“On July 15, 1947, a Northwest Airlines Douglas DC-4 set out from Minneapolis/St. Paul on a 33-hour journey across the Pacific Ocean to Tokyo. Non-stop flights of this distance were unheard of at the time, and the trip pioneered by Northwest along the Great Circle Route included a number of stopovers to refuel. From Tokyo, passengers continued on to Seoul, Shanghai and Manila. Notably, the inaugural plane was called ‘The Manila’ and was christened by a Filipina, Mrs. Fileman Bautista.” That, in capsule, is how Delta Air Lines started in these shores, by Patricia Celis’ own account.
Appointed early October 2015, Ms. Celis must be still be warming her seat at present as she warms up to her new position as Delta’s new Country Manager for Philippine Sales and Affairs. It must be a heady feeling to be in such a crucial job at, needless to say, one of the giants in the travel industry. But Celis is no stranger to this world of metallic wings and jetfueled wanderings.
She graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a bachelor’s degree in Legal Management and later an MBA degree, but she started her career in the airline industry early, 1997 to be exact, working for then American Airlines (in the Philippines) as its Marketing Support. By 2003, she was Northwest Airlines’ Sales and Marketing manager for the Philippines. When Delta merged with Northwest in 2008, Celis found herself occupied with the heavier responsibility of overseeing the Guam sales team. This, together with other equally important tasks henceforth, must have primed her for the next adventure in her career.
Let’s find out how her story at Delta unraveled.
Q: When exactly did you start at Delta Air Lines, and what was your position then?
A: I started with Delta Air Lines in the Philippines 10 years ago when it was still Northwest as Marketing Communications Manager.
Q: What or who inspired you to choose Delta Air Lines over other companies?
A: My mother used to work for KLM for 35 years and I wanted to continue down the same path.
Q: Your background is pretty diverse: legal management, business administration, marketing, and communication. Did all these have a role in bringing you to where you are now?
A: Definitely, it all comes together as you need all the knowledge from different fields to manage a business and make it work.
Q: What is your specific role as Delta’s new country manager?
A: The position is responsible for managing overall sales activities, administration and industry affairs in the local market.
Q: What initiatives do you plan to have with the new responsibility?
A: Currently, I am still busy with the transition and completing these years’ planned initiatives. The sales team and I have already scheduled a 2016 strategy meeting to ensure that we continue to show that Delta remains a thoughtful, innovative and reliable airline.
Q: It must be exciting times for you as Delta is reported to have “an increasing number of corporate passengers as the global companies set up their offices” in the Philippines.” How exactly will you leverage this opportunity? Would you mind giving us hints to your strategy?
A: Locally, we leverage the relationship of our Global Account Managers who deal directly with the head offices of the corporations that are setting up in Manila. In this way, we get the benefit of economies of scale when we negotiate.
Q: There’s reportedly a spike too in the number of young Filipino travelers, which of course is a good thing. Any plans to keep this bright spot going?
A: Yes, of course. It’s a market segment that we will be focusing on especially since they will be our future high-value customers.
Q: Do you have plans of targeting other demographics (the elderly, perhaps) that might prove to be another gold mine, and how do you intend to do so?
A: We have actually been in the market for over 60 years and have a loyal following among this demographic segment. We ensure that we have the appropriate products that cater to their specific needs.
Q: Meanwhile, a question that needs to be asked these days: How does Delta deal with the Philippines’ image problem?
A: From the U.S., our main market are the balikbayans as well as visiting friends and relatives. There is also that increasing corporate market. These segments of the market will come to Manila despite any image issue the Philippines might have. We need to build the leisure market side out of the U.S., although there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of local infrastructure, particularly in the provinces, to support tourist needs.
Q: What’s new with Delta these days that the flying public needs to know?
A: It would be a great opportunity to share that we have upgraded our popular Tumi amenity kit in our premium cabin Delta One. Passengers will receive one of two different selections of Tumi cases. In addition to the enhancement of Delta One amenity kit, Delta will also upgrade its amenity kit for Delta Comfort+ passengers. The new kit includes toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs and eyeshades. Delta’s main cabin passengers continue to enjoy standard sleep kit, which includes individual eyeshades and earplugs for their comfort onboard. Plus – a little tip –if you are comfortable with making your own travel arrangements, you can go online at www.delta.com and get a 5% discount on your purchase. Just make sure you redeem your e-cert to avail of the discount.
Q: Thanks for that info! If we may get a little more personal… What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far in your new position?
A: Well, flight schedule disruption during the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) week is the first big challenge! We have to ensure that our flight makes the connection out of Japan since there is not enough hotel space available in Manila during the week of November 16. We decided to fly earlier, but this means a lot of logistical and communication coordination with various stakeholders, including trying to reach all the departing passengers of the new schedule.
Q: Delta could have chosen an American for your position. How does being a local a clear advantage over a foreigner’s point of view?
A: I understand how the local market works, what makes us tick and much more approachable as we speak the same language. Of course, we still work with our counterparts in the U.S. since they bring a different perspective. It’s always nice to try new things and see if it will work out.
Q: Do you think being a woman in this position an advantage as well?
A: Women are usually good at details, and it’s all about the details in the travel industry. We need to make sure that everything is in order for a stress-free trip.
Q: What’s a typical day like for you?
A: A day in my life is not at all exciting. I wake up, try to at least get in some exercise, even 30 minutes at the treadmill, go to the office and get back home in time for dinner with my son and husband.
Q: What do you do to de-stress and relax?
A: An hour of good massage is always a great way to de-stress.
Q: It’s a wonder how show business or the modeling world failed to snag someone like you. Care to share any secrets you might have to staying young and beautiful?
A: This is just funny! It has been a secret wish but it never crossed my path. It probably was just not for me. Although the best way to feel and look young is just to relax and don’t let the small stuff get to you. Things usually work out. If not, then learn from it and move on.
Q: You must have been all over the world. Do you have favorite destinations? What are those, and why?
A: Japan has always been a good destination. The food is great, the people are nice and the entire place is just so pretty.
Q: Which spots in the Philippines would you recommend to your foreign guests vacationing for the holidays (Christmas and New Year)?
A: For the holidays, enjoy peace and quiet in Palawan. Get away from it all and experience paradise while there are still places like that in the world.
Q: What is your dream Christmas vacation?
A: Getting away from the hustle of the city, relaxing in a quiet place and just enjoying the company of my family.
Q: Do you still have places (in the Philippines and abroad) you dream visiting someday?
A: I still have a lot of places that I would like to visit in my bucket list! Probably, I would say on the top would be to go to Africa and experience a safari. In the Philippines, I would love to see Batanes. I have heard so much about this beautiful and majestic place.
Q: You’re an accomplished woman – no question about it. But what do you consider is your most important achievement in life, so far?
A: So far, giving birth to my son is the most important achievement and most challenging as well!