Behind the scenes with a hotel manager
Brian Sparrow has the hotel business in his blood. His grandfather founded The Norwood Hotel, a boutique operation, in 1937, so it's no surprise Brian decided to carry on the family tradition after working in almost area of hotel operations while attending college and attaining a commerce degree. By 1999, he was the assistant general manager and has been the hotel's general manager since 2003.
To hear him speak is to know he thrives on a career with variety and challenge. "The thing I enjoy most working in this business is your days are never the same. You need a whole range of skills to be a successful hotel manager."
Among the Skills Sparrow Lists
- You have to relate really well to people, not only to your customers, but you have to know how to handle your own staff. The human resources function is as important as your marketing and accounting functions.
- You have to be level-headed because of all the different people you're handling.
- You need a solid financial background because you'll need to understand accounting.
- You need a sold marketing background. This is especially important for an independent hotel, not tied to a flag, where the hotel does its own marketing.
And forget having a 9-to-5 mentality. The hotel manager is on call 24 hours a day. While there are certain tasks handled daily or weekly - studying staff reports and occupancy reports, meeting with the assistant GM, going over staff and room assignments, meeting with the food and beverage manager, and going over room inspections, to name the main tasks - you can receive a call at virtually any hour to handle a hotel-related situation.
Says Sparrow, "If you're not here at 1 a.m., you have to have someone just like you in the hotel at that time. This is a job that requires total commitment and dedication."
On top of what goes on inside the hotel, you have to be involved with the community as you help promote the hotel to the outside world.
A typical day?
8 a.m. GMs are in their offices before 8 a.m. to get a handle on what happened the day before. They study labor and revenue reports to get a sense of the day just passed. Then they forecast the day ahead, studying any issues that might arise, whether there are VIPs coming to the hotel, if there are significant catering events planned.
10 a.m. GMs walk around the hotel to visit their staff.
11 a.m. GMs return to their desks, handle messages and their own tasks, whether communications or administrative.
Lunch. Entertain a guest or employee.
2 p.m. Return to administrative tasks and ongoing projects.
4 p.m. Hold staff or communications meetings, mid to late afternoon, close to the time of shift changes.
5 p.m. Walk the property and make the transition to the evening shift.
Anytime: Be on call for issues that arise.
The hotel manager's career path
The path to become a hotel general manager is changing, say those in the industry.
"I'm not sure there's one clearly defined career path," says Graeme Barrit, president of the North American Coast Hotels chain. "One of our GMs has a sales background; one, a food and beverage background. Today there's a bias to a rooms background, but that's not graven in stone. A lot of that would be based on the size of the building. The smaller the building, the likelier the hotel manager is to have a strong rooms background."
Today's GM needs to have an undergraduate degree. But, as Barrit says, this degree is generally no longer enough to reach the GM level. Candidates "need to be better communicators, better leaders. Leadership is couched in experience and learning, which doesn't have to be hospitality-specific."
He adds, the successful hotel manager will combine these qualities:
- Strong operational management ability
- A deep knowledge of the hotel business
- Effective leadership skills
Small or large hotel?
The main difference in working for a small or large hotel, boutique vs. chain, is the team at your disposal and how hands-on you are. "In a really big hotel," says Barrit, "you have a rooms division manager, a director of food and beverage, and others, and you're working with them. In a smaller hotel, there aren't a lot of layers, and you're working with supervisory staff vs. managers and directors."
These different sized properties can attract different personalities. Says Barrit, "Some people grow to bigger properties. Some are more comfortable in a smaller, more personalized property."
At the end of the day, though, hotel managers in both small and large properties are focused on quality service and a quality product, both for employees and customers.
Tips to get ahead
- Talk to other hotel managers in the industry.
- Be responsible for your own career. Don't wait for someone else to be responsible for your progress.
- Find a mentor. The hotel industry is made up of people genuinely interested in their teams.
- If you're already working in a hotel, try different positions, cross-train and try different departments. These people get ahead because they learn the different cultures and revenue centres.
- On the job, be innovative and show initiative.