A True Attitude of Service: Pat Palanca Inspires Future Hoteliers with Her Successful, Moving Journey
Patria Puyat-Palanca, who currently holds the General Manager title at the Crowne Plaza in Vientiane, Laos, addressed an inspirational speech to the new batch of BS International Hospitality Management students in a virtual student orientation organized by Enderun Colleges last August 8, 2020.
As a former member of the Enderun faculty, Pat, what she’s usually called, shared her career story by starting how she got fascinated with the beautiful ladies she used to see at the lobby of Intercontinental Manila where her family frequently visited. In her heart, Pat always wanted to be one of them.
Her life aspirations kept her ablazed when she convinced her parents to pursue a hospitality degree in college. She recalled, “The day I boarded that Air France plane to Switzerland was the happiest day of my life and [it was also] the day my dreams started to take shape.” Pat graduated with flying colors from Les Roches.
The four years Pat spent in Les Roches were the best times of her life. “I had a dream. I stayed the course and I did the work.” she admitted. Pat believes that the most important ingredient for success starts with having a dream. “You plan your approach, work hard, and stay focused.”
After she graduated, Pat began working in Intercontinental Manila, which she claimed was her favorite hotel. However, getting the job had been not an easy feat for her. She tried thrice to get a position. This made her develop utmost resiliency while remaining determined about achieving what she wanted. She remembered saying, “You don’t have to pay me, you don’t even have to make me a permanent employee. Just let me prove to you what I can do.” With her perseverance, she was appointed as the property’s F&B Director, the first-ever Filipina to earn the position.
Her career has flourished since then. After her ten-year stint at Intercontinental Manila, she received an offer to be the Director of Conference and Events for Sales and Operations for the flagship property, Intercontinental Dubai. “The Middle East was not the most common destination for a Filipino expat woman hotelier but I was up for the challenge,” she explained. The 7,000-capacity event center made her strenuously work for seven days a week allotting 16 to 18 hours of work in a day.
In 2017, Pat was chosen as the very first Filipina General Manager in the Middle East for the property, Holiday Inn Dubai, which is claimed to be the biggest in the region.
Now situated in Vientiane, Laos for yet another great adventure, Pat continues to revel in the excitement of what the hospitality industry brings in for her. According to Pat, “purpose” is the key to help everyone propel to greatness. She believes it is outward-looking, thus, it entails a challenge among budding hoteliers to be able to find a life of service.
“I live by my rules and I do not make excuses for who I am. I continue to learn and continue to grow, never forgetting that the only thing that separates you from achieving your dreams is you.”
Ms. Pat Puyat-Palanca (8 August 2020). Speech presented during the New Student Orientation of Enderun Colleges via Zoom.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. To our beloved freshmen, faculty and friends, it is an honor to be with you this afternoon. Thank you, Bel, for inviting me. Enderun will always be close to my heart as I myself was a faculty here, teaching side-by-side with Bel. What an amazing experience that was.
As I was thinking of what to say to all of you today, so many things were running through my mind. Where do I start? So, I decided to take the logical path and start from the beginning. I hope I do not bore you with my story but I promise you, there will be a point in the end.
I have been in the hospitality business for 28 years. I can already hear the question in your mind, ”How old do you think she is?” So, let me answer that silent question. I am 49 years old and a mother to an 18-year-old son who will be off to the university next year, and a 16-year-old daughter who’s about to start her IB (International Baccalaureate) journey. A big number, I know, in comparison to all of you, but really it is only just a number, and this number represents the many experiences life has offered me that I can impart to you, the younger generation.
My hospitality dream started when I was seven years old. Yes, seven years old. I found it so fascinating when I would visit my family’s favorite hotel in Makati which was the Intercontinental Manila—not sure if you all remember this hotel—and I would see those beautiful ladies in the lobby. I always wanted to be one of them. I always thought they looked so glamorous. My parents were not a fan, though. For them, during that time, one needed to be a lawyer, a doctor or a banker which are professions that did not interest me. It was not easy to convince my parents but to cut the story short, I was able to do so and they allowed me to go to Switzerland and pursue hospitality. The day I boarded that Air France plane to Switzerland was the happiest day of my life and the day my dreams started to take shape.
