The hospitality industry is synonymous with walking that extra mile. Hotels are those exclusive havens where well heeled patrons luxuriate and ruminate over their existential crisis in movie set like scenes where the air con and crystal chandeliers are always perfect. I always wondered what went on behind the carefully constructed facade and gilded front doors of a beautiful hotel and marvelled at what well oiled machinery and planning it must take to really run hotels efficiently.
Until I joined a hotel, it did not hit me that it is the people that work there that make the DNA of a hotel what it really is. Without the right staff to run it, hotels are just fancy buildings without any soul. To run a hotel, nothing less than a well orchestrated army of well spoken, articulate, shrewd, sharply dressed people who can fix gas leaks, cook a perfectly al dente pasta and not scrunch up their noses at cleaning toilets, attentive-yet-not-overbearing staff will do. While it might sound mildly exaggerated, having a hotel job equips you for facing life! It makes you the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker all rolled into one.
What it also makes you is some kind of a free wheeling, quick witted maverick to fix things when they do not go as per the script. What this means is that not one ‘regular’ working day will be like the previous one, every day will be a guaranteed special Mad Hatter’s Tea Party! While how we retain our hotel jobs is by feeding the illusion of ‘everything is how it should be’, the most memorable moments are those where this illusion shatters!
Here’s where the fun stories begin:
A lady guest of Chinese nationality at one of my hotels came running down to the lobby in her pyjamas, screaming incoherently at 2 am. The startled Duty Manager and front desk staff could not make anything of her wild gesticulations and one team member followed her to her room to see what the fuss was all about. There was a bat flying around in circles in her room. Not only did the team manage to catch the bat and release it in the open (yay for animal rights!), they also placated the guest by sending hot chocolate and slyly convincing her the bat came along with her luggage from China.
In another freak incident, in my first few days of my first job, I escorted a regular VIP guest to his room. I opened the door to his room and voila! ‘This is one of our most special rooms Sir, as you can see it does not have a conventional bed.’ (I still cringe at the memory) Luckily, the guest was a nice old, jovial man and thought it was funny that the hotel was trying to sell him a room missing a bed. The hotel went ahead and upgraded him to a suite as a service recovery measure for that stay.
Another crazy story was in the making when I was Manager on Duty one night, meaning I was the only senior manager and decision maker in the hotel (post evening) and as Managers on Duty we used to stay overnight to ensure everything is okay in the hotel and we are around in case it is not. We were hosting two groups in the hotel that night, one was a women’s kabaddi team (all burly athletic women – you get the picture) and the other was a well known Indian company who was hosting a party for its dealers. One young, intoxicated gent from the party crowd decided it would be a great idea to go knock all the doors in the hotel at midnight and make a nuisance of himself. Little did he know what was in store for him. One by one, the athletes and their manager came out of their rooms wondering who kept knocking their doors. When they realised it was an aberrant, highly drunk young lad, they began to beat him up with gusto. That also happened to be the exact time when I decided to step between the principal ‘beater’ and ‘beatee’ to avoid conflict. Luckily I came away without a black eye and increased confidence (read : vanity) in conflict management.
A Swedish lady once lost her earrings in the hotel during her stay and asked if Housekeeping could help look for them. We combed through her room and the corridors outside her room but could not find it. One of the room attendants had seen the guest by the pool that morning and decided to take a look around the pool to see if he could find it. He offered to dive into the pool and take a quick look on the pool floor as that was the only place left to look for it but it seemed unlikely we would find it. Armed with diving glasses, he dove in and found it! The earrings were special for the guest because her mother had gifted them to her when she was three years old and she had recently lost her mother. The lady cried when the earrings were returned to her.
Talking of miles, running means the world to me. It is an art that has kept me healthy and happy over the years. I often plan my vacations from work in such a way that I can travel and run, which are things I truly enjoy doing. I have happily run on tarmac and trails alike. Running to me is a form of meditation, the way yoga is for a lot of people. I always feel peaceful, joyous and refreshed after a run. My only competition is with my previous runs and while I am no world class runner, I am still a success if I do better than I did earlier. It has greatly helped and inspired me that my father is a runner too. We have been a healthy, running family for several years now. I like to live by what the famous author and runner, Murakami says, “I will be happy if running and I can grow old together”. That would be the best thing ever!
What is even better, if you are a hotel employee, pressed for time, is if you can run with your guests and colleagues. One of our hotel guests was looking to register for a local run in the city and was asking a manager in the hotel if he knew how she could sign up for the race since the online registrations had shut down. He called me, introduced me to the lady and asked if I could help. I walked down to the race expo from the hotel and returned with two running bibs for the race morning the next day, one for her and one for me! We ran a 10 km race the next day and had a complete blast. We continued running every day after that fun morning for the duration of her stay at the hotel and became great friends too. I have managed to run with over a dozen guests at different hotels and it has been a great bonding exercise on understanding my guests better and also logging in some exercise for the day. At a previous hotel, we used to do weekly team runs with colleagues from the hotel who wanted to join and the camaraderie and good humour lasted the whole week and even spilled over into our inter personal relationships at work making our interactions easier and more comfortable.
Nupur Lalvani has been a patient of type one diabetes since she was 8 years old. She is qualified as a Certified Diabetes Educator and is currently studying nutrition. Despite the challenges that accompany diabetes, she has run half marathons (21kms), full marathons (42.2 kms) and ultra marathons (more than 42 kms). Nupur represented India as a Medtronics Global Hero in 2016 Marathon in Minneapolis, United States. I have had the privilege of being her Housekeeping professor at IHM – Mumbai and am grateful for her support in my own battle with diabetes. She is a dedicated housekeeper living life to the fullest and is truly the epitome of one who is ready to run ‘the extra mile’ – Avril Sule
Nupur Lalvani has been a patient of type one diabetes since she was 8 years old. She is qualified as a Certified Diabetes Educator and is currently studying nutrition. Despite the challenges that accompany diabetes, she has run half marathons (21kms), full marathons (42.2 kms) and ultra marathons (more than 42 kms). Nupur represented India as a Medtronics Global Hero in 2016 Marathon in Minneapolis, United States. I have had the privilege of being her Housekeeping professor at IHM – Mumbai and am grateful for her support in my own battle with diabetes. She is a dedicated housekeeper living life to the fullest and is truly the epitome of one who is ready to run ‘the extra mile’
– Avril Sule