Can you debunk one myth about a career in hospitality for readers?

Bridget Bilinski: The number one concern I hear from young professionals is about work-life balance in the hospitality industry. There is the ability to have a career and a personal life. The key is a little self-discovery to help determine the plan to achieve both. Understand what you require to “feel balanced,” and then find a job that can help achieve the goal. If you need to work 9-to-5, then look for the roles that have that kind of schedule. If you need to improve organizational or time-management skills, seek out training to help you manage more effectively.

Klaus Kohlmayr: Hospitality is often seen as a traditional job path with limited career opportunities and very little innovation. However, this is far from the truth. Hospitality in the broader sense is at the forefront of innovation and technology disruption (as seen with AirBNB, Uber, etc.) and provides a wealth of opportunities and upward mobility.

What is one piece of advice you give to young professionals starting a career in hospitality?

Gary McCreary: My advice would be to get as much practical experience as you possibly can. I also believe that formal education is equally important. Find a great hospitality school, but make sure your studies include a variety of subjects, including liberal arts classes. Art history, history, foreign language — all of these help ensure a well-rounded education. Combining this collective knowledge and experience can take you very far.

BB: As a young professional new to the industry, don’t be afraid to work in several disciplines to understand the total picture of the business. A deep dive into other departments will give you a better understanding of the roles of your colleagues and what is required to get the job done most efficiently. Spend time in food and beverage, sales, housekeeping and front office to see how they all connect. This breadth of knowledge and experience can really make you an interesting choice for future leadership positions.

KK: Be flexible, be curious and become a global citizen. You never know where an opportunity might lead you. This applies both to flexibility in the roles you take, as well as your geographic flexibility. I made a number of decisions which seemed counterintuitive at first, but proved to be great career stepping stones. Being flexible has also enabled me to work and live around the world, becoming a true global citizen. 

From your perspective in the industry, how has technology improved operational efficiency and guest satisfaction?

BB: Being able to communicate directly with our guests through their mobile devices has allowed us to engage in conversations earlier in the guest journey. Along with this, the mobile phone is going to become critical for everything the guest will want to do in our hotels, including being the actual key to their room, tracking rewards points, making reservations and receiving special offers in a timely manner. Technology is allowing us to really connect to our guests in a more personal and effective manner.

KK: Technology, when used wisely, is an amazing enabler of both. Think about how we shop, book and travel compared to 10 to 15 years ago. It is dramatically different. Technology enables us to predict what guests and consumers want, when they want it and what price they are willing to pay for it. In the future, with voice becoming the preeminent form of interacting with technology, it will become even easier to engage with consumers and guests.

What is one of the most significant developments or advancements in your area of focus within the industry over the last several years?

BB: Computers and data systems have really changed the way we interact with our guests, track information and create efficiencies. Creating apps for guests to use to manage their stay like checking in, ordering food or requesting a beverage by the pool, has given the guest access to the service they want right at their fingertips. Storing our rewards members’ preferences allows us to know our guests anywhere they travel in the world. Understanding the flow of business based on understanding guest patterns allows us to schedule our associates efficiently and with care for their personal planning.

KK: Consumers have the power to access information like never before. This has created new expectations in what companies must do to connect and engage with consumers. From our perspective, that means a hotel in the past could afford to not have a system make pricing decisions. But now, with the tremendous amount of information and data, it is evident that without an automated and fully integrated approach to pricing, hotels will not be able to compete effectively in the future. There are too many daily decisions that need to be made for a human to be effective in the modern hotel.

GM: For us, mega groups seem to continue growing, but so does the desire for more personal, individualized experiences. It’s been an exciting challenge to develop opportunities that combine both. Special dietary requirements are another area in which there has been a lot of change, as it has definitely grown in both complexity and scope. 

In your opinion, what is the main challenge the hospitality industry faces in the coming years?

BB: Costs growing faster than revenue growth, especially with the rise in use of technology across the board, is going to be a challenge in the hospitality industry’s near future. We are coming up with new and innovative ways to balance the costs of running a successful business with the incoming revenue, all while actively working to retain loyal guests and gain new ones.

KK: There is some concern on the horizon that a recession might be nearing — possibly by 2020. We don’t know how deep this impact would be. Because of this, hoteliers must consider the possibility and put contingency plans in place that will allow them to weather it successfully. Technology should be one of the cornerstones of that strategy.

What drove you to pursue a career in hospitality? 

GM: Cooking was always a passion of mine from a young age. There are stories of me around the age of three opening presents on Christmas morning and putting them aside. I would go into my grandmother’s kitchen where I’d pull out pots and pans from under the stove, bring them to the fireplace hearth and pretend to cook for the family. I’ve always loved how food brings people together, so hospitality became an organic extension of something that I’ve always found rewarding.

Where do you see the hospitality industry advancing within the next five years?

GM: I think this business will continue to grow and shift as different fads arise. Some of these fads will become trends, and some of these trends will develop into cultures. People will always have the need to connect and be together. The dynamics of this industry is one of the things I enjoy most.

If you could go back and give your 22-year-old self career advice, what would it be and why?

GM: Enjoy every step of your career and remember that each one is a building block to the next. I think so many people are in a rush to rise to the top that they sometimes forget about the 10,000 hours of practice theory. In hospitality, I believe this concept is key. On a daily basis, we find ourselves dealing with a myriad of scenarios, filled with all kinds of variables. It’s the experience and knowledge we’ve gained that allows us to best navigate these challenges and bring about successful outcomes.

What’s your favorite part about working in hospitality?

GM: I love the process and excitement of putting it all together and of being on a team that makes amazing things happen on the fly and in real-time. There are no do-overs in our business — you either get it right the first time, you improvise and improve upon your plan or you fail (which is not a real option).