There’s a success story behind nearly every one of the 27,000 tourism and hospitality industry jobs across Chatham County. Whether it’s a former dishwasher turned general manager or a cook who now owns a successful restaurant group, the opportunity to climb the ladder is ever-present.
“I look at it like (the industry) saved me. I could have been on a whole different path,” said Leonard Massey, general manager of the Hampton Inn Savannah Historic District. He spoke alongside other industry professionals during the Tourism Leadership Council’s monthly luncheon on Thursday where the organization unveiled its “I am Tourism: Opportunity is Here” publication, which highlights hundreds of success stories like Massey’s.
Massey, who dropped out of college, started as a dishwasher at the Mulberry Inn in 2001. He then moved up to banquet server, valet attendant, night manager and finally general manager. And while he does regret not finishing college, he said the hospitality industry has still provided many benefits along the way.
“It hasn’t impacted my life financially. I still have arrived at a similar place, but I took it serious and I worked for a company that gave me opportunity to fail because success isn’t guaranteed, but you can at least ask for that opportunity,” he said.
Others who spoke on Thursday included Guillermo Montes, general manager, Comfort Suites Savannah Historic District; Sherrie Spinks, general manager, Savannah International Trade and Convention Center; Kal Patel, president/COO of Image Hotels; and Tracy Boles, general manager, Fairfield Inn & Suites Savannah Airport.
Michael Owens, president and CEO of the TLC, said while those familiar with the industry know it provides the opportunity to grow, the industry as a whole doesn’t do a good job talking and educating others about it.
“We don’t do a good job as an industry talking about this big ladder of success that has rungs that are as high as any other industry and rungs lower than other industries, where people without the benefit of formal education and training can come in,” Owens said.
“Everybody in the world needs a place to start. Some start higher than others, some go to different colleges, some go to more prestigious colleges, some can’t go to college, but everyone needs a place to start, and tourism is truly one of the best places to do that.”
For Boles, that place was starting work as a housekeeper about 10 years ago. In the beginning, she was simply just looking for a part-time job to make ends meet and had no intentions of making it a career.
“I wasn’t looking at that time to go into a career, but as I was influenced by different managers and the ability (to know) that someone wants to see you succeed, it gave me that intuition to say, ‘hey, this is something for me,’” said Boles, who quickly earned the nickname “Bubbles” due to her infectious and upbeat personality.
“I love hospitality. I love working with people and making someone happy.”
On the web
To learn more about the publication or share your tourism success story, go to www.iamtourism.net.