October 24, 2013
"People do business with people. If you're working for Hilton, brand yourself so when people think of Hilton they think of you," Andrea Weismiller told Northampton Community College students at the third annual Hospitality Careers Forum on October 24. It was an invaluable opportunity to learn from successful professionals working in Lehigh Valley's growing hospitality industry. The panelists were:
Alyssa Lippinsott, sales manager at Sands Bethlehem
Gina Martens, vice president of member relations at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce
George Wacker, public relations and communications manager for Discover Lehigh Valley
Andrea C. Weismiller, NCC grad and regional sales manager for Joshi Hotel Group
The event was moderated by David Schweiger, director of NCC's Hospitality Management Program.
They speak with experience.
Whether it's sales manager for a 3,000-room property (Lippinsott during her time at Las Vegas Hilton), using social media to reach 250,000 people a week to promote the Lehigh Valley as a tourist destination (Wacker), booking bands like Maroon 5 (Brogan), managing and motivating a thriving team of salespeople (Weismiller), a lifetime career in the hotel industry before moving on to business networking (Martens), or cooking on the line beginning at the age of 11 in family restaurants to owning his own restaurant today (Lombaro), the panelists brought a wealth of diverse knowledge to share with students.
On the subject of first jobs and internships, the pros offered this advice.
"Let your employer know your career goals so they can invest in you," Martens encouraged. "Ask to work in banquets one day, then the kitchen, housekeeping, accounting, front desk."
Weismiller agreed. "You'll become more well-rounded in front of an employer if you're able to bring all of these skills to the table."
"Each of my internships led to different things," Brogan said. "Some forced me outside my bubble. Don't be afraid to take the next opportunity."
"Stand out by doing the things you don't think you want to do," Wacker advised.
Importance of Networking
"Your future self starts now!" Wacker said. All the panelists urged the students to connect with others any chance they could.
"A lot of my success comes from my engagement with NCC. I had my first job two weeks after I graduated," said Weismiller. "Stay connected and involved when you graduate."
"The hipster generation likes to communicate via text and Facebook instead of talking," Brogan noted. "Open your mouth and talk. Open your ears to listen."
Wacker concurred. "When I do business with Dorney Park or the Iron Pigs, I'm calling a person there, not a company."
The Hospitality Industry in the Lehigh Valley
"When I was living in Las Vegas, my mom called to tell me the Sands was coming to Bethlehem. It seemed crazy," admitted Lippinsott. "But now seeing the growth of the Lehigh Valley and all it has to offer makes complete sense. It gives you [the students] a chance to wet your feet in every aspect of the hospitality field."
"I saw Mötley Crüe in concert and got home in seven minutes," Wacker said. "Just five or six years ago I'd have to go to Philly or New York to see these kinds of shows. We can attract people here with these new happenings, like the hockey arena, as well as things that have been around for years, like the Crayola Factory."
There's a lot of development going on, especially restaurant and hotel, Martens noted. "We're [the GLVCC] happy to help!"
Challenges and Triumphs in Hospitality
All the panelists mentioned time management as one of their biggest challenges.
"Something can come up at any point and you'll get taken away from the tasks at hand," Lippinsott revealed. To cope, "delegate and trust other staff members," she said.
Lombaro has to juggle being a chef and an owner. "I'd rather be cooking than dealing with the business end. And some days everything seems to go wrong. The only way to get through days like that is to embrace those problems. Being great means doing something you don't like."
As for triumphs, Brogan mentioned the feeling of being able to deliver something guests enjoy. "It's a great sense of accomplishment."
"This industry attracts those who enjoy seeing people happy," Schweiger told students. "But it's not a 9 to 5 job and there are always surprises. If you want something predictable, this is not the profession for you."
The panelists thrive on those surprises. "If you do this right, with your heart and soul, you make that connection with people," Lombardo shared. "No day will ever be the same, ever! Be ready for everything. That adrenaline rush you get when working a big event, touching people's lives, it becomes a part of who we are."
Northampton Community College's Hospitality Management programs teach basic hotel, restaurant, club and lodging operations, hospitality management and marketing, guest services, and food and beverage management, emphasizing the basic tenants of guest service, leadership, communication, teamwork, and problem solving.