The four years I spent in Les Roches were the best times of my life. I had a dream. I stayed the course and I did the work. Today, I am here to tell all of you that the most important ingredient to success starts from having a dream. Then you plan your approach, work hard, and stay focused.
It is also important that you follow what your heart tells you. True hospitality is doing everything you do with a true attitude of service. It is having to listen actively; it is having to learn with humility and to understand with empathy.
As a woman, in what they say is a man’s world, I had to practice utmost resilience, as I needed to reach my dreams. When I started my career in my most favorite hotel, the Intercontinental Manila (I never lost focus), I had to try three times to get a position. First, I was told I was overqualified, then I was told I may not be serious in pursuing a career in the industry because of my background. Then, I was told that I may not be able to withstand the pressure. I told them to give me six months, “You don’t have to pay me, you don’t even have to make me a permanent employee. Just let me prove to you what I can do. Let me prove to you what I can do.” So, in April of 1992, I was appointed as a Sales Executive-in-Training. I went on to spend the next ten years of my life at the Intercontinental and became its first Filipina Woman F&B Director. I was happy but I still needed to get to my next destination.
Life switched gears for me and I decided to balance my personal life and my career. Marriage came in, then babies came in. Never did I stop working and achieving my personal goals as it was only through self-love that I could be the best wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend.
When my son was seven, I took a prolonged break as I wanted to see what teaching would be like for me. It was two weeks before the term ended when I got an offer to go to one of the Intercontinental Properties (a flagship property) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in particular. That was in 2010. I was torn. I was scared but I was excited. After talking to my family, I decided to take the leap. The Middle East was not the most common destination for a Filipino Expat Woman Hotelier but I was up for the challenge.
As I walked into the lobby of the hotel, I felt my heart skip over many beats. For some reason, I knew I was home. I was hired to look after the 7,000-capacity event center as the Director of Conference and Events for Sales and Operations. A first of its kind as, normally, you either do operations or you do sales, not both. I worked seven days a week, 16 to 18 hours a day. It was tough and many times, I wanted to give up. Many times I questioned my decision of why I wanted to stay.
When I got to that day when I wanted to quit, I looked back and remembered that flight I took to Switzerland and the dream I had for myself. So, I pressed on. After four years in the role and many awards afterwards, I was appointed as Hotel Manager for the Crowne Plaza, a brand that belongs to the Intercontinental Group as well. It was a great achievement. The hard work paid off and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Next, the announcement of the opening of the biggest Holiday Inn in the Middle East came and they were looking for a General Manager who could do multi-brands. I raised my hands and said, “I can do this.” A lesson I’ve learned is that, when you don’t ask, they will never know what you want, and when you ask, there will only be two possible answers: yes or no.
So, I asked and I got it. In 2017, I was appointed as the very first Filipino Woman General Manager in the Middle East (a male-dominated region with a bias towards European professionals). I broke the glass ceiling, I reached for the skies, I took what was given to me, and I owned it.
Whenever asked if I always knew where I was going to get where I am today, I replied with all humility and sincerity that I always knew I would. I live by my rules and I do not make excuses for who I am. I continue to learn and continue to grow, never forgetting that the only thing that separates you from achieving your dreams is you.
The only thing that separates you from achieving your dreams is you.
Today, as I lead a team of 282 employees at the Crowne Plaza in Vientiane, and having been tasked to open another Holiday Inn in the same complex—I will be in charge of two properties—I still dream of bigger things. I still continue to wake up every single day with my heart skipping a beat, knowing that I will do what I love to do the most, and that is to be of service and to be able to put a smile on people’s faces. Today, after 28 years, I still feel the same excitement, the same flutter in my stomach, the same sparkle. I could not have asked for a better journey as every day I am living my dream.
Before I end, I would want to share with all of you my personal Ethos: I strive to be the best version of myself every single day, inspiring others, allowing others to dream and being an instrument to help the young achieve their goals.
I wish all of you a great journey into hospitality. Embrace it, love it, and live each day to the fullest as you learn, as you fail, as you stand up again, and as you achieve your own personal dreams.
Good afternoon everybody, and thank you again for having me.