My Hyatt Experience

Emi-beth Amable
Class of 2007 BA

After two interviews, one with a panel from Ashesi and the other, a phone interview with a representative from the Hyatt I was primed and ready for my internship. I had an idealist's vision of what my internship was going to be. I was bubbling with excitement and full of so many great expectations for work. I was going to work in a multi-national company in South Africa, an opportunity of a lifetime to pursue my dream of a career in the hospitality industry. This essay tells the story of what really happened in South Africa, at the Park Hyatt in Johannesburg - my introduction to the real working world.

There were two of us scheduled to intern at the Park Hyatt from Ashesi. I was to move through departments in the rooms division while the other candidate was stationed in Finance. In my ten weeks at the Park Hyatt I spent six weeks in the rooms division moving from housekeeping to the concierge desk, to the business centre and front desk and ending in reservations. The last four weeks were spent in the finance department with the internal auditor and accounts payable. That was the major highlight of my internship - moving between departments. All my questions on the practical aspects of the hospitality industry were answered and I was given the opportunity to experience first hand how each division contributed to the success of the hotel.

My expectations of glamour and glitz and perfection were quickly revised on the first day of work when a representative from the human resource department while taking us on a tour of the hotel commented that “the back of the house never looks as good as the front”. That was indeed the start of my internship. After spending the first day in training and getting oriented I was pushed into the thick of activities in the housekeeping departments of room service and laundry. In room service, my days were filled with inspections of room after room and in a hotel of 244 rooms that was tedious. I was shown the major things to look out for and how to properly clean a room to be able to live up to the expectations of a guest in a five star hotel. The laundry room was strictly organised and I had to print bills for guests using the micros system of the hotel, iron shirts, fold towels, sort items and make sure I didn’t put bleach on the wrong batch or shrink a shirt (all the things I would grumble at doing back at home). I was very much domesticated. Apart from the excitement of exploring South Africa – people, food, languages, dressing and living alone in a foreign country, my first week at work was monotonous and unchallenging. I was in serious self-doubt and beginning to wander what I, a business student at Ashesi University was doing in South Africa pursuing a career in cleaning.

The next few weeks were a lot more eventful as I moved to the concierge desk where I actually got to interact with the guests and be in the thick of activities. My duties were to attend to every need of the guest between the time they checked in and checked out. I had to store luggage, make sure parcels left were delivered to the right people and collected by the right courier, give guests directions (after the first disgruntled guest trusted me I learnt to read maps pretty fast) and book and recommend the appropriate restaurants for guests who wanted to eat out. I received my first tip working at the concierge desk and I was overwhelmed with joy – it was only $1 but I was truly excited. The only downside to working at the concierge desk was standing on my feet all day with only one break during lunch hour.

From the concierge desk I moved to the business centre and from the business centre to reservations. The business centre was the call centre of the hotel. Every call coming into the hotel was routed through the switchboard and I had to learn how answer the phone by Hyatt standards “Hello, Park Hyatt Johannesburg may I help you” and all the department extensions. I said it so often that I was practically singing it in my sleep. I also had to bill guests for the use of the internet and the dispatch of faxes, post letters and log all activities for the day. In reservations, I had to make bookings for all prospective guests and then make sure all their requests were granted upon arrival.

The worst experience of my internship was the two weeks I spent at the front desk because my manager was particularly demanding and unappreciative. I never imagined two weeks could be so long! On days she was on duty as I was leaving at five she would jeer at me saying I was an 8-5 worker and she didn’t like those kinds of people. Considering that I had just spent 9 hours (and everybody else works a 7 hour shift from 7a.m.-3p.m.) on my feet checking people in and out, swiping credit cards, calming disgruntled guests, directing lost ones, filing and looking for dockets I thought it was pretty unfair. Also, being in a foreign country I was dependent on a driver who picked me up at five and also had other pick-ups after I was dropped off. It was a challenge but I did manage to stay overtime a few times to show my dedication to the job, usually when she was on duty and the desk was very busy. My two weeks at the front office were very strenuous and I almost worked myself to the ground trying to meet my boss’s impossible standards. Each day after work I was in such a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that I would just go straight to bed. My efforts paid off however, because I eventually earned her respect and even though she only once acknowledged my efforts I still had a sense of self achievement that kept me going. It also helped that my co-workers kept encouraging me and offering their support and expertise when I was in need. I definitely wasn’t bored at the front desk.

