How One Hospitality Student Grew an International Career in Hotels AND Completed Their Degree During COVID-19
The past two years have certainly been a challenging time for the hospitality, tourism and events industry, and for the thousands of people it employs worldwide.
Considering the unusual environment the industry has faced, it is particularly inspiring to hear a story of success from one Torrens University Bachelor of Business (Hospitality Management) graduate, Cristian Hayes.
Cristian has managed to grow an impressive career in luxury hotels across three different countries, explored the world, learned some invaluable skills and still found time to complete his studies; all despite the global pandemic.
His international adventure took him all over the UK, through three hospitality qualifications, and led to a supervisor position at the boutique, luxury Fairmont Hotel in St Andrews, Scotland. So, how did he do it?
Cristian’s journey all started in the town of Newcastle, New South Wales, where he grew up and worked his first ever hotel job.
“After taking a three-month holiday to Europe and a part time job with Novotel Newcastle Beach, I truly saw what it meant to be a hotelier, and that it didn’t just mean providing a bed to sleep on.
I saw working in hotels as an opportunity to help people, to give people invaluable and unique experiences that are distinctive to each destination.
My passion in life is to get the most world can offer. I quickly realised that a career in hotel management would allow me to travel the world, and to live and work in many exciting new places.
I chose to study at Torrens University because the course gave me the flexibility I needed to not only work while studying, but also to travel and move overseas.” - Cristian Hayes
Cristian wasn’t sure at first if he could commit to a full degree, so he decided to tackle it one section at a time, beginning with a Diploma of Business (Hospitality Management), which he completed in 2019. Then, he stepped from that into an Associate Degree of Business (Hospitality Management) and from there upgraded into a Bachelor of Business (Hospitality Management), which he finished in 2020.
After a stint working at Accor in Sydney, Cristian made the big decision to get started working in hotels overseas while also completing his studies online.
In 2019 he got on a plane to the United Kingdom and soon got front office work at two hotels in Dublin.
“My first role in a luxury 5-star hotel was at the Westbury Dublin. This role was one of the first where I would be faced with what I thought was criticism. I learnt later on that the instant feedback I was receiving allowed me to develop and grow professionally and improve my skills and knowledge. This helped me to become a better Hotelier.
Cristian’s steep learning curve in these roles in Ireland taught him a lot of things, among them; how to manage his time efficiently, communicate, listen, and to learn from his mistakes. He has found the experience of working in new roles and new countries to be invaluable as preparation to one day become a hotel manager.
“I see it as extremely important for hotel managers to have not only understanding but firsthand experience in each of the departments they oversee, and so I want to build my skill set in each department.
One of the biggest life lessons I learnt working across different hotels, countries and contexts is to understand everyone’s point of view, have a cultural awareness and appreciate cultural differences.”
Starting out a career is never easy, and starting one in a new country while studying online is even more challenging.
“The biggest hurdle I faced was the time zone difference. This often made it hard to attend lectures live, but thankfully my lecturers were very understanding, and the way that Torrens University works means I could watch recordings of lectures.
The flexibility and course stages (diploma, associate degree, bachelor degree) also meant that I didn’t have to worry if I had to stop studying at some point; I would still have that piece of paper that says I studied management.
I received a lot of help from work. My managers really wanted me to succeed, so I would often be allowed to book conference spaces to spend a few hours studying before or after work.”
By the time Cristian graduated from his Bachelor of Business (Hospitality Management) in 2020, he had also moved into a Head Receptionist and Guest Care Manager role at the Mercure in Brighton, England.
Like all of us in January last year, he had no idea what was about to happen.
“In the weeks before the pandemic hit and the country went into lockdown, I had a bad case of tonsillitis, which matched a lot of COVID symptoms, yet there were no testing options available to me. So, I spent two weeks very sick at home, unsure whether I would have to jump on the next available flight to get home before lockdown.
I was very lucky to have a caring General Manager at the Mercure who reassured me and ended up taking me into the hotel, where I lived for the majority of the year.”
Although the Mercure had to close down during lockdowns, Cristian was able to stay there and continue to learn in his role. Along with the other essential staff members left on their team, he had to help out in any way possible, ensuring the hotel could survive the unstable pandemic market.
“Hotels and the tourism industry really took a big swing back after each lockdown. After the first lockdown in Brighton we were extremely understaffed, while at almost 100% occupancy every day of the summer holidays. This represented a massive challenge and strained the hotel.
However, we all pulled together, often doing shifts to help departments where they needed, and even the Operations and General Manager worked most days on the floors. Their hard work, hands-on approach and dedication really showed me what it meant to be a manager.”
During this challenging time in the UK, Cristian found it helpful to draw directly from some of the subjects he had learned as part of his bachelor degree.
Having spent time learning Opera and other hotel management software (as part of the subject Front Office Operations), he was able to step comfortably into any operations role, without having to undergo program training. This also made him a desirable candidate.
“Those skills literally made it possible for me to slip straight into a front office, supervisory or management level role already understanding how a hotel management system works, including the language used.
Also, having insight into how and why things are done in a particular way was really important. For example, knowledge I had gained through the subject ‘Risk and Crisis Management’ really came in handy when we went through this unprecedented pandemic.”
In Europe, the US, and many other regions, international travel, dining and events have now resumed in 2021 thanks to the rollout of vaccines and the adoption of vaccine passport systems. This has corresponded with a growth in job vacancies in leisure, tourism and hospitality, as newly opened hotels and restaurants scramble to find staff.
Hotel occupancy rates in the European Union have risen by 68% between July 1 and August this year, with many hoteliers breathing sighs of relief at the prospect of a long-term recovery. Although it will take longer in Australia due to the travel ban, reopening of the tourism economy is predicted for early next year.
The future is now looking brighter for hotel management students starting their careers in the post-pandemic economy.
Cristian has seen some radical changes in the industry as a result of the pandemic, and not all of them bad. These changes will potentially make for some interesting new roles and opportunities for the next generation of hoteliers.
“I think the pandemic really forced the tourism and hospitality industry to change whether they wanted to or not. One significant change I saw came from the cancellation policy available. Most, if not all, tourism and hospitality providers used to be incredibly strict. The pandemic meant that a lot of plans couldn’t be set in stone and that flexibility is what could set competitors apart.”
Cristian is not the kind of person who waits for anything to happen. Eager to move up in the world, he is now enrolled in an online Graduate Certificate of Revenue Management at Torrens University, which he is due to complete by the end of this year.
What’s next on the horizon for Cristian Hayes, and where does he eventually want to take his career?
“In the coming year or so, I am looking at moving with my British fiancé back to Australia. We’ll likely go to Adelaide, because I have family there, and there are some great five-star hotels there, including Accor and Sofitel.
I would really love to bring the skills I learnt in Europe together with what I have studied at Torrens University to my future job.
One day, I would love to own and operate my own boutique hotel, somewhere in Australia on a beach. My favourite boutique brand is MGallery from Accor. I love that it upholds five-star luxury standards, while also allowing guests to experience the local region. So, it would likely be this franchise.”
Does Cristian have any advice for other hospitality students who also want to make a career in the post-COVID hotel industry?
“I think the number one thing you can do is combine the theory you are learning at university with the practical side of actually working in a hotel. I would also say don’t ever think something is below you.
I have worked in basically every hotel department and have at one point or another thought, ‘I would never do that,’ to then find myself learning so much more than I expected.”