When it comes to setting and achieving goals Guillermo Montes is becoming an expert.
“I told my fiancé I was going to be the youngest general manager in the company and here I am,” Montes, 24, said with a grin last week at the Comfort Suites Historic District where he serves as general manager.
Montes, like so many hospitality industry professionals in Savannah, started with humble beginnings as a houseman, but his dedication and hard work has propelled him into numerous leadership roles.
One of the county’s fastest growing job sectors, the tourism industry employees about 27,000 people. An additional 1,400 jobs were added in 2016, according to the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Savannah Economic Trends report and the sector remains poised to grow.
For the second time, the Tourism Leadership Council will release a publication to highlight the hundreds of those tourism industry success stories, including Montes’. The “I am Tourism: Opportunity is Here” magazine will tell personal success stories. While all vary, they all started with humble, but meaningful beginnings.
“It shows where opportunity lies,” president of the TLC Michael Owens said of the publication, which features more than 150 local tourism professionals.
“… That’s not the exception, it’s the norm. We’re a promote-from-within industry.”
In 2013 Montes sustained injuries from a car accident that landed him in the hospital for two weeks. No longer able to perform the duties at his golf course job, he and his fiancé began looking for other employment opportunities when he landed a job at a hotel near the airport.
“I was running around the hotel constantly cleaning stuff, fixing stuff or taking guests back and forth,” Montes said of his first hotel position working as a houseman, shuttle driver and maintenance technician.
It didn’t take long for Montes to get noticed by other local hoteliers and soon he was offered a position at the Comfort Suites on West Bay Street.
He originally interviewed to be a shuttle driver, but management wanted him at the front desk and by the end of 2014 he had been promoted to front office manager, serving in that role for just over a year.
“I was essentially just filling the role, I didn’t really have the title, but I was going above and beyond to make sure that my guests were taken care of and that (the general manager) didn’t have too much on his plate. He saw that as an opportunity for me to advance in the company,” he said of the promotion.
In March 2016 he was promoted to assistant general manager and then while on vacation a few months later his manager called him with some big news.
“He told me when I came back he was leaving to serve as an interim general manager (at another hotel) and I was going to serve as the interim general manager here,” Montes said. He served as interim from August to November of 2016 when he was given the official title.
Montes gives a lot of credit to his team and said he was glad to work with them for so long before taking the role as general manager. On Valentine’s Day he surprised his housekeepers with flowers and chocolates, which is just one way he goes out of his way to make sure his team is happy. Happy team equals happy guests, he said.
“(Guests) don’t just come here for a hotel and a bed, they come here for an experience and that experience starts with my team,” he said.
“If my team is happy I know my guests are going to get taken care of very well… We just make sure they know they’re appreciated because without them I wouldn’t be where I am …” he said.
”I try to build that camaraderie and that family feel within my team and make sure the guests know that they’re more than welcome into this family as well. ”
Montes said the biggest challenge working in the tourism community is time management. Holidays are often spent with his work family, but his fiancé also works in hospitality, so there’s support and understanding when sacrifices have to be made.
Montes has already met several personal goals during his time in the industry, and there are plenty more goals on the horizon.
“One day I will open my own franchise or my own boutique hotel. And one day I’ll give other people the opportunities that I’ve had,” he said of his future aspirations.
Owens said Montes is proof of growth and opportunity in the tourism community.
“… This is somebody who showed promise through determination and commitment. This industry always rewards the person who wants a little more,” Owens said of Montes’ promotions.
A couple of weeks before he was named general manager Montes had volunteered for the Savannah Food &Wine Festival, but once Owens heard of the promotion he offered Montes a pass on the volunteer job to focus on his new duties, but Montes refused the offer and remained committed to his volunteer opportunity.
“His commitment was steadfast and there’s no question to me that that same commitment was what he showed to his property and his job, which is why he’s in the position he’s in. Commitment in this industry means a lot,” Owens said.
A bubbly personality
Upon meeting Tracy Boles it doesn’t take long to figure out how she got the nickname Bubbles.
Energetic, upbeat and motivated the general manager of the Fairfield Inn Savannah Airport is always willing to go the extra mile for her team and guests. She even keeps a pair of sneakers in her car in case she has to pitch in in other departments at the hotel.
“If you walk in the door you do not walk out because of the love I’m going to put on you. You’re not going to want to go to another hotel because I’m going to treat you so good,” said Boles, who has served in her current role for the last three years.
Like so many others, she started out as a housekeeper when she began her career in 2007, but her dedication and positive attitude laid the groundwork for numerous promotions since then.
Boles said she’s always been a people person and she enjoys helping people. She spends countless hours gathering educational and professional resources to help her team in both their work duties and their personal lives. Boles said it’s not uncommon to spend time talking through personal issues that team members might be facing.
“I just love hospitality and people … I could be in Wal-Mart right now and if someone needs help, I’m going to help them, That’s just me,” she said.
“I just feel like I should help someone if I can or motivate them or at least get a smile out of them because you don’t know what a person is going through.”
Boles said there has been a few times when she’s explored other job opportunities, but the upper management worked hard to keep her on the hotel team and she’s continuing toward her goal of becoming an operations manager for a hotel brand.
“I’m loyal because I’ve never worked for a company that’s so dedicated and loyal to the employees. It’s usually always about you making money for the company, but they actually care about us,” she said, adding that her ideas and thoughts on improvement are always welcome with her upper management.
“… I really think that’s a plus. You don’t find many places like that.”
Boles credits those leaders for both helping her move up in the ranks and instilling her goals to motivate and inspire.
“My bosses are motivators, of course if I make a mistake we talk about it, but I know it’s to help me,” she said.… My phone is never off. If you need me, you call me. I’m always available and my people go to bat for me the same way.”
Opportunity is here
Still there are those who remain critical of jobs in the tourism industry, often arguing that tourism jobs are low paying and breed poverty, but that’s something that Owens’ just can’t wrap his mind around.
“I wince at people who are critical of people that are working,” Owens said.
“I think to certain point its belittling people who are trying to do better for themselves and for their families. They don’t wish to rely on subsidies or programs to provide for their family, they’re out there working.”
Owens said for many people who enter into the tourism industry the system, whether it be education, family or social, has failed them. The industry provides entry level jobs that require little or no specialized skill, such as housekeeping or busing tables to help get started in the right direction.
But even those who start at a lower level receive copious amounts of training, which also includes the teaching of soft skills, such as learning to resolve conflicts, showing up on time and getting along with co-workers, all of which are critically important, Owens said.
“For those folks there must be opportunity. In tourism we believe very strongly that opportunity is here,” he said.
“The reason I think so many of us believe so strongly that opportunity is here is because we’re all living proof of that. Everybody I work with on a daily basis at the very highest levels of their companies, including ownership, started at the bottom.”
Owens himself has held positions as night auditor, front desk clerk, assistant manager, general manager and general manager of multiple properties before joining the TLC.
“Your actions, what you do, creates that determination and sometimes you’ll need help with that and that happen every single day,” he said.
“I think people under estimate the family unit that exists within the industry both individually and as the industry as a whole. We don’t just become their supervisor. … We take care of each other.”