A woman’s touch in the hotel industry
Bubbly and welcoming, Claire Mitchell is the sales and marketing manager for Radisson Blu Sandton and Park Inn Sandton.
She knows the pristine foyers and luxurious suites of the hospitality industry like the back of her hand, having grown up with parents who worked in the hospitality business and grandparents who owned the Groot Marico Hotel in Zeerust.
In honour of Women’s Month we caught up with Mitchell for a Q and A about women in hospitality, how a millennial workforce has changed the conferencing sector and the positive changes she’s making at both of the hotels she’s working with.
Born for the hospitality industry
Q: We know you grew up in the hospitality industry. To what extent has that impacted your life?
A: My grandparents owned the Groot Marico Hotel. By default my mom was studying in Potchefstroom and used to work at the hotel during her school holidays and weekends. That’s actually how my mom and dad met, he was a hotel guest and she was working at reception. I firmly believe that I was born for this industry. I always worked at hotels and hotel kitchens during my holidays and started my career in hospitality as a guest relationship manager at a hotel in London 13 years ago. That was a great environment to learn in because I got to try a little bit of everything from reception to working in the hotel kitchen.
Q: Is there anything else you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a sales and marketing manager for two hotels?
A: Hmmm…I actually think I’d want to own a restaurant. So…still pretty much in the hospitality industry.
Q: Would you consider hospitality to be a male-dominated industry?
A: Most of the industry is equal but from a general manager point of view there is definitely a shortage of women in leadership roles in the hotel industry.
Q: Why do you think that is?
A: I do think men have the tendency to be more assertive in a leadership position. However, by instituting female leadership programmes like the Rezidor Hotel Group is doing, more women are being trained for leadership roles in the hotel industry. My ultimate goal is to be the GM of a hotel.
Q: Do you think female leaders sometimes equate assertiveness with masculinity? Is it difficult to retain your femininity as a woman in a leadership position?
A: It can be difficult to retain your femininity but you also have to remember that you can’t be everyone’s friend. While I have a responsibility to my team, I also have a responsibility to the stakeholders and myself. I think it is challenging for a woman to assert herself in the workplace and a lot of the time your delivery of instructions and critique needs to be more tactful than your male counterparts. It’s just about striking the right balance. I also think women bring something really unique to the hotel industry in that they create a ‘home away from home’ atmosphere.
Q: Do you have any advice for young women who are thinking about starting careers in the hotel industry?
A: There are numerous opportunities for women in the hospitality industry. But you have to understand that there is no such thing as a nine to five job in hospitality, we work long and odd hours. If you are still interested in hospitality as a career then approach hotel groups to ask about training programmes and internships. When I hire staff I look for real life experience and enthusiasm.
Planning a successful conference
Q: Do you have any advice for event planners on how to best utilise a venue’s resources?
A: I would have to say that an event is only as successful as the amount of information you send through to the venue. Communication is key so make sure you let us know every detail of how you’d like the event to play out. And ask about our added value features. For example, we have a romantic package, which allows guests who are staying on business to have their spouse over during a weekend or two for a very reasonable price. At the Radisson Blu Sandton we also have a fantastic business class lounge that you can use for an added charge of R650. At the lounge, which is a converted penthouse suite, we have complimentary light snacks, drinks and newspapers throughout the day. Some of our guests are booked in for over 100 days, if they’re here on business, and can start to get cabin fever. The lounge is a fantastic networking and socialising space.
Q: We’ve heard that you’re making a few changes to Radisson Blu Sandton and Sandton Park Inn. Can you talk us through that?
A: Firstly we’ve aligned the sales, marketing and operations of both hotels. We’ve made security updates and done preventative maintenance and we’ve also done a décor refurbishment in both hotels. As the weather starts to warm up we’re going to have pool deck activations with live music. This is something that’s very important to me. I believe that a hotel needs to have its own heartbeat. In addition, our chefs are working on a new menu, which will focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Q: With millenials currently making up the bulk of the workforce, do you think conferencing has had to change? How have your hotels adapted to that change?
A: One thing I know for sure is that millenials are definitely not looking for four walls and a projector screen. Millenials want to be engaged and, more than that, they want to be connected. We’ve updated our WiFi systems and we now have complimentary high speed, uncapped Internet in all our venues, because we’ve realised that delegates want to download information and use social media to communicate as they’re listening to a speaker. One other trend that we’ve noticed is there is a bigger focus on CSI than ever before. Delegates want to listen to inspiring speakers and want to get involved in CSI initiatives. Something that we, as a hotel group, offer is to facilitate CSI initiatives, with our regular beneficiaries, specifically for international conferences.