Saturday, June 2, 2018


By Roger Pe
Business Mirror
June 3, 2018 issue

She came from a middle class family. Her father was a jeepney driver and her mother, a government employee. They could barely make ends meet, but her parents were able to send her and all of her siblings to finish college. 
When she started working in the corporate world, she was still am not making enough for simple luxuries. “I asked my brother then, who just left the country as a seafarer to buy me a cellphone. He was not paid much then, so he told me: “Why not apply for the ship job as well?”
Abigail Romero felt a light pop in her head, and that led to a different direction in her career. As a Food Technology graduate of UP Los Banos, the cruise line’s crewing agency offered her a Chef Secretary position, and that where it all begun. In 2006, she left her company and joined a ship with trepidation in her heart.

It was a strange job for a woman, why did she take it? “Applying for the ship is indeed interesting with very few women trying it out. During our SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) training, the ship required training certificate (now called BT or Basic Training) for female applicants. They have to prove that they can take on the training alongside male trainees,” she narrated.
In her training class of 30, only 3 were women. It was not hard to miss them from the bunch of men she said. “The instructors usually chose women to take on the hardest role in the actual exam, like being the nozzleman in the firefighting training or the leader in smoke diving drill. 
Romero took it as a challenge that women could work on the ship, too, and prove that they are as competent and qualified as the so-called “seamen”.
Eventually taken in as a full-pledge seafarer, Romero met many hardships, challenges and difficulties on board the cruise ship. The most pressing challenge she had to deal with, which she realized as early as on first day, was as soon as the ship started sailing.

She got seasick - while doing a handover with her relief when she was all green from puking her guts out. The next hardest thing was homesickness. “Working a thousand miles away from your family and all the familiar things we’re used to for our entire life, we all have to deal with it,” Romero said matter-of-factly.
The main reason why she took the job was to travel the world while getting paid. “You get to prove yourself as a woman seafarer, climbing the hierarchy, from a simple Chef Secretary to an officer ranking Personnel Manager. 
When she was in the HR department, helping her crewmembers became her passion and fulfillment. As the elder child of the family, she was always the leader and the natural nurturer, and it has helped her a lot on her role as a Personnel Manager.
According to Romero, being onboard the ship is like going to a completely different world. “You can feel that you are indeed far away from home, and costly to call home often once loneliness creeps in,” she said.
Workwise, it’s the same office job that she got used to doing. Her bosses were very kind and they taught her everything she needed to know. Soon enough, she adjusted well to ship life. “I can say that our bosses have high respect for Filipino seafarers in the cruising industry. Although we cannot discount that discrimination still happens due to the color of our skin,” she explained.
Fun part
Working onboard the ship had its perks, too, according to Romero. While the ship is on port and they have time off from their work schedules, they would go and enjoy the city of call. Like taking photos of places and taking home souvenir items. For her, it was amazing seeing different places she only got to read back home. 
As a seawoman, Romero had visited many European countries, the Caribbean, South America and the US. “I’ve been to the end of the world, the southernmost island inhabited by people, Ushuia in Argentina. 
Onboard the ship, she, too get to indulge in a lot of recreation activities. Like crew shows, parties, gym, spa, table games, and other fun activities, away from the eyes of passengers. When she became an officer, she got to experience all the amenities of the ship exclusive to passengers, a very luxurious life onboard as an officer, indeed.  
Positive things 
While working as a Personnel Manager, Romero learned to be compassionate, diligent and make sure that the ship’s crewmembers were assisted well in administrative matters. 
This included ensuring that they have complete travel documents, visas and other requirements needed for their employment. “I learned that you can make a difference in touching a persons’ life in any small way you can,” she said.

