Friday, February 19, 2016

In Praise Of Hotel Receptionists

Hotel receptionist. Can't be that difficult a job. Can it? Name? You're room number xxx. Here's your key. I wrote a comedy sketch entitled "Club Allinclusivana" which had such a receptionist. One from hell, along with the family she was dealing with. Was it based on anywhere in particular? That would be telling. But before one gets the impression that I'm doing receptionists down, which I'm not, let me point to an example of how difficult it can be, when faced with a particular breed of client. In the same resort there was the case of the receptionist reduced to tears by guests berating her for there being nothing to do because it was raining. Should she have been more thick-skinned? No. The guests shouldn't have been so thick. And so downright unpleasant.

A receptionist is at the front line in the customer encounter. There are others who occupy this front line: reps most obviously. They're the ones who are the faces of hotels and tour operators. They're the ones who get the brickbats when something goes wrong (and occasionally bouquets when it goes right). Hotel directors, tour operator marketing teams and executives are off this front line. In the latter case, they are rarely anywhere near the front line, bunkered in offices in a different land. But woe betide a rep (or receptionist) who should be the cause of opprobrium plastered all over Trip Advisor. It can seem at times that the front liners are sent over the top while the Melchetts and Field Marshal Haigs are tending to their drinks cabinets in a "Blackadder" style. It's a battle out there.

There are hotel receptionists and there are hotel receptionists. Just as there are hotels and there are hotels. Into one of these categories fall the Hotel Villa Manga in Madrid and Sofia Barroso. She has been named the best receptionist in the world. By whom? By AICR, Amicale Internationale des Sous-Directeurs et Chefs de Reception des Grands Hotels, of course. She was awarded the David Campbell Trophy at the AICR international congress in Vienna the other day: the late David Campbell was Chef de Reception at the Paris Ritz.

What has Sofia got that makes her the world's best receptionist? In an interview she made it appear that the job really wasn't that difficult: it wasn't front line, customer encounter, marketing-rocket science. Personality, putting oneself in the shoes of the other person (the guest), listening to needs and fulfilling them, being communicative. Shouldn't be so difficult? Should it? There again, one has to suppose that the Hotel Villa Manga attracts a clientele which, while very demanding, is unlikely to trade in streams of abuse, vomit all over the reception desk or be of the compensation-chasing variety that resorts to Trip Advisor blackmail. 

Whatever it is that Sofia has, she saw off rivals from the likes of Raffles in Singapore and won a 3,000 euro-value masters in hospitality. She will add this to her degree in tourism and a masters she already has in commercial and marketing management. Which is a pretty impressive collection of qualifications, and she can no doubt do English well: she was three years at the Cumberland in London.

I've no idea what Sofia earns, but it will be at the higher end of the scale for a receptionist position. How much any receptionist can earn will depend on various factors. A head receptionist obviously earns more. The star categorisation will come into the equation. And there are the qualifications and experience. Just at random I found an offer for a receptionist in a four-star. Salary between 18,000 and 24,000. At least one language (fluent) needed. A minimum of three years experience and also a minimum of a degree in tourism.

It has been said of students who qualify with tourism degrees at the University of the Balearic Islands that many can get no more than receptionist jobs, assuming they can find one: they can be like gold dust. A criticism of the university's degree has been that it is too theoretical. A receptionist, even one with Sofia's qualifications, needs high levels of practicality. All the stuff about personality, listening to needs and what have you: some can be taught, but it's mostly innate. You either are or you aren't suited.

The qualification is, however, a mark of the importance placed on the job. Which is how it should be. Professionalism in all aspects marks out the excellent hotel, and in my experience, admittedly from observation rather than as a guest, in a whole host of hotels in Mallorca this professionalism is high. It's a job that can perhaps be undervalued, but the actual value attached to it can be skewed by the nature of the hotel. In Mallorca, I'd suggest that there are some of the best in the world and they're being the best in some pretty trying circumstances.

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