Joyful Christmas
(From left) SM Prime executive committee chairman Hans Sy, Linda Pecoraro, SM Hotels & Conventions Corp. president Elizabeth Sy, Pasay City Mayor Imelda Rubiano, Pasay Rep. Antonino Calixto and SM Hotels & Conventions Corp. EVP Peggy Angeles.
Zeny Iglesias

Joyful Christmas

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2020 - 12:00am

In uncertain times, the certainty of Christmas is a balm to the soul that has been afraid of the virus for nine months now.

The season of hope is upon us. We ought to celebrate still the joy that Christmas brings.

It was the same joy that my best friend Christine Dayrit and I felt when we recently attended the Christmas tree lighting of Conrad Manila, dubbed “Joyful Christmas.” It was the first time we dressed up and it felt surreal and victorious, so that a semblance of normalcy was restored in us. There was a spring in our feet when we entered the hotel. It was the first time for us to physically attend a social event. The familiar lobby of Conrad with its massive art installation seemed all brand-new to us. It had been that long since we last set foot inside any hotel.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. (third from left) with SM Hotels & Conventions Corp. consultant at the executive office Nestor Jardin and Elizabeth Sy.

“Conrad is the family’s favorite hotel brand, especially when Mom and Dad were still alive,” Christine told me as the elevator climbed up to the third level where the Christmas tree lighting would take place. “Our family Christmases abroad would always see us in a Conrad property. Conrad Hong Kong was a home to us for a long time during the holidays,” she added. When her parents passed away 20 days apart from each other in 1997, it took them years before they could enter the hotel property in the former Crown Colony. And when they did a few years after 1997, Christine and her siblings cried. They melted in each other’s arms as the beautiful memories of their parents still lounged in every corner of the hotel.

Conrad Manila GM Linda Pecoraro welcomes guests to the hotel’s Christmas tree lighting.

When the elevator door opened, we were whisked to the ceremonies. And hyperbole notwithstanding, our hearts leapt. Christine’s eyes lit up. I was sincerely excited. We were joyful to be present at the event, seeing some familiar faces — faces that we could not see in person because of the pandemic.

SM Hotels and Conventions Corp. president Elizabeth Sy and her brother Hans Sy (chairman of the executive committee of SM Prime) were cordial when they welcomed their guests to the event. Zeny Iglesias, the hotel marketing communications and public relations consultant, welcomed us with her heart as open as the sky. So did Nes Jardin, a consultant at the executive office of SM Hotels and Conventions Corp., who told us there were only 30 of us at the Christmas tree-lighting event. Last year, some 250 guests were witnesses to the annual tree lighting.

STAR’s Christine Dayrit and the author.

Guests of honor at the “Joyful Christmas” event included Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Australian Ambassador Steven J. Robinson AO, Malaysian Ambassador Norman Bin Muhamad and Italian Ambassador Giorgio Guglielmino.

Then a lady — tall, beautiful and cheery as Christmas — was introduced to us. Linda Pecoraro was her name, the new general manager of Conrad Manila. She had a cheerful inflection, a smile so earnest we all warmed up easily to her. Atthe time, Linda, an Australian, had just been in Manila for a little over seven weeks and already she said, “I am just enjoying myself here in the Philippines.” If her red skirt with a barong Tagalog top was any indication of her joy about being in Manila, then Linda is in for a good time here. And the hotel, with her at the helm, promises to be in good hands — challenging as it is as the unprecedented health pandemic silently gnaws on.

Australian Ambassador Steven Robinson AO and wife Rhonda.

We asked Linda, how the hotel industry has changed during the pandemic months. She said, “It affected the industry in different ways. But there’s one commonality: it is still about people. So we focus on the basic, which is all about what the guest wants. We also make sure the guests can trust the entire brand to be clean and safe.”

Though Conrad is not yet open for staycations, we also asked Linda how she can ensure the hotel’s presence and market share in the time of a health crisis. She said they have innovative products like the hotel’s Signature Takeaway menu, Meetings to Go, Bru on Wheels and F&B promotions at Brasseries on 3, China Blue and C Lounge.

At the moment, the hotel is open for frontliners, distressed travelers (foreigners/diplomatic officers locked down in Manila), returning OFWs and employees of vital industries who are allowed to work within general community quarantine (banks, BPOs) as designated by the Department of Tourism since the start of the enhanced community quarantine.

“Conrad Manila will stay relevant and continuously work on consistency by delivering excellent service and unparalleled experience with a luxury mind set with our guests’ health and safety as our priority,” added Linda, who has worked in various continents for different brands, from luxury international hotels to boutique hotels.

In Manila, Linda is always excited for a weekend getaway with her husband Raghavan Nanoo, from Malaysia. They have visited Dangwa to buy and ogle the flowers. And they have been biking several loops around the area of Conrad Manila up to CCP Complex with a maximum of 10 kilometers pedaling on the road.

We were having a good time exchanging ideas when someone from the hotel signaled Linda to prepare to welcome the guests formally to the event. She excused herself and to the rostrum she went with her regal stance. She flashed a sincere smile.

“Christmas at Conrad Manila is a jubilant celebration of love, peace and happiness as much as it is a fete on the abundance of goodwill and our gratitude expressed in inspired ways,” Linda said in her speech.

Right after her speech commenced the intimate Christmas tree lighting of the 20-foot-tall dazzling masterpiece at the hotel’s main lobby. Social distancing was observed. Despite that, it was still a “Joyful Christmas.” *

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