For Shariana Lewis, the primary reason for her foray into the tourism industry 13 years ago stemmed from the need for gainful employment. Over the years, however, she realized that the job she took did not only solve a financial problem, but also a personal one. Through perseverance and doses of encouragement from her manager, the self-described former introvert is now front and centre, brimming with confidence.
After graduating from Sir Ira Simmons Secondary School in 2004, Lewis migrated to Canada where she spent four years. She returned to Saint Lucia in 2008 and soon began the uphill task of finding gainful employment.
“I walked into Bay Gardens Beach Resort & Spa, seeking employment,” she said. “I met Miss Cheryl Gustave, who was the Front Desk Manager at the time. She interviewed me and hired me on the spot and I was told to start work two days later.”
Lewis started her new job as a concierge and had a desk in the lobby. Her roles included meeting and greeting the guests, mingling with them at the Manager’s Cocktail, booking events for them, and ensuring that they were happy and enjoying their stay.
Starting out on the job was a bit uneasy, she said. She was both shy and new to the tourism industry. She recalled sitting at her desk on many days feeling like a fish out of water. However, her boss and others from her team encouraged her to mingle, make eye contact with people, and be enthusiastic.
“Miss Gustave and others took me under their wings and started taking me to the restaurants just to mingle with the clients and to get a feel of the Bay Gardens Resort culture,” the 35-year-old explained. “She later took me over to the Front Desk and encouraged me to engage with the clients more and be confident.”
Confidence is a crucial asset to have when working at the Front Desk. There are many phone calls to answer, copious amounts of information to write down and pass on, and hundreds of people to tend to daily. To cope under the pressures of the job, Lewis said she follows a strict regimen on any given day.
“I try to plan for the arrivals for that day. My team and I go through the basics: making sure that what each client booked is what’s available, and making allowances for upgrading their rooms. We try to be calm and not get flustered whenever problems arise. Even when there’s an irate client, we ensure that our composure remains calm, which helps to diffuse the situation” she said.
Such diligence to detail does not happen overnight, Lewis admitted. Each year, she and her team undergo intensive training throughout the property. Managers encourage them to undertake different courses and motivate them to continue growing and excelling. The training was life-changing for Lewis.
“As a result of that, I’m now more outgoing and assertive,” noted Lewis, a resident of Beausejour, Gros Islet. “I now feel like I have a voice and can speak positively and confidently.”
Lewis’s role in the industry is a very important one. The Front Desk is the second point of contact that the guests make after their initial point of contact at the security checkpoint. It’s also a major point of contact for clients and the various departments and Lewis knows all too well what’s at stake if her department falters.
“We are the ones who pass on important information to the other departments, so if we don’t do so in a timely manner, the flow is interrupted,” she said. “Whatever issues or concerns the clients have, it’s the job of the Front Desk staff to address them efficiently and effectively.”
She also acknowledged the important role the tourism sector plays in the socio-economic development of Saint Lucia. She is among the nearly 15,000 people employed directly in the tourism sector, the island’s leading economic generator