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Into the wind - approach work with energy, enthusiasm and a smile

Matt Squires smiles into the camera.
Alumnus Matt Squires shares his top takeaway tips from his own experiences in the hospitality and tourism industry, and how to look ahead to the industry's future.

An unprecedented pandemic; a difficult economic outlook; global uncertainty — these overwhelming challenges call for innovation and insight. They also call for conversation, discussion and debate — for gaining personal perspectives from people on the frontlines.

Matt Squires’ (HRA ’01) first experiences in the hotel industry came through a part-time job at the Canadian Pacific Calgary Airport Hotel (now the Delta Hotels Calgary Airport In-Terminal) while studying at the University of Calgary. Almost immediately, he began to love the unexpected experiences the work offered — a late-night room service delivery for Alice Cooper stands out as a favourite early memory — leading to a transfer to SAIT’s Hotel and Restaurant Management program.

Graduating in 2001, Squires has since made a career leading successful teams at hotels throughout Alberta, with SAIT recognizing his achievements by naming him its Outstanding Young Alumnus in 2010.

Today, Squires is the director of sales and marketing for the Holiday Inn & Suites Calgary South — Conference Centre, where he’s using the expertise he gained during past challenges to face today’s pandemic — and to look ahead to the future of the hospitality and tourism industry.

Facing the 2013 Calgary floods

“At the time, I was the general manager at the Service Plus Inns & Suites in South Calgary, and I remember driving to the hotel one day and hearing that there’s the possibility this is going to get really bad all of a sudden.

“I told my boss, ‘Listen — I’m going to drop rates. I’m going to have pet fees waived, and I’m going to go and buy glow sticks for all the kids in case we have a power outage.’

“I went to the dollar store and bought every glow stick I could find, and anything that lit up to help the kids. We ended up not losing our power, which was fantastic, but the kids had a fun time with all those things.

“Sometimes in this industry, your regular duties can come to a standstill, so you find how you can help in other regards — lending a hand in housekeeping or at the front desk answering phones.”

Takeaway tip: Be there for guests wherever and however they may need it, regardless of your job description.

The hospitality sector during COVID-19

“As the COVID pandemic began, we went from a growing hotel that had just opened, averaging 60 to 70% occupancy, to having two % occupancy. It was drastic and it was scary.

“We’ve had to be very proactive in regard to the cleanliness side of things. Everybody’s had to take a special online cleanliness course and test. And then it’s been helping our clients know how we’re going to help break the curve and step up on that side…. Making it known that we’re taking cleanliness standards to heart very strictly, and that the health and safety of our guests and our staff is our first and foremost responsibility.

“I think, despite COVID, it’s still a good time to be in this industry. You just have to be understanding that hotels and restaurants are on very small skeleton crews right now. So, people looking to enter into this sector may have to be happy with just getting a foot in the door, and then making themselves invaluable wherever they can.”

Takeaway tip: Develop skills throughout the industry by adapting to situations, seeking and accepting on-the-job training as much as possible, and seizing opportunities.

Persevering toward tomorrow

“Obviously, we’re still going to need front desk agents, housekeeping, sales and general managers in the hospitality industry, but it’s going to be the people who are willing to go that one step above and beyond in communication who will thrive in the sector.

“As much as the COVID-19 pandemic sucks, it’ll pass, and I feel like my industry will bounce back. It’s all about how we as an industry can be there to support each other. People need to just keep being positive, keep coming to work every day with a smile and keep being there for the guests.”

Takeaway tip: Keep approaching work with energy, enthusiasm and a smile — even if it’s from under a mask.

Into the wind series

LINK magazine reached out to eight past recipients of SAIT’s Alumni Awards, asking for their advice on meeting the future, head-on. Dive into the series, Into the wind...

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