Romero stayed eleven long years in her job with maternity leave for 20 months in between. Recently, she said goodbye to a career that helped her grow tremendously and started a new life as a Travel Agency owner.
Traveling almost around the world for a decade and seen the most beautiful places that were simply magazine-picture perfect, she now wants people to experience the same. “I wished for our fellow countrymen to be able to see these places, too. When I resigned from the lucrative job as a seafarer, our family decided to embark on a new journey. The travel business,” she related excitedly.  
Being new to the tourism industry is a bit challenging for Romero. She needed to ensure that the business is properly registered with the government. She and her Mom painstakingly did the legwork of securing their DTI, Barangay, Mayor’s and BIR permits. 
Being a travel agent now, Romero has to deal with the unfamiliar, strangers who contact her asking for assistance for their dream travel destination. That takes a lot of hardwork, patience, rapport and establishing trust in making transactions, according to her.
She also reiterated that it is not easy to be solely on an online platform, as trust is the biggest hurdle she and people in the industry have to overcome in booking clients.
What are her goals and how would she like to see her business in the next few years? 
“The tourism business is massive. It has strings of well- established travel agency and thousands of aspiring ones. As a newbie in this business, we aim to establish our niche in this industry by offering one of kind tourist destinations, local and abroad, in all forms, by land, sea and air.  There are a lot of untapped natural beauty hiding in the country that we can offer to our locals and foreign tourists. Our country is rich with potential, and with our fresh eyes, we get to see it from another perspective and offer these unique destinations,” she explained.
On being asked why she put up a travel and booking business, Romero said that travel and booking business seemed like an easy transition from her previous overseas job since she mostly dealt with documentation and travel needs of her employees. “As we’ve decided to settle home for good, it was hopefully a wise decision for our family,” she said. Her husband is the company’s financier and her mother, the Operations Manager.
Does she think she has what it takes to succeed in travel business? Romero said that she might not have the right educational background when she jumped into the tourism industry, but she sure have the perseverance to do what it takes to make a difference.

“We take it one client at a time, and eventually at the end of their trips, we had become friends. And that itself is a fulfillment when we have our satisfied clients making their travel memories,” she said.
Romero said that she believed that “we are all part of the whole and each one can make a difference in putting our imprints in the general welfare of the tourism industry. With the right leadership as we have now, the goal is achievable. Our government is doing its best in protecting our tourist spots, environmentally speaking, that would benefit us in the long run. In protecting the environment, we are ensuring the future of our country in terms of tourism,” she said.
To be able to achieve ourcountry’s 7-million tourist target, Romero said ensuring our world-class tourist destination should be not just only for this year, but in the future as well. 
“In that way we can ensure exponential increase of tourists coming to visit. Safety should also be a priority. Tourists will come if they know that they are going to a safe and beautiful place,” she said. 
Best of the country
Places she recommends to clients? Top on Romero’s list are Boracay, Palawan, Davao and Ilocos. “Anywhere where you can commune with nature is always the best. Savoring the majestic beauty of God’s creation is one of the few luxuries that we are abundant with. There are a lot of unexplored pristine nooks hiding like gems in the outskirts of the country, which are yet to be discovered,” she said.
“Every inch of our country has its own beauty. Each one has its unique beauty to offer and with proper conservation, these unique places will shine in the eyes of our much-coveted tourists,” she emphasized.
With the country’s vibrant tourism industry, travel agents are a dime-a-dozen. What is a good travel agent to her? 
Romero said, a good travel agent for should have the genuine desire to help clients achieve the best vacation offers. “We should be able to provide the best value for money that they are willing to spend in exchange for those wonderful memories that traveling can create. Whenever we travel, it is the memories we count, not the pennies we spent,” she said.
Dreamer, believer
Romero said the Philippines’ potential for growth is huge. “We have a lot of competitive platforms to use in terms of making our offerings to the clients unique yet comprehensive packages. We make hassle free all-in packages to compete with each other. It is just a matter of who can offer the best value for money.
Born and raised in Quezon City, Romero went to high school in Diliman Preparatory School and finished college in UP Los BaƱos. She plans to take up graduate courses soon, either in Business administration or Industrial Relations.
She met her husband, also a seafarer onboard the same ship ten years ago. They were married for 6 years now and blessed with a 3-year old boy. When she was young, she always wanted to be a businesswoman, not even knowing what it meant to be one. Now, she is one. 

The newbie entrepreneur relies on social media to show her newest promotions and latest updates and by word-of-mouth from her family and friends who promote her small business. 
“Our clients that have good experience from our bookings are also promoting our services and have become repeat customers. When we established the agency, we ensure that we are affiliated with experienced agencies and tour operators that can provide us with competitive rates with tried and tested quality services. In doing so, our packages are not the cheapest in the market. We have invested in ensuring that what we offer is of utmost quality and yet still affordable,” she said.
Social Media had been good to her by covering all types of demographic market that she targets. With a wide variety of audience and potential clients, it has given her a good chunk of clients. However, “it can also have a lot of untrustworthy sources that also affect the general question of legitimacy of travel agencies,” she lamented.
The woman who can dream big and prove to the world that she, too, can do what men can do is on her way to building a business for her family. 
Parting words to those who may want to follow her footsteps? “Never be afraid to follow your dreams. It might be scary trying out the unfamiliar in putting yourself out there. Be genuine, be kind, be smart, be your own unique you.And when life gets rough, travel. Find your peace,” she said.