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Gel Gomez, Hotel101 General Manager : Leading Hotel 101’s global transformation

She graduated with a hotel and restaurant management degree from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines during what she called the non-digital age in 2001. To look for a job, Gel Gomez, Hotel101 General Manager, had to browse through the classified ads of a newspaper.

      She knew back then that she wanted to be in the hotel and tourism industry and there was one advertisement that caught her eye.

      “There was an opening for a sales executive position at Grand Regal Hotel Davao but the office was in Quiapo. Since it was the non-digital age, I thought no one would take this job,” Gomez related.

      “I did a little research via Yahoo at that time and I learned that it was the first deluxe hotel in Davao. At that time I was already advanced in terms of researching so I knew that it would be a good job and that it would be mine,” she added.

Wet market of Quiapo

True enough, the sales office of Grand Regal Hotel Davao was located beside the Quiapo Bridge in what Gomez described as the “wet area.” She later learned that the Grand Regal Hotel Davao was owned by the Gaisanos, the owner of the Gaisano Malls.

      “I was accepted together with two others to run the Manila Sales Team. Another challenge that I had to overcome was the hotel was in Davao and I had to undergo training there. It was the height of the Abu Sayaff at that time and my Mom did not want me to go there. She called the hotel and told them that I was no longer pursuing the job,” Gomez said.

      Eventually, Gomez made the trip to Davao for her immersion and training. While there, she had the opportunity to learn from the hotel owners and general manager. The experience, Gomez said, was fulfilling and she stayed there for two years.

      After her stint at Grand Regal, Gomez was supposed to transfer to a luxury hotel in Singapore. She had already made the trip to Singapore but the job did not push through. When she returned to Manila, Gomez joined the sales team of Orchid Garden Suites, a boutique hotel in Malate area.

Three properties

After Orchid, Gomez joined the Manila Sales Office of Waterfront Hotel in Cebu where she handled three properties. In October 2005, she joined Sofitel where she worked for 10 years.

      “I enjoyed working in Sofitel, which boasted magnificent sunset views. The challenge then was how can you ask people from Makati Business District to go there? Why would they travel to the Bay Area, when there were Shangri-la Makati, Peninsula and Hotel Intercontinental? But my mentor never accepted location as a lost business reason,” she said.

      Gomez trained under Rose Libongco, Sunshine Robles and the late Christine Ibaretta, all pillars in the hotel industry.

      “I was so blessed to be under these three ladies. I am honored to have trained under these industry pillars and I learned to be a winner at Sofitel during my 10-year stint,” Gomez noted.

      After 10 years in Sofitel, the GM then of Hotel101 Group asked Gomez if she would consider joining a new hotel that was still under construction. When she made her way to Sofitel every day, she would pass by the construction site of the future Hotel101. As is her wont, Gomez did her own research about the company before making her decision.

      “Who wouldn’t want to be part of DoubleDragon? To work with Injap Sia, the self-made entrepreneur and visionary founder of Mang Inasal. I have learned about the merger of Jollibee and Mang Inasal, and the successful IPO of DoubleDragon at that time so I was easily convinced to join. That is a local brand and I want to be part of a homegrown brand,” she said

Someone who delivered

At that time Gomez was already the Assistant Director for Sales at Sofitel. She was consistently the number one salesperson at Sofitel and because of this, she became known as being someone who delivered, no matter the quota that was given to her.

      Gomez joined Hotel101 in 2015 as Head for Group Sales and Marketing. At that time, the only hotel that was operational was Injap Tower Hotel in Iloilo City. Hotel101 – Manila came about in 2016.

      “We developed the Hotel101 brand as local homegrown brand. Jinjiang Inn, on the other hand, is the franchised brand from China so we also had to build the brand here in the Philippines. One of the challenges that we had to deal with early on was how to introduce and differentiate these brands to the Filipino market,” she said.

      On the second month of acquiring the Jinjiang Inn franchise, Gomez and her team went to China for an immersion training. It was during their trip to China that they experienced Jin Jiang Hotels as one of the largest hotel chains in China. They immersed themselves with the different hotel categories of the Jin Jiang brand – Jinjiang Hotel, Peace Hotel, Park Hotel, and Metropole Hotel, among others.

