He’s single, fashionable and lives a charmed and stylish life. Someday, Stephen Rey Tagud may even be the face of the domestic shipping industry.
His photogenic looks are a help. He’s very visible on TV magazine shows which serve as forums for his mission to draw attention to local sea travel.
At age 33, Stephen is already vice president of the shipping line called 2GO Travel. As the passage business commercial officer, he makes traveling by ship around the country chic and comfortable.
It’s all about traveling in style, he says. Passenger ships shouldn’t feel like freight ships and so 2GO’s fleet has been extensively refurbished.
They come with luxurious staterooms that have the amenities of a deluxe hotel suite.
“It was just a few years ago when passengers had to make do with ships that had little or no facilities that could have made the trip more fun, relaxing and less boring,” he says.
“It was cheaper to travel by ship but it wasn’t appealing. Economy class passengers had to stay in dark, dormitory-like rooms,” he noted.
Stephen is working to make this less-than-desirable way to travel a thing of the past.
He wants to make every domestic voyage on a 2GO ship as exciting as going on a luxury cruise.
He gets inspiration from the huge ocean liners he traveled on whenever he took a cruise around Europe.
“These cruise ships are floating hotels,” he says. “And as with a hotel, each ship has a hotel manager onboard. The captain is in charge of steering the ship as safely as possible, but the hotel manager takes charge of almost everything else.”
Stephen is following this model and he hopes the idea of traveling in a floating hotel would be more tempting for Filipinos, who have lately been enticed by the lower fares of budget airlines.
To further lure people accustomed to flying, 2GO has introduced various features that help make the inter-island trips less stressful.
Among them is an elegant waiting lounge situated at Rizal Park. Built to cater to first class passengers, the lounge, dubbed The Hub, is adjacent to the park’s Japanese and Chinese gardens.
It has a check-in counter and a full service restaurant with a menu that showcases regional cuisine.
“First class passengers won’t have to drive all the way to the terminal at the harbor. They can just check in at The Hub and take the shuttle to the terminal two hours before departure time,” he says.
The Hub is also open to park visitors looking to have a hearty lunch for a reasonable price. It’s situated on a strategic spot just a few meters from Roxas Boulevard. Stephen says it was the park development committee that offered the space to 2GO. “Their offer came at just the right time,” he says. “And we’re glad they came to us, and not to any other establishment.”
To the movers and shakers of the local shipping industry, Stephen’s active role in 2GO isn’t a surprise.
Stephen’s father, Sulficio Tagud is chief executive of Negros Navigation, which acquired Superferry and other smaller sea carriers a few years ago.
With this merger, 2GO travel was born and it now covers all the routes of Negros Navigation and Superferry. These include Cebu, Bohol, Iloilo, Caticlan and Cagayan de Oro.
At first, it seemed Sulficio Tagud had to accept the fact that none of his three children would follow in his footsteps and help run the shipping company.
His only daughter was studying to be a doctor while his youngest son wanted to be a musician.
When he was in high school at Collegio de San Agustin in Makati, middle child Stephen also wanted to be a doctor.
“But I soon realized that it wasn’t for me,” laughs Stephen. “I saw what my sister was going through when she was taking Medicine at UST. I decided to take Hotel Management instead.”
Stephen searched for a school on-line and he found one in Switzerland. Thus in the tradition of many wealthy families, Stephen attended Swiss boarding school Les Roches International School of Hotel Management.
And as with all students majoring in Hotel Management, Stephen, who grew up in affluent Dasmariñas Village, learned how to clean toilets.
“We also had to learn German, French and Italian. If you would be working in a hotel in Europe, you have to speak those three languages fluently.”
After finishing the three-year diploma course, Stephen chose not to work in a hotel in Europe.
Instead, it was off to Las Vegas where he furthered his studies and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management at University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). He later went back to Les Roches for postgraduate studies.
In Las Vegas, he was hired to work with the convention services department of The Wind. The glitz of Vegas and the prestige of The Wind, it turned out, were the perfect fit for Stephen.
“I enjoyed working and living in Vegas,” he says. “I had my own place and I was proud of the fact that I was working for a hotel like The Wind. But I never did cut myself off from home.”
“Every now and then, the staff at Negros Navigation would consult with me and I’d help them with some of the issues involving the shipping company. We would communicate regularly by e-mail,” he added.
When 2GO was established, the older Tagud decided that the new company could make good use of his son’s expertise.
Stephen was offered the job to market the company’s services. “This was a big decision to make,” recalls Stephen, who already loved the Vegas life and the direction his career was taking.
But the job that waited for him in Manila was also too good to resist. So once he was back in Manila, he plunged into work to take sea travel up to a new level.
“The family and I once went on a memorable cruise around Scotland. And when 2GO was established, it was decided to apply those things we enjoyed in those cruises to our ships.”
One of the other new things to domestic sea travel he introduced was entertainment. “Each of our ships has a bar that can accommodate a live band. We also introduced videokes, and passengers can dine in style in a full service restaurant. But unlike the cruise ships abroad, we won’t require them to dress formally for dinner.”
A glossy complimentary on-board travel magazine published by 2GO is another unique feature.
Called “Trip,” the publication is also managed by Stephen who helps create the themes for each issue.
And of course, the ships’ interiors look more opulent; even the economy class dormitory-style rooms look very stylish.
From the looks of it, style-setters are beginning to like Stephen’s style. Magazines have come knocking and requesting to hold fashion shoots onboard. Film and television companies also want to film on the ships.
“We’re also pitching the ships to be the setting for a TV series,” he says. “It could be something like ‘The Love Boat’ or a telenovela. We’ll be meeting with a TV network soon to discuss this possibility,” he says.
At this point, 2GO is looking into the feasibility of establishing actual cruise routes or island-hopping tours that will have the ships stopping at a popular tourist destination for a day.
“We’re still studying the market for this type of cruise,” he says. “And if there is a market, then we may at last have our very own version of the cruises they have in Europe.”
Whenever he can, Stephen takes a trip on one of their ships to check on how things are going onboard. “And now that my hands are full, I only have time for a break in Coron or Boracay, which is my favorite island getaway. And I get there on our ships, of course.”