Passion is what influenced Ivaylo Ivanov to enter hospitality. However, it is his genuine love of people that is behind his ongoing drive for success. Having been part of the sector for more than 20 years, Ivaylo has spent much of that time achieving his personal goal: experiencing all aspects of the industry.
A traveller at heart, his portfolio includes city hotels, cruise lines and destination resorts across Europe, the US, the Caribbean and Asia. Since 2016, Ivaylo, now Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations, has been part of the planning, hiring and unveiling of the largest integrated resort in Asia, Okada Manila.
When the opportunity arose to be part of the pre-opening team and build a prestigious brand from scratch, Ivaylo grabbed it. It’s a decision that has led him on his most significant career adventure yet – full of new trials and rewards.
“Developing the hotel from nothing was the greatest challenge,” Ivaylo says. “It has also been the most fulfilling experience of my entire career.” The brand doesn’t have properties elsewhere, which mitigated the risk of preconceived notions of what the resort would be like or what it would offer.
“Okada Manila presented the greatest opportunity to build a brand from ground zero,” he adds. “We had a chance to establish all our operating procedures and guest experiences based on Forbes Travel Guide Service standards.”
Since its 2016 opening, the beautiful oceanfront property has continued to adapt and change its business model to align with the newest strengths. “We’re a fast-paced business and differ from a traditional hotel,” Ivaylo says.
“In the integrated resort environment, you have the opportunity to do both significant and small changes on a weekly, monthly and annual basis.” The 44-hectare hotel features 993 spacious rooms with views of either the Manila Bay or The Fountain.
It also contains an indoor beach club, 13 exceptional restaurants, a varied selection of retail stores, spas and ultra-luxury multi-bedroom villas. Following its ethos of endless adaptation, Okada Manila is looking to open additional entertainment areas, food and beverage outlets, retail spaces and luxury amenities.
“We’re aiming to continue to grow and diversify our business to suit the needs of every single traveller who comes to our resort,” Ivaylo says. In recognition of the resort’s grandeur, Okada Manila was presented with the five-star rating from Forbes Travel Guide’s 2020 Star Awards earlier this year.
“This is the Oscar in the hospitality industry,” Ivaylo enthuses. He further notes that providing exceptional guest experiences has been part of the property’s DNA from the beginning. “That motto has become the driving motivator behind every single day,” he says.
“That has made us successful so far and will be the key to our future growth.” To achieve such a high level of guest experience, Okada Manila provides training, mentorship and tools for all 7,000 staff members.
“We have fantastic training programs for team members,” Ivaylo says. The resort also organises staff motivational events that lead to creating better morale within the organisation.
“It’s important to ensure that our employees are empowered to perform their tasks and that they have the tools to execute their job. People are the most important asset of our company. We have a multi-billion-dollar property; however, the heart and soul are our employees.”
The aim of every resort is for people to spend time together – something that isn’t advised in the climate of COVID-19. So Okada Manila has had to adapt to the current situation. “Our priority is to go through this time together,” Ivaylo says.
“It’s to ensure the wellbeing of staff and to make sure that we support them and their families.” During April, the property temporarily ceased all operations until further notice to support the Philippine government.
“Our business model is adapting to social distancing to ensure the safety and security of our team and all our guests,” he says. “We will continue to adjust our business to the current environment and we will do our best to adapt to these new changes.. That’s all we can do.”
Ivaylo leads his team with the same honesty, a virtue that he says is vital in every business, especially in hospitality. “You have to practise integrity daily,” he says. “You have to be able to teach it to hundreds of people. It’s everything.”
While on the subject of leadership, Ivaylo shares that he’s a firm believer in empowering people through guidance and mentorship. “We try to build people up so that they’re not scared of making mistakes,” he says.
Ivaylo also surrounds himself with people who genuinely care about the sector. “We’re in the people industry. You cannot be successful if you don’t like people. My leadership viewpoint is to focus on developing, motivating and pushing people to be their best. I deal with every single person as an individual.”
The other part of Ivaylo’s ambition is to ensure Okada Manila is at the forefront of the sustainability movement. Since day one, sustainability has been at the core of how the resort operates, including taking necessary measures to ensure all cogs of the vast machine are environmentally conscious.
“Okada Manila is a technologically advanced and environmentally friendly property,” he confirms. “When you have a big resort like Okada Manila, you have a huge impact on the environment. But you can also make a substantial positive impact.”
Just about all of the rooms at the resort are paperless, including the booking system, and all the amenities in the guest rooms are biodegradable. Okada Manila is also pushing for the hotel industry as a whole to become plastic free and more focused on using natural resources.
“The biggest challenge is in making sure we take care of nature even better,” Ivaylo notes. “There is currently a big push happening in the Philippines to ensure businesses across all areas have an environmentally friendly policy. I’m pleased about where we stand right now.”
The journey with Okada Manila has been a pinnacle for Ivaylo, although, alongside the rewards and achievements, it’s the interaction with people that has continued to inspire him. “Understanding people from different backgrounds has been extremely fulfilling,” he shares.
“In our sector, you learn every day how to deal with the customs and the traditions of others. That is what makes the service industry so special.”
When asked what has kept him passionate about the industry, especially in times of uncertainty, Ivaylo responds: “It’s the emotional engagement; the ability to make other people happy through action, even if it’s only a small extra step to ensure the guests feel great. It’s also the passion of serving guests from all walks of life. There’s never a dull moment, and it’s always fun.”
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