Hospitality is one of the most welcoming and exciting industries to be in. Now more than ever is the time to make the move to hospitality, as the industry is making improvements in work-life balance, compensation, and meaningful work. In this article HSMAI Foundation Board Members, Lexy Coley, director of talent development at Omni Hotels, and Jessica Davidson, CHDM, Senior Vice President of Digital, Wyndham, discuss how passion can fuel a career in hospitality, what hiring managers are looking for in new talent, and tips on leadership development.
What inspires you about hospitality?
Lexy Coley: Hospitality inspires me because it’s all about creating great moments in peoples’ lives that they remember forever. It’s the business of making people happy. Who wouldn’t want to do that for a living? The challenge is knowing and understanding people’s differences in order to achieve that goal, and that is what keeps it interesting and exciting. No day is ever the same. When people ask, “How was work today?” there is always a new story to tell. We don’t work in hospitality; we are hospitable and just happen to get paid for it! The days fly by, people are always happy to see you, and work just doesn’t feel like work.
When you think about your career in hospitality, what brings out your passion?
Jessica Davidson: There is nothing that excites me more than bringing brands and digital experiences to life. Ideating and ultimately building digital products with other talented team members is rewarding and instills lifelong learning because the landscape is always changing. Each person can identify their own passion points by examining interests and combining them with what they are inherently good at. You can continuously fuel this passion by reminding yourself of your purpose and what moves you.
How is hospitality different from other industries?
LC: It requires mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical strength, depending on your role. Yes, it can be challenging, but that’s what makes it so rewarding. It requires an understanding of all divisions to make the magic happen (engineering, finance, rooms, food and beverage, sales, human resources). It’s a true teamwork mentality where everyone is striving to achieve the one unified goal of bringing guests back time and time again. It’s also relatively easy to move from one division to another as long as the foundation of your leadership skills translates to other departments. It’s a great way to become a well-rounded professional.
When did you realize you made the right career choice?
JD: Working in the hotel industry had always piqued my interest. Where else can you deliver extraordinary experiences and build connections in real time? After spending many years in retail focused on building digital experiences for iconic brands, an opportunity at Wyndham became a reality. It was an exciting leap to be able to learn a new field while remaining focused on digital innovation and brand evolution. Living out my passion for all things “dysical” (where the digital world meets the physical space) is a constant reality. While it is tough to identify a particular moment the realization clicked, I am reaffirmed by my career choice whenever I attend meetings with franchisees or industry events where there are so many friendly faces. There is an overall sense of warmth and community in hospitality that is very special.
What are some of the benefits of a career in hospitality?
LC: There are the obvious perks of discounted room rates for friends and family, etc., but there is also the benefit of always meeting new people. From celebrities and presidents to your everyday family wanting to get away for the weekend, hospitality welcomes everyone. It has been so rewarding getting to meet people you may have never interacted with working in a “normal job.”
How did you identify your strengths and learn to leverage them?
JD: One of the best ways to identify what you are good at is to catch yourself enjoying the moment. For example, early in my career, I was organically jumping into a facilitator role in team discussions, helping garner input from participants, and then synthesizing the themes and outputs. There was something rewarding about connecting with each person, and this was further reinforced by feedback such as, “That was a really good meeting.” The key lesson: Do it more! Another person may find themselves having fun on stage presenting their expertise to a large audience. Here, they can maximize speaking engagements to share important messages with the masses. In short, a good way to find your strengths is to practice self-awareness and enlist feedback. Side note: When you find an area in which you are not as strong, work to improve it while seeking others with complementary strengths to team up with.
What do you look for when hiring someone?
LC: I look for a person with a genuine desire to please and make others feel welcomed. That’s it. We can train on the rest! We can’t train to genuinely want to please.
What advice would you give someone considering a career in hospitality?
JD: The ideal person seeking a career in hospitality must derive fulfillment from helping others. Therefore, it is critical to listen to your guests (or whomever you are serving) and do all you can to deliver exceptional experiences. You will likely find that the joy is returned to you tenfold!
See video success stories from these leaders and others in the new HSMAI Foundation series: