Intercon to stop operations by yearend.” When I first read the news last year, I had to read it twice before it sank in.
An era gone—all those exhilarating years when Hotel InterContinental Manila (HIM) was my obsession.
I joined HIM when then general manager Graham Jeffrey and assistant GM Gerry Johnston offered me the position of marketing and PR director after our Department of Tourism sales blitz to Tokyo.
I was then PR manager of the Manila Hilton, but before the year ended I had accepted the position.
Makati was just being established as a city, with many subdivisions and buildings rising. Our owning company was Mermack Enjay Inc. (for Doña Mercedes McMicking and her two favorite nephews, Enrique and Jaime Zobel). Our occupancy was slowly rising because a lot of corporations were already moving to Makati.
Then the International Monetary Fund meeting was to be held in Manila, so more five-star hotels had to be built in Makati—the Peninsula, the Mandarin, the Manila Garden Hotel (now Dusit Thani)
We redesigned our arrival cards to clearly define where the booking was made. (This was before the advent of computers.) As we had suspected, most of the travel arrangements of executives were handled by the local corporations they were doing business with. Thus, the wining and dining began, and, thus, was born a new department spun from the Front Office: Guest Relations.
The first Guest Relations Officer (GRO) was the tall and lovely Therese Perrine (now Foley). She immediately recruited lovely and personable ladies and held court in a prominent place in the lobby.
The GRO concept started at HIM, and was soon adopted by the InterContinental chain worldwide.
Our GRO office was serious business. The girls were tasked to build up a history card of all guests, with special attention to corporate accounts. The PR office reminded us that “there is nothing sweeter than hearing one’s name.” It worked like magic.
They also recommended token gifts for repeat guests, from personalized stationery to special fruit basket.
Our GM Pierre D. Martinet was marketing-oriented and had flair and sophistication; he came up with our now famous “Top Account Weekends.” We invited CEOs and their wives to meticulously planned luxury weekends. We took them to Punta Baluarte, Calatagan, Baguio.
We also took care of the secretaries by creating an “Elle Club” with Air France, organizing merienda and cooking demos. They turned out to be our secret weapon, because they would tip off our sales executives about coming area conferences.
Credit has to be given to the sales staff, popularly known as “The Magnificent 7”: Lyn Holazo, Ara Valenzuela, Myra Mantaring, Anamarie Gonzalves, Maridel Gonzalez, Vicky Perez de Tagle, Henrietta Ho and Ramon Aldeguer, with Edu Jarque as assistant sales director, Rose Libongco as PR manager, and Therese Perrine as GRO.
A year before the other Makati hotels opened, I joined an eight-city blitz through Europe spearheaded by the Tourism Department. In a meeting with marketing bosses, I announced that I was pregnant! “You can’t do that to us!” exclaimed Terry Hill, our Pacific area marketing head.
Kane Rufe, our Asia-Pacific president, embraced me and said, “Congratulations, my dear, we will manage.” And manage we did.
I did no shopping, no sightseeing; upon arrival in every city, it was straight to my room until it was time to don my terno for the cocktail reception. By August 1976 I had a beautiful baby girl—Romina, now a mother of three.
Food and Beverage was tasked with making our outlets the “happening places” in town.
Le Boulevardier was making waves with beautiful singer Gigi Galon. In the mornings, Jeepney Coffee shop was where then Makati Mayor Nemesio Yabut would hold court. Popular columnists Doroy Valencia and Joe Guevara were regulars, as were top government officials.
I was once called late at night because there was a gunfight in the lobby. We could not keep it out of the newspapers, so instead, the joke became, “When is the next gunfight at the InterCon corral?”
We decided it was time to change El Castellano on the top floor into a seafood restaurant, similar to the successful one in our hotel in Bangkok. An in-house contest was launched to name it, and Bahia was opened.
We also opened the The IHC Oil Club beside Bahia because there were a lot of foreign guests drilling in Palawan, and HIM was their home base.
Over games of balut, Pierre Martinet and I were able to convince Andy Soriano of San Miguel Corporation to co-sponsor an all men’s club which we named Gambrinus, after the Flemish king of beer. Clients kept personal bottles of single malt whiskey. This was a popular place, until some feminists made noise about it.
Prince Albert Rotisserie, with its Parisian ambiance, and headlined by Billy King (then a rising star chef), was the place for fine dining. The gleaming silver trolley with its perfect roast beef was the centerpiece.
My personal favorite, though, was the herb-encrusted rack of lamb done the French way—pink perfection.
The diplomat and statesman Carlos P. Romulo was a frequent guest, so we decided to name the private salon in his honor, decorating the room with historic photographs. It became a sought-after private dining place.
During her annual visits from Sotogrande, Doña Mercedes McMicking would always ask me to arrange a lunch for her amigas, and she was delighted to hold it at the Romulo Salon.
French couturiers had exclusive shows in the ballroom. I was sent to Paris to finalize arrangements for the Pierre Balmain show, which drew Manila’s A-list, with Balmain himself as special guest.
This was followed by the Jean Patou show. Luckily, our very own Roy Gonzalez had just assumed the top post after Italian Designer Angelo Tarlazzi resigned, and the collection Roy assembled was suited to the Manila audience.
Big-name entertainers also performed in the ballroom. Brazilian music was taking the world by storm, and Sergio Mendes and his band performed in the ballroom. F&B managers Peter Stevens and Helmut Gaisberger were all smiles because the affair was sold out.
To encourage local theater, we invited Roxanne Lapuz and Gus and Ramon Aldeguer to produce dinner shows, the first one starring the popular Lotis Key.
Where Else, the popular disco, also had a makeover, and we teamed up with the “King” of nightlife in Manila, Louie Ysmael, drawing Manila’s yuppie crowd. We did a roaring ’20s affair that lasted till the wee hours. I can still hear that music.
Those good old days of the InterCon—how can they just disappear?