Tourism Mover

Aug 12, 2017

The travel industry has never been more dynamic than now. Because of competition, it has become more affordable so that even regular employees or students with shoestring budgets can afford to explore the Philippines or visit nearby countries. And because of the onslaught of technology and online booking which continues to threaten the viability of the travel industry, service has improved tremendously. Sadly, many small tour operators have folded up and only the bigger ones continue to thrive, but they have had to re-invent themselves to adapt to the changing landscape.

One of the leaders in the travel industry is Rajah Travel Corporation, a spin-off of the mother company Rajah Tours Philippines started in the time of then President Ferdinand Marcos, now run by Aileen Clemente. We recently featured Aileen as one of our Business Movers in Business & Leisure, the TV show where she shared her life story with us. Both of Aileen's parents Jose and Dading Clemente studied Law, but her Dad worked immediately for Senator Alejandro Almendras before being appointed by Pres. Marcos as Director of the Bureau of Tourism, so he never actually practiced law. Aileen recalls that her father was the only one appointed to a directorship position in the Bureau of Tourism which eventually became a Ministry. Her Mom also worked in the same government agency as Chief of the Licensing Dept. It was here where they met and got married but when her father became the Director, he thought it best to ask her to move out to avoid ethical concerns.

That was when the family matriarch, Dading, started a small travel agency named Rajah Tours Philippines with seed money of only P10,000.00. A friend who believed in the potential of the business pitched in another P10,000,00 and Rajah Tours Philippines was set to go. That was an exciting era, Aileen remembers, because Marcos was keen on promoting the Philippines as a premier destination in Asia. She remembers endless meetings at their home and animated discussions on tourism. Sundays were not spared as the family would head to the office after Mass because a big tour was arriving. Rajah Tours was the first to cater to the big Chinese market and the company is credited with crafting the policies on how to open visas for restricting nationals, opening the Scandinavian market and actually opening several new markets.

The Clemente family owned a hotel in Baguio when Aileen was growing up, the Baguio Royal, before the big earthquake that virtually flattened the City of Pines. Aileen spent her summers working at the hotel and being paid P10.00/day. She laughs at the memory but that probably paved the way for her full immersion into the company and the industry they helped nurture.

Aileen is the youngest of four siblings, two boys and two girls, and this "bunso" now sits at the helm of Rajah Travel, perhaps the biggest stakeholder in the tours industry. She had her early education at the Poveda School but had to move to the U.S. with the family when her Dad suffered a stroke. Back in the country, she studied at the University of the Philippines and took up Business Economics until the family again moved to the US after her Dad's second stroke. She finished at St. Mary's College with a double major in Business Administration and Economics. It was in the U.S. that she expanded her horizon, joining all the extracurricular activities and organizations in school, even doing work for the Dept. of Commerce. From Glee Club to Drama Club to the Varsity Team as Captain of the Volleyball Team, Aileen's Yearbook entry was one of the longest. It was here that she imbibed the leadership values that dictated that one "should spell a difference in whatever you do." At that age, she knew what she wanted and that was to sit at the helm of a big company. And now she is seeing fruition in that dream.

Aileen joined the mother company in 1997 and only moved out to join Rajah Travel Corporation in 2000. As Aileen explains, the mother company exists mostly to cater to the inbound travellers, but she has reinvented Rajah Travel to cater not only to inbound and outbound travellers but also to serve different niches, serve the expanding market for international conventions, events and meetings, corporate leisure travel, energy resources and marine. Because not too many understand the last two, she is quick to explain that this entails their consulting services for energy resources and marine companies that require unique or different travel arrangements. For their corporate clients, they offer consultancy services to manage their travel policies, and can customize itineraries that would include dinner in Michelin-rated restaurants that are almost impossible to book.

Online bookings have overtaken many of the smaller tour companies, but Rajah Travel, Aileen says, does both online and offline bookings. They have not limited themselves to simple ticketing and bookings and creating tour packages. They are a travel service provider that maintains the old business model but has adapted a new business model to cope with the times.

So, with customized travel and enhanced service, what else is in store for this business mover in an industry where she rules? According to her, their goal is industry growth, more than just her company's growth. It is all about stewardship, she says, and not about profit. Like in the company that she leads where she employs some two hundred fifty employees including work-at-home and part timers, she employs efficient stewardship. They have second and third generation employees and the company is very familial while still keeping the corporate structure intact.

For the travel industry, she hopes that the focus will be less on marketing and more on the improvement of our infrastructure. While our ASEAN neighbors are already building theirs for 2030 and beyond, our vision is only up to 2025, she says.

In terms of affiliation, Rajah has the most extensive, counting most of the national and international chambers of commerce and international organizations like IATA, PTAA, PHILTOA, the World Travel & Tourism Council and The American Society of Travel Agencies and is accredited by many embassies. In fact, they are one of only a handful allowed to process visas for Japan and Singapore. They are also dealers for Insight Vacations and Uniworld that handles boutique river cruises.

Aileen says that she is not one to relax. While travel for many is a form of relaxation, it is also an integral part of her business, which also means to say that work and relaxation for her are one and the same.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

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About the Author

Ray Butch Gamboa graduated from the College of Arts and Letters of the University of Sto. Tomas. It was a course that should have been preparatory to a law degree, but the call of broadcasting aborted his plans.

At the age of 16, while still a student, Butch tried his hand at disc jockeying, landing a job at Mareco Broadcasting Network's AM stations DZBM and DZLM. From there, Butch moved on with his illustrious career as a popular disc jockey, riding the airwaves of Bob Stewart's middle-of-the-road music at DZXX, and ending his disc jockeying career at ABS-CBN's DZYL and DZQL.

From there, he stayed on with ABS-CBN, covering live the proceedings at the Manila Stock Exchange and eventually entered into the world of television sales as an account manager for the premier channel of ABS-CBN Channel 2.

In the early 70's, at the outbreak of Martial Law, Butch was one of the thousands of professionals who woke up jobless when then President Marcos declared the new status of the nation. With the closure of ABS-CBN, Butch ventured into different fields outside of broadcast. He tried his hand and with ease and success at export (Costume jewelry), real estate (brokerage), and restaurants (fast food).

In 1987, after the revolution, with the broadcast industry back to its free state, and with its irresistible call ringing in his ears, Butch made his inevitable comeback and pioneered in a local motoring show, producing Motoring Today on Channel 4 and co-hosting with local motor sports' living legend Pocholo Ramirez.

After 4 years, he ventured into another pioneering format by producing and hosting Business & Leisure, which was originally aired on ABS-CBN's Channel 2. The format eventually espoused similar ones in other different channels. But the clones in due course faded away leaving the original staying on airing on Channel 4 and eventually on Shop TV on Sky Cable's Channel 13.

The following year, the pioneering spirit in Butch spurred him to produce another TV show, Race Weekend, also on Channel 4, covering circuit racing at the Subic International Raceway after the motor sport's hiatus of 17 years. But when similar shows with duplicated formats sprouted, he decided to give way and ended the program after a year, although still enjoying unparalleled viewership.

In 1998, when the local automotive industry was in a slump, Butch contributed his share to help the ailing industry by producing another popular motoring-related show, this time exclusive to the automobile and its industry—Auto Focus, which became a vehicle for local automotive assemblers and importers to showcase their products and dwell on the industry's latest technological developments.

In 2003, Butch teamed up with his brother, Rey Gamboa who was a former Shell executive and presently one Philippine Star's business columnist to co-produce and co-host the TV show Breaking Barriers on Channel 13. It is a talk show that features guests who are in the news and in the middle of controversies. The program ventures to draw deeper insights into current issues to learn how they impact to our daily lives.

Today, Motoring Today on its 28th year of service to the general motoring public still enjoys its unprecedented loyal vierwership nationwide while Auto Focus, after 16 years has firmly established its niche viewership among automobile enthusiasts and on the other hand Business & Leisure is on its 24th year dishing out current business issues and lifestyle features.

Today, aside from writing weekly columns for the Philippine Star (Motoring Today on Wednesdays and Business & Leisure on Saturdays) and executive producer / host of weekly TV shows (Motoring Today, airs Sundays on Solar Sports Channel 70, Business & Leisure, airs Tuesdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13 and Auto Focus airs Thursdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13, Ray Butch Gamboa is currently the Chairman and CEO of Sunshine Television Production and Marketing Services Corp., President of Gamcor Management and Development Corp., Chairman of Asia-Pacific Realty Corporation, President and Chairman of Socio-Communication Foundation for Asia and Founding Chairman of the Society of Phil. Motoring Journalists (SPMJ)