Basic needs met

For the Jinjiang Inn brand, the challenge was to inform the public that Jinjiang Inn in the Philippines “is two notches higher than an inn that offers the business traveler’s basic needs like wifi, breakfast, clean rooms and a very good location.”

      Currently, Gomez is in charge of running five hotels – Hotel101-Manila (518 rooms), Injap Tower Hotel in Iloilo (194 rooms), Jinjiang Inn in Ortigas (95 rooms), Jinjiang Inn in Makati (59 rooms) and Jinjiang Inn-Boracay Station 1 (10 rooms).

      Some time in 2019, the Hotel101 – Manila Hotel Manager resigned and Gomez offered to lead the hotel operations, concurrently as Head of Sales and Marketing. It was the peak of the hotel industry at that time and the hoteliers looked for new opportunities with so much openings in the market, including other key hotel managers.

      “I had to step up and handle both Operations and Sales and Marketing for the group. My focus at that time was Covid because we were one of the hotels which did not close even for one day because we had more than 100 long-staying guests apart from the other guests we had at that time,” Gomez recalled.

      So when Luzon was placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine on March 17, 2020, Gomez was coordinating with the Department of Tourism to inform them that they could not cease operations because of their guests. The first memo was issued and it stated that all long staying guests who arrived at the hotel prior to 12:01, March 17, 2020 can stay at the hotel.

Challenges faced

It was at the height of Covid that Gomez was named General Manager or GM of the Hotel101 Group. Her appointment came as a surprise to some but she was able to overcome the challenges brought about by Covid with flying colors.

      “Since it was Covid and coming from sales and marketing, you always know how to target things. Our revenues were very good during the pandemic because we got government accounts. You have to shift, you cannot have the same client and we had the government clients with us for two years,” she related.

      She added that while the other companies were retrenching during the pandemic, Hotel101 even created a new department – the Customer Service Department. She hired displaced people from several five-star hotels to help her handle the guests.

      “The people we got are very good at customer service. It is really different so I really wanted it to be embedded in each and every employee. They also helped handle the traumatic guests and made their quarantine experience a little lighter,” Gomez said, adding that if there were any changes in the government policies at that time were blamed on the front desk.

      While the hotels were busy adhering to health and safety protocols of the government, she also made it a point to check on her employees because they all had to stay at the hotel to reduce the chances of spreading the virus. “I would cook adobo for them and spend my free time with them to make sure that they were okay and that they were managing themselves while being away from their families,” Gomez said.

Management style

When asked about her management style, Gomez described it as being transformational. “Leadership involves a combination of competence, character and purpose,” she said.

      She is also a strong believer of strength based leadership, “maximizing the potential of each of our employees. I have my weaknesses so my direct reports should complement my skills and each other. It is like a puzzle, we should have people with a combination of competencies,” Gomez explained.

      Gomez starts the work week with a meeting with department heads for all hotels, the operations and sales and marketing team at 9 am. After that, she checks all documents submitted by the five properties. Tuesdays is scheduled for the meeting with the owners where Gomez updates them on the projects and plans.

      “I have to make sure that I visit all properties at least twice a month but for our flagship Hotel101-Manila, I have to visit every day to check on the operations. As it is our largest hotel, I give more attention to the needs of our team there,” Gomez said, adding that she also makes time to have lunch and dinner with clients and suppliers.

Future plans

When asked what time she ends her day, Gomez said it really depends because she is also taking up her MBA at the Ateneo-Regis. Gomez makes sure, though, that she gets eight hours of sleep so that she will be fresh and ready for another day at work.

      As for her future plans, Gomez said she still sees her herself working for Hotel101. That’s because of the many projects that are in the pipeline, including the opening of Hotel101-Niseko in Japan.

      “We aim to be the first global Filipino chain of hotels. We have already shifted from Hotel101 Group to Hotel101 Global, with our new vision to be one of the top ten largest hotel brands in the world. We are targeting 200,000+ room keys in our portfolio by 2035,” she said.

      Hotel101 Group will also be soon launching their Hotel101 Global App, designed to efficiently work in multiple countries, for guests to tap on the growing accommodations of Hotel101.

            “Who wouldn’t want to be part of these exciting plans? So I think for the next five or maybe 10 years I will still be with DoubleDragon, as I am sure it will always be an exciting day every day,” Gomez concluded.

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The article was originally published in Business Mirror and written by Anne Ruth Dela Cruz.

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