Lei Andrea Hofman has begun to stake a claim to tourists coming to Dingalan, Aurora, her hometown. The 19-year-old entrepreneur, who manages her family’s local boutique hotel Fil-Dane Inn, envisions the small town as a laidback surfing destination five years from now.
The town hotel is found northeast of Dingalan. “If you take the boat, it will take you only an hour to get to Baler. It’s because you just have to go around the mountain,” she said.
Fil-Dane Inn was fashioned out of her parents’ villa in the 1990s. It is a place to stop for the day or rest during the night while backpacking solo or with a partner, or traveling with a family. It maintains a lean crew during low season, but members are added when demand peaks.
Hofman makes sure to hire locals, who know the town like the back of their hand, even as she incorporates the values she has learned from her international training and multicultural experiences.
The half-Danish, half-Filipina hospitality management student at Enderun College finished her internship in Denmark, her birthplace, late last year.
Having lived in Iran, China, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates before she moved back to the Philippines at 16, she has brought to Dingalan a suitcase of informal lessons, such as dealing with different races and cultures.
The law of equality is one such lesson.
“It’s a Danish thing. We have this thing called Jante Law,” Hofman said referring to the principle of equality. “Now, here in the Philippines, we have this hierarchy. Will you be able to go out with your GM (general manager) and just have dinner with them, and then sit down and have beer?”
Treating her employees like family includes shutting down the inn and going with them from time to time.
She pointed out, though, that Filipinos have to learn the value of professionalism: when to draw the line, to define the boundaries between hospitality and being too comfortable with guests.
Staying rooted in her mother’s country, Hofman embraces Filipino-style hospitality. Because Dingalan is practically a virgin place, she makes it her business to tour her visitors around personally.
Fil-Dane Inn also has a homey vibe. Food can be customized in the kitchen. Despite the end-of-the-road location, she said that WiFi connection is good, and amenities such as gym equipment will be available soon.
It will also generate its own electricity once the solar panels are up. This is because, despite being in the forefront of typhoons, Dingalan enjoys a good amount of sun throughout the year.
Dreams for her hometown
Taking over the family business three years ago has been a tough proposition for the young entrepreneur. Marketing a place that has nothing yet – at least in terms of property investment – takes time to gain traction. At present, her aim is to stabilize the inn’s income.
“One guest a night is fine because it’s starting,” she shared. Her target is 70% to 80% occupancy in the next five years.
Hofman dreams of converting her hometown into a discernible place on the map, a sustainable destination for people who want to escape the city. “But I don’t want to turn it into a night place. I don’t want to turn it into a mini-Boracay,” she stressed.
Her timeline? Ten years. Starting early is the key. She wants to encourage young people to have a go at their plans, even while they are still studying or still in a doubt-inducing career.
Being part of the hospitality industry came about because of her family background, but it is also something she cares about. Her enterprising nature already led her to try other forms of investment in the past, from goodies in grade school to skin products in college. But she is bent on running the family business and thinks this will be her focus for a long time.
Balance sheets notwithstanding, she loves the serving aspect of it. “All your guests are kings and queens…you want to serve people for the pleasure of yourself and for the pleasure of them,” she said.
Shadz Loresco is a freelance business writer for both online and print. Follow her on Twitter: @shadzloresco.