Have you ever wanted to work in the hospitality industry? Maybe some career counselor told you that it was a glamorous, well-paying field with room for advancement and tons of opportunity to travel the world. If he did, he only got part of it right. I spent over 20 years of my life working in the hospitality industry and there are a few things that I wish I had known before I got involved with it. Here they are:
Wide Knowledge Base
In order to make it far in the hospitality industry, you’ll need a wide knowledge base. Based on my experience, you’ll need to have hands on experience as well as a college degree. Industry certifications also help if you want to specialize in a certain field. I started my career with a two year college degree and then built on my education from there. Each time I wanted to transition to another level of management, I needed to earn another degree or certificate. I chose to go into marketing in sales, so I needed several degrees and certifications. I should also mention that many of the industry certificates also expire after a certain time and need to be renewed by taking additional classes. Therefore, if you want to reach upper management in this industry, plan on spending a good deal of money on education.
Do you remember the old song, “Sixteen Tons,” and its line about owing your soul to the company store? Well, they should have written a similar one about working in the hospitality industry. The days are long, really long. And don’t expect a lot of time off either. Oh and when you do finally get time off, you are actually on call and they will call. I promise you that much.
I started my hospitality career when I was just a teenager. My first job was as a front desk clerk. At the time, it was not uncommon to work 16 hour shifts or more. Working holidays and weekends were mandatory and the pay was nothing more than minimum wage. I thought that as I worked my way up the corporate ladder the hours would lessen and the pay would increase. I was wrong. The hours got worse but the pay did get a bit better. Once I reached higher levels of management, I was on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
While it is true that the hospitality industry affords those working in it a lot of opportunity to travel, what many career counselors fail to mention is what kind of travel you will be doing and why. Depending on what position you are in, much of the travel can be last minute and require late night work.
There were times in my career when I would report to work in New York and be told by lunch time that I would need to travel to a sister property in Maryland to work the night audit because someone had called in sick. It happened so often; that I eventually kept a suitcase packed and ready to go in my car. Such a lifestyle can be exciting when you are single and childless. However, it doesn’t work so well once you get married and have children. At least it didn’t for me.
Working in the hospitality industry will put you in contact with a large number of people and situations, not all of which will be pleasant. Take for example what happened at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel in Mumbai, India, back in the fall of 2008. It was taken over by terrorists and many people were killed and wounded. There have been other incidents of hospitality employees being placed in harm’s way as well. In the summer of 2011, a hotel desk clerk was attacked in Columbia, South Carolina, but fought back and killed her attacker.
During the course of my career, I have seen many things that I wish I hadn’t. On a few occasions there have been guests that have passed away during their hotel stay. Some died of natural causes, others experienced deaths that were not natural. I have also been physically attacked. The man that attacked me was mad that the hotel was all out of non-smoking rooms. Without warning, he jumped over the front desk counter, grabbed me by my neck and suspended me off of the ground. Eventually the police came and hauled him away. The point is you have to be prepared for anything to happen at any time.
Killeen Gonzalez spent over 20 years working in the hospitality industry. She has a degree in hotel and restaurant management as well as marketing. She has also held several industry certifications.
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