred to the University of San Carlos (USC) to teach speech and communication full-time.

After a year of teaching, Queblatin took a masters in linguistics and was offered a three-year scholarship in Germany to pursue basic and advanced German studies.

“I was sent to study the German language and literature,” said Queblatin, adding that she grabbed the opportunity because she enjoyed studying.

Little did she know that the trip would open more opportunities and lead her to an industry that everybody loves.

While studying in a foreign land, Queblatin ventured into various jobs. During the summer, she would work in a mall as an elevator girl. She also became a waitress and a salesgirl, among others.

“Those years I spent in Germany were important years for me because there, I discovered I was good with connecting to people,” she said.

Queblatin said she enjoyed her stint as an elevator girl because not only did she get to practice the German language, but she also memorized the outlets per floor and what they sold so she could effectively communicate to the customers.

“It’s the same in guiding tours. You become the walking information center,” she said.

Queblatin recalled that she got plenty of gratuity for her customer service and for being hospitable.

After her studies ended, Queblatin came home and continued teaching in USC. But while teaching, she took a part-time job as a tour guide for German tourists.

“It was a timely entry too because it was in the 1970s when Cebu’s tourism was starting to get organized. There were plenty of seminars for guides,” said Queblatin.

She said the city tour was a big hit for Cebu’s tourism as it was also during that time when Germans’ interest in the Philippines was high.

“The Department of Tourism (DOT) got me to speak about German culture in one of their tour guiding seminars,” she said.

From being a part-time tour guide and full-time teacher, Queblatin’s tourism network grew alongside the high take-home pay. Eventually, she became a part-time teacher and a full-time tour guide.

“Tour guiding is beyond attending to your guests’ needs. It is all about storytelling,” she said, adding that her background in theater made her guests get hooked on her stories.

Queblatin became one of the first tour guides accredited by the Department of Tourism and one of the pioneers in Cebu’s travel and tours industry.

She devoted her time to developing her tour guiding career until she opened Southwinds Travel and Tours in 1991 through a Japanese partner.

Today, Southwinds employs about 30 people. Besides offering tour packages, it also operates a tourist transport service that brings guests to the different tourism attractions in the province.

Queblatin’s vast experience, influence and her being vocal about issues affecting Cebu’s tourism industry have also earned her positions in various tourism-related organizations.

She is currently the president of the Cebu Alliance of Tour Operations Specialists and the vice president of Cebu’s Tourism Congress.

What was your first job?

I was a teacher prior to my tour guiding career. But I started making money when I went to Germany for my advanced studies. I worked as an elevator girl in a mall, a waitress and a salesgirl.

Who inspired you to get into business?

When I accepted a part-time job as a tour guide for German tourists, I saw how lucrative tour guiding was if done professionally. My P8,000 monthly salary as a teacher back then could be earned in less than three weeks’ time through tips and commissions from shops.

But more than the income, the experience and the people you meet in the tourism industry is far more valuable. I didn’t intend to become an entrepreneur because I was already content being a tour guide. The immense fun is incomparable.

But it was also the confidence and trust of my previous client, a Japanese, that pushed me to consider the opportunity. That time too, Japanese arrivals to the Philippines was booming and he wanted us to take care of this big market.

When did you realize this was what you were meant to do?

I realized over the years that if you want to be successful in tourism and travel, you have to be a good communicator. Fortunately, communication is one of my strengths. I love to tell people stories and interact with them. It’s natural for me.

I am also blessed because my husband, Mario, who is an architect, later joined me in the business. I told him that this is an industry that makes one feel energetic, alive and a job that makes one stay young. Because he is a sportsman, he learned diving and is now a licensed diver. We help each other grow the business, along with our children.

Why did you pick this type of business or industry?

This is a job that I love and enjoy. There’s never a dull moment talking to guests and taking them to places. Each day is a new learning experience, and you get to discover beautiful places in your own hometown and tell stories about them.

If you are a tour guide, the content of your story is important because that’s what your guests will relay to their friends when they go back home. Interaction (with guests) is another factor because that’s what will make their experience in your country memorable. More importantly, you gain friends along the way.

Tour guiding is beyond attending to your guests’ needs. It is all about storytelling so you can compel them to either lengthen their stay or come back and bring more friends.

Where did you get the training you needed to succeed?

Success in this business didn’t come overnight. I dedicated time to learn the business, the basic and advanced principles in tour guiding, and handling of different guests. I continue to be an active stakeholder in the industry by helping scout for new tourism attractions to sell to the world. I also joined tourism expos and travel fairs abroad to help market Cebu.

Catos, an organization which I represent, is also actively helping the government in all of its thrusts of growing the country’s arrivals.

How many times did you fail before you succeeded?

Tourism is a dynamic industry, so you have to be quick, smart and flexible.

The rise of online bookings and the “do-it-yourself” thing in travel challenged all players to step up their offerings. Well, we cannot just be like everybody. But I still believe in giving guests that personal touch. So we continue to create packages and activities that the internet cannot provide. We continue to package Cebu, not just as a destination, but an experience.


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