Lunar New Year frenzy, through a hotelier’s POV

This happened almost 50 years ago yet I remember it all too well.

I was a neophyte front desk clerk — my first job —at the Reception of Makati’s only five-star hotel then. It was slightly before six in the morning when the Night Assistant Manager on duty sternly announced we were grossly overbooked on room reservations during the upcoming Lunar New Year. We panicked as this was an industry where we could not produce rooms instantly.

We noticed this issue had been brewing for the past few days and yet there we were, still totally swamped for the holidays. However, it was no one’s fault. Reservations then were recorded and tabulated manually — no computers before. In addition, due to the unpredictable request for stay extensions, the combination of these factors all led to this pressing dilemma.

That very morning, the reality blew up on our faces and news rapidly spread within the property. Us three shift companions looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and simply asked, “Where do we even start?” We were absolutely lost!

Although this was before the rise of China into a global traveling superpower, neighboring countries with Chinese roots still loved to vacation in our islands, hence stretching our limits too thin.

Additional nights
Amid all this madness, a call came from a regular repeat lady guest who was a member of the global VIP organization of the hotel’s chain and declared that she was extending her stay for several additional nights. What else could we do but grant her wish?

Before I could even share this case with the other staff, more problems continued to mount up. Another patron rang us up to request for a room change. You see, he loved to draw drapes open to let the sun in after his horrible winters. In doing so, he got distracted by the goings-on by the swimming pool, which slowed down his work. As if we did not have enough problems of our own! We looked up the ceiling and sighed.

Fortunately, cognizant of the increased demand due to the Lunar New Year, several expat officers who resided in-house, on their early morning rounds, dropped by Reception and volunteered — one by one — to give up the second area of their suites. We immediately called the Housekeeping Department to transform their respective areas into more bedrooms.

Once the Executive Housekeeper learned about our concerns, she even proposed all empty suites should be divided in the same manner. The Catering Department likewise chipped in and offered that certain smaller function halls could be transformed into a one-family bedroom, complete with a full bathroom. Finally, even the in-house nurse — with the same first name as the lady of Troy fame — who reports to the clinic every day, came forward with the renovation of the adjacent recovery section. Just like that, the entire property was in a frenzy with an overhaul.

To pitch in to the solution, the Sales Office then contacted the Hong Kong-born but Manila-based local tour operator who was expecting two groups — one coming in the morning and the next in the afternoon. Our team suggested to switch the dates regarding the Manila and Baguio tours — with accommodations even ready for them at the premier hotel of the City of Pines, wherein its surrounding area has since been converted to a mall. Luckily, the tour leader was the son of the owner of the travel agency and enthusiastically agreed. Just like that, two arrivals went straight to Baguio.

We then got in touch with three other hotels of the same star category to request if they could give us some sleeping quarters. Out of goodwill, camaraderie and past harmonious working relationships, despite their own set of accommodation problems due to the Lunar New Year, they surrendered some for our guests.

We also reached out to the apartment across the street, owned by the first-ever Miss Universe and her husband, for more spaces. They gladly agreed and we knew exactly who to allot there — an Ikebana group who might just bump into the beauty queen-charity worker in her own building.

Finally, we called our connection at the nearby hospital if we could get lodging which looked like suites. You see, we had young lads who would be more than excited to spend the evening there as an unforgettable experience and as bragging rights.

Although the overbooking was critical for Lunar New Year, it soon rained bedrooms how the sky was lit up with fireworks. From utter chaos, it became complete celebration as by noontime, we were accommodating all guests with their appropriate reservations.

A miracle? Perhaps! Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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