As a child, he has always been fascinated with hotels with their grand lobbies and chandeliers. That gave Mario Justo Jr., Cluster General Manager for NCR+ of Megaworld Hotels and Resorts, the idea that it would be great working in the hospitality industry.
This he did after he graduated with a BS Tourism degree from the University of the Philippines in Diliman. His first job was at a five-star bay area hotel where he was a Front Desk Clerk. However, it wasn’t long before he transferred to a soon to open international hotel.
“When I graduated, the hotel industry was on the rise. There were a lot of global brands opening in Manila. Because of this, I tried my luck and eventually got hired as one of the pre-opening team members of New World Hotel,” Justo revealed.
‘I’d like to think that my previous experience gave me an edge over the other applicants. Competition was tough but so was the competition among the new hotels to get the best. It was why during that time compensation and employee benefits were also very competitive,” he added.
For three years, Justo was content with learning as much as he could on the job as Front Desk Supervisor at New World until his previous boss suggested that he explore other hotels since he was ready for bigger responsibilities.
His boss then recommended that he apply for the position of Duty Manager at an international five-star hotel in Manila. Although he was hesitant to leave a job that he loved, he accepted the challenge and sent over his CV.
“After a missed interview schedule, I thought that I messed up my chances, but I guess it was for me because I eventually got hired,” recalled Justo.
However, it seemed that fate had other plans for Justo.
“I was happy to work as a first-time manager and was in it for the long run. But after a few months, I got a call from New World Hotel with an offer to come back and assume the role of Front Desk Manager under the management of the Renaissance brand of Marriott,” Justo related.
Although he had already been exposed to the operations of international brands, getting first-hand information and experience on the operations of the world’s largest hotel chain company was a whole new level for Justo.
“I learned new systems, new procedures and new programs that were carried out across their brands which we then implemented in the hotel,” stated Justo. “I was able to further hone my knowledge not just on best hotel practices, but also in managing people.”
After a couple of years, he was once again presented with the opportunity for career growth when he was invited to join the Marriott Hotel in Cebu as Front Office Manager which was an Executive Committee position. In three years, he would then be promoted to Director of Rooms.
“I would consider my six-year stint in Cebu as a turning point in my career because I was able to face and overcome various challenges, build a good reputation in the industry, and also mentor staff,” he shared.
“But, of course, Manila is still my home so I decided to pursue an opportunity that would allow me to return and be with my family,” he added.
This opportunity turned out to be the company where he would find even greater fulfillment. This was Richmonde Hotel in Ortigas which was the first hotel property built by leading real estate developer, Megaworld Corporation.
“When I joined Richmonde in 2007, it was still the only hotel of Megaworld but they already had plans of expansion,” recalled Justo. “The prospect of being a part of a growing hotel group excited me, plus I had always wanted to be involved in the planning and development stage of a hotel.”
From 2008 to 2009, while Justo was busy with the operations of Richmonde Hotel Ortigas, he was also active in helping out with the construction and building plans of Eastwood Richmonde Hotel. It would be the first hotel of Megaworld in its first township, Eastwood City.
“Prior to Eastwood Richmonde Hotel’s launch in 2010, I was appointed as the hotel manager. I formed my first team and together we shared all the birth pains of opening a new hotel,” said Justo. “I realized that it’s a totally different ball game when you’re given the sole responsibility of making sure the hotel runs smoothly—the guests are happy, the employees are also happy, and the hotel is achieving its targets,” he added.
But it’s the unexpected hiccups in running a hotel that keep Justo on his toes and he’s not complaining. According to him, “There’s nothing like the satisfaction of resolving issues and knowing the strategies you implemented worked.”
It was in 2015 when another Richmonde Hotel opened, this time in Iloilo City within Megaworld’s Iloilo Business Park. Justo was again tasked to assist in the planning and development of the project and for the first few years oversee its operations.
Before long, Megaworld had other hotels in the works—Belmont Hotel Manila, Hotel Lucky Chinatown, Twin Lakes Hotel and others—where he contributed in one way or another in their construction and design.
Then right in the midst of the pandemic, Prestige Hotels and Resorts, which managed the Richmonde properties and where Justo was head of operations, merged with Megaworld’s Global One Hotels to become Megaworld Hotels and Resorts.
“It was a fairly smooth transition since we were still under the Megaworld Corporation family,” recounted Justo. “But it was the devastating effects of the lockdown and the personal struggles of the staff that made this time very stressful. If not for the support of MHR and Megaworld Corporation, and the understanding and dedication of my team, we probably wouldn’t have made it,” Justo admitted.
Work is fun
For Justo, time flies when you are having fun. He has been with the Megaworld group for the past 16 years and he continues to be happy and excited with the work he has been doing. He just completed spearheading the renovation works of the rooms and public areas of Eastwood Richmonde Hotel.
Last year, he was appointed by MHR as Cluster General Manager for NCR+. This means that in addition to being the General Manager of Eastwood Richmonde Hotel, he is now also overseeing the performance of six other hotels, namely Richmonde Hotel Ortigas, Belmont Hotel Manila, Savoy Hotel Manila, Kingsford Hotel, Hotel Lucky Chinatown and Twin Lakes Hotel, not to mention preparing for the upcoming opening of new hotels like Grand West Hotel in Paranaque’s Entertainment city which is touted as the biggest hotel in the country with 1,500 room keys, plus other properties in the pipeline.
“I must admit that it has not been easy. But when you love what you are doing, everything becomes so light, you become more patient and you become more understanding,” he said.
“To last in this industry, or in any industry for that matter, you have to play to your strengths. I believe my strength is that I’m a people person. I love working with others and leading teams. My goal is always to inspire and guide. I learned that people are more motivated to do their best when they know you trust them to do a good job,” Justo added.
When asked about his future plans, Justo said his goal right now is to follow through all the projects that he has started.
“I also love the culture that we have developed, and I still want to be part of the growth of the company. I see myself staying on with Megaworld. We still have a lot of hotels to open and I want to help in whatever way that i can,” he said.