A LIFETIME OF LOVE FOR THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY
As a young child growing up in Turkey, hospitality was not only a part of my life – it was everything! Welcoming family and friends into our home and spending time with those we cared about were natural and customary. My Mother always had food ready for those who might stop by for a visit, and we never dreamed of dropping by to see someone without a homemade cake in hand. Little did I know then that the hospitality industry would become a passion above all.
A HUMBLE BEGINNING IN HOSPITALITY
My career in hospitality started with a humble beginning. As a college student looking for a job, I stumbled upon a position as a banquet coordinator at the Loews Summit Hotel at 51st and Lexington in NYC, now a DoubleTree by Hilton. While learning fancy names of hors d'oeuvres, working the buffet line, and meeting diverse people from all over the world, I knew hospitality was home for me.
Learning by doing set me up for success! Manager-trainee programs didn’t exist early on, so I spent time absorbing knowledge while working in all areas of the hotel – reservations, night audit, housekeeping, and sales. Sales is where I gravitated to because I loved the:
- high-paced environment, teamwork, and relationship building;
- the excitement of knowing I was part of the hotel’s success
- the thrill of setting and achieving goals for ‘my hotel.'
Yes, I considered it ‘my hotel ‘– it didn’t take long to love my job and be full of pride! The most valuable life lesson I learned during that time was to always do what you love and love what you do!
A HOTEL’S HEART AND SOUL IS ITS PEOPLE
Hospitality is about people taking care of people, and it takes every team member in a hotel to deliver on that calling. It’s not the brick and mortar that makes a hotel a home away from home for guests – it is the people providing heartfelt service.
An experience that brought this to life for me was when a union strike was underway in NYC. As a non-union associate, I crossed the picket line and was assigned to housekeeping - cleaning rooms, making beds, and making sure the room was spotless with no signs of a previous guest. From that day forward, I've always had tremendous respect for every dedicated, hardworking housekeeper, who is the core of a hotel’s success.
Other great memories of my early days in hospitality surround the way operations were handled seamlessly, even without the advanced technology we have today.
- Reservations were made by contacting the hotel directly with multiple team members tracking arrivals, no-shows, and guaranteed bookings.
- Bucket checks were the real thing - manually checking daily arrivals and departures and advising housekeepers of rooms to clean.
- Night auditors spent hours balancing the general ledger with a calculator.
- International reservations were sent via telex machines using ticker tape, which was recycled, and used in the NYC ticker-tape parades.
These experiences and memories explain why even to this day, my favorite part of visiting a hotel is spending time with the people – the hotel heroes with incredible passion, pride, and love for their work, and a General Manager caring for the team and leading by example.
FACING THE GREATEST CHALLENGE OF OUR INDUSTRY
We’ve come a long way since my hospitality career started, but one thing will never change, and that’s the essence of hospitality - an opportunity to serve with love and care. Right now, the hotel industry is facing the most significant challenge it has ever experienced. A sense of survival surrounds us, and yet we are adapting to the important responsibility of keeping guests and associates safe while at the same time ensuring their happiness and a memorable experience.
Hoteliers are resilient as proven by their impressive accomplishments and creativity since COVID-19 hit: working together with the AH&LA to seek quick assistance from the government; closing hotels temporarily for long-term survival; creating enhanced cleanliness and safety programs. No matter what changes happen due to innovation, economic situations or disasters, we always come together as an industry.
Throughout my career, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to manage sales and marketing in regional, corporate, and senior leadership roles at both the property and management company level for globally branded hotels such as Hyatt, Hilton, Starwood, and Marriott. Today, I am honored to lead iResponze, founded by hoteliers for hoteliers offering service solutions for hotels & resorts. My love for hospitality is strong, and even with the ups and downs over the years, I can’t imagine spending my career in any other business. I look forward to the day when our industry rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic, the joy of travel is more vital than ever, and hospitality colleagues all over the world will be doing what they do best – welcoming and taking care of guests.
Chief Innovation Officer