IT WAS one challenge after another. The pandemic has not been kind. It paralyzed economies, borders were closed, and tourism was one of the hardest hit sectors. Persevere and adapt were keys to survive. While on the path to healing, came another calamity – Typhoon Odette. Highly industrialized and tourism hotspot Cebu is one of the areas that has been hit by both. How is the tourism sector rising above the challenges?

Seda hotels have two properties in prime locations in Cebu City: the 301-room Seda Ayala Center is within the financial district of Cebu Business Park and 214-room Seda Central Block in the center of the growing business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in Cebu IT Park. Both are favored hotels of business and leisure travelers because of its location and amenities, and the two have easy access to Ayala Malls’ numerous dining, entertainment and retail options.

How did Seda combat the pandemic challenge?

“The pandemic is not an excuse. We have to look for opportunities,” said Gwen dela Cruz, general manager of Seda Ayala Center and the first female general manager of Seda Hotels.

And opportunity Seda found in the BPO industry. From the onset of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period and most of 2020 when the nation was on a lockdown and traveling was restricted, the hotels became the residences of the BPO employees, the safety bubbles of the firms.

The following year, in February 2021, both properties were designated as quarantine hotels. It was a comfortable home for those required to undergo quarantine, which included returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and overseas Filipinos.

In July 2021, the Seda hotels were authorized to function as multiple-use hotels expanding their hospitality to include non-quarantine guests, like long-staying guests, returning residents, business and leisure travelers, among others. Now serving two guest categories, the hotel is strictly adhering to health and safety protocol.’

With the direction Seda was taking, the design vision for the younger Seda Central Bloc proved beneficial. It opened in 2019, a year before the pandemic struck. Of the room inventory, 58 are serviced apartments with home-like conveniences to accommodate long staying guests. It made for the ideal arrangement for the market the hotel is aiming to cater to.

With safety as the primary concern, Ron said, “We came up with our 'Safe at Seda' health and safety program. We reiterate our commitment to our guests’ and employees’ well-being with a comprehensive range of intensified efforts that follow government and global industry safety guidelines. Guests thus felt reassured and comfortable staying with us and showed appreciation in their feedback.”

Seda values its all Filipino staff. “The pandemic made us a family. Walang iwanan,” Gwen shared, adding that the best way to move during a time of uncertainty is to be honest, make everyone understand the situation.

What has she learned during the trying time and how is she going to use it to Seda’s advantage?

“The Hotel and Tourism industry was so much affected during the pandemic. As Hoteliers, we are trained not to give up but look for opportunities to thrive and stay resilient,” she replied.

“During the pandemic, we had to shift our focus on essential business like catering to BPOs, OFWs, quarantine guests and even Food-To-Go. We had to make sure that our people have their jobs and help one another the best we can and always showing the value of ‘malasakit’. Our mindset was to be prepared for the winds of change. As the saying goes “It is how we embrace the uncertainty in our lives that leads to great transformations.”

It is Ron Manalang’s first stint as hotel manager after seven years as the corporate executive assistant manager for rooms. The pandemic is a major hurdle, but he took the challenge head on.

When asked the same question, his reply was, “There are four key lessons that come to mind. One, we have the capacity and ability to be resilient. People have different means and methods of coping with situations, but with proper motivation and guidance, we are able to work as a team and rise above any challenge.”

“Two, technology is key for work mobility. Being constantly in touch with the team through the use of the different technologies, is essential. Chat apps were vital in facilitating operational needs—general and any adjustments necessary. These became a regular occurrence due to various unexpected or last-minute issues. But staying connected helped us to manage the situation well.”

“Of course, safety and proper healthcare are important. Preventive measures can save lives and avoid potential liability; and last, but not the least, versatility of products and service helped us offer solutions to clients whose needs changed due to the pandemic. Flexibility and innovation were key in broadening our offerings and tapping new markets.

When the health restrictions were eased in 2020, Seda hotels in Cebu welcomed 30-percent leisure guests on the monthly average. By October, it was higher, shared Gwen.

Just when everyone was ready to celebrate a more relaxed Christmas and New Year after going through more than a year of pandemic, Typhoon Odette struck. It greatly devastated the city and provinces of Cebu, and washed away the holiday spirit.

“Seda Ayala Center Cebu was also affected by the typhoon but we continued to operate and provided accommodation to residents, employees of companies affected by the typhoon including our very own colleagues who lost their homes,” shared Gwen.

Seda’s focus was to arm their team to help and manage the needs of all the guests, colleagues and communities around them who were badly affected. Everyone’s health and well-being were top priority.

The Seda hotels provided continued power, water and wi-fi signal to hotel guests and also people coming in.

“We have all given one another strength and determination to face the challenges and rise to the current situation. We are lucky to be part of the Ayala Team and ‘Alagang Ayala’ was immediately provided to communities affected by distributing basic necessities. It’s all about rebuilding and extending compassion and generosity.”

“A pandemic, a calamity. Resilience has taught us to adapt to be able to rise above any adversity. It takes time. Where we are now, where Seda is now, is something to be proud of,” said Gwen.

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