Photographs: REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe (INDIA) Shalini Gupta
The hospitality industry is set to witness robust growth and it is estimated that the sector will require about 2.03 lakh trained professionals over the coming years. In our week-long series on opportunities in the hospitality sector, we look at the various job profiles that are in demand and how you can get your career on the right track. In the second part of the series, we look at jobs in the Front Office.
In spite of being a science student, Raja Panchal was never interested in engineering. He wanted to do something different, and the hospitality industry attracted his attention, specifically the glamour associated with the fluently-speaking, immaculately dressed men and women at the Front Office. Today, a third year student at the Institute of Hotel Management, Delhi, he is all set to make his dream come true.
If like him, you too aspire to be a part of the only department in a hotel that has a direct contact with its guests, be prepared for some very hard work!
Getting down to the basics
All hotels, be it a five-star hotel, standalone or budget, have a line-up of staff at the Front Office. "From the time a guest walks in, till his or her departure, the Front Office department has to work meticulously at each stage of operations. Usually the staff work in shifts ranging from 10-14 hours a day," says Babar Khanyari, Front Office manager, The Imperial, Delhi. A Front Office manager heads the department and supervises a few duty managers to whom assistant managers report. Assistant managers in turn supervise the various departments.
The concierge department headed by a head concierge takes care of transporting guests to and from the hotel to local attractions as well as assisting them with recommendations for restaurants, shopping and sightseeing. Bell boys assist guests with their luggage and several of them might report to a bell captain who in turn reports to the head concierge. On their arrival at the hotel, guests are greeted by welcome assistants. Reception executives take care of the check-in formalities such as filling up the registration card and updating the details in the system. They also ensure a smooth check-out. Several guest service associates might report to a reception executive.
The reservations department looks after guest booking and room tariffs. There is a separate department that takes care of the likes and dislikes of the guests and receiving feedback on the service to ensure a personalised stay. This is called the guest relations department, which is headed by a guest relation executive (GRE). Several guest relation associates report to the GRE. Typically, Front Office personnel comprise 10-15 per cent of the hotel staff, says Professor DD Sharma, head of department, Front Office and Accommodation Management, IHM, Delhi.
Rising up the ranks
Nishant Negi started off as a management trainee at Jaypee Palace, Agra, after completing his hotel management course from IHM Lucknow in 1998. Today he heads the Front Office operations at ITC Sheraton, Delhi and has 11 years of experience in the industry. Beginning as management trainees, fresh HM graduates complete one to two years in the domain. They then join as guest service associates/ guest relation associates at the front desk, assisting the guest relation executive or the reception. They could also be directly recruited as assistant managers, depending on different training programmes at hotel chains.
A duty manager supervises the assistant manager and reports to the Front Office manager (who oversees the entire front office operations). Climbing up the ladder requires a lot of hard work and experience and one has to work up the way through a hierarchy. Growth opportunities are higher since the Front Office staff often build a rapport with the customers as opposed to F&B, opines Anil Srivastava, HR manager at the ITC Sheraton, Delhi.
Trainees can earn as much as Rs9,000 to Rs 11,000. "One does need to slog it out in the first few years but if you work with the motto that you are here because of the guest and focus on serving them better, there is no looking back," adds Ajoy Balkrishna, general manager, Grand Sarovar Premiere, Mumbai, who has around 20 years of experience in the industry.
Alok Narain, an HM graduate, who is now vice president, employee development, Quatrro (a BPO) was heading HR at The Oberoi. As Narain's profile shows, Front Office personnel, thus are in demand not only in the hospitality industry, but also allied industries such as BPOs, banking, the retail sector, corporates, says Alok Shivpuri, principal, IHM Delhi.
"BPOs prefer Front Office staff or hospitality personnel for service-oriented processes, such as client processing and customer service delivery," elaborates Sunil Goel, director, GlobalHunt, an executive search firm. Employers across the sector feel confident to hire them for their managerial and interpersonal skill.
A cheerful countenance, an eagerness to help and assist, presence of mind to handle difficult situations as and when they arise and an enthusiasm to learn, are some of the key attributes needed for you to carve a niche. Soft skills are very, very important. After all, you have to make the guest feel special and cared for, be it celebrating a birthday after landing just a few hours back or even volunteering to pick up their luggage.
An innate attitude to bring a smile on someone's face is very crucial. As Nishant puts it, "Aspire to wow a customer."
Hotels might also have in-house trainers to orient employees on various soft skills such as telephone etiquette and grooming standards, informs C Swaminathan, director HR at The Imperial, Delhi.
Dignity of labour
One thing that the profession teaches you is that no job is inferior. And this is what Raja Panchal learned during his six-month-long industrial training during which a student has to work in all departments (F&B, Front Office and housekeeping).
He would accompany his housekeeping manager to check if all rooms were spick and span at the end of each day. One day they found a tiny speck in the lavatory of one of the rooms. While Raja was hesitant to clean it, his senior went ahead and did the needful. "I was inspired by this lesson of a lifetime: never look down on any work but do it to the best of your abilities," says Raja.