After my experience at the front office, the finance department was a breeze. It proved to me that in the hospitality industry, working with figures is much less demanding than working with people. I worked with the internal auditor for two weeks and he patiently explained all that he did. My exposure “downstairs” helped me to understand where the revenue was coming from and I was able to more easily identify discrepancies during reconciliation, journal preparation and daily expense sheets. My tutor was extremely helpful and when he went on holiday a week later the head of the finance department asked me to spend my last week and a half helping with some of his work instead of moving to the Regency club. By this time, I was interning in accounts payable and I had to juggle the work I was assigned by the head of the department with the work I was assigned by my accounts payable tutor. I learnt the value of time because accounts payable involved lots of paperwork - posting bills, reconciling payments with receipts, learning how to electronically transfer payments and keeping records of all these transactions and the reconciliation I was taking care of for the internal auditor also required a lot of attention to detail. At the end of my internship I was able to finish all my assigned duties so excellently and the head of the department jokingly asked me to teach my boss in accounts payable how to do his job again before I left.

Outside of work, I explored the country I was in. I visited many places in Johannesburg such as the Hector Pieterson museum where I explored South African history, the theme park where I went on roller coaster rides and the local park where I went for long walks on weekends. I spent a month’s salary on a trip to Cape Town to explore and it was a trip well worth it. Cape Town is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen with excellent infrastructure and fascinating natural attractions such as Table-top Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope. I got the opportunity to mingle with the locals and spent my last weekend with the director of the Human Resource department and his family at his home in Soweto. I made many friends and was invited to many parties and barbecues which they called “braii” and for excursions to the mall to shop and for coffee. I was exposed to people from various countries such as Zimbabwe, Holland, Botswana and Germany and it was amazing to hear accounts of happenings in their culture.

The internship was a real eye-opener and I learnt how to adjust really quickly to situations and be innovative (think on your feet) because we weren’t judged by our excuses but by our productivity. I attempted to make myself indispensable and there were many times when I was called back to a department I had worked in for my input in completing a task my previous co-workers were assigned. There were many times when I had to take initiative and it is a great source of pride to me that during my internship I was recommended by a couple of guests for going over and above the call of duty and for excellent service. I have many good memories of South Africa and one of the major highlights of my job was meeting so many people. I got the opportunity to meet the head of Unilever in Kenya who was so impressed with the quality of my service at the front office that he asked me to apply to intern at Unilever in Kenya. I also got the opportunity to see (not meet) Winnie Mandela and her daughter and many other political figures and government officials. During the course of my ten weeks I developed a whole new perception of a multinational company. I learnt that no matter how sad it is there will be inequality – you cannot be paid the same or given the same respect as another person higher up on the organisational ladder. That I believe is the payoff of education. While I was in the Finance Department I always would say that the people there were paid more to do less.

My internship taught me that doing well in the classroom and applying the concepts learned in the classroom are two totally different concepts and it takes a lot of skill and continuous work to be successful. I learnt the value of team work and the establishment of good rapport with co-workers since I almost always had to work with others to achieve my goals and do my job properly. The biggest lesson I learnt was that pursuing a dream takes a lot of hard work and perseverance and is a process that does not happen in a day. There are times when all you see on the road to success are road blocks. At the Hyatt I learned that no dream is inferior (through housekeeping, through concierge, the front desk, through the business centre and reservations to Finance) I got a better definition of my career goals and understood the real meaning and advantage of “working your way to the top”. There were many times I wanted to give up and just get on the next flight home but I stuck it through and I do believe that my perseverance has paid off. My internship at the Park Hyatt in Johannesburg may not have been the internship I expected it to be but all-in-all it was the most educative and most enlightening experience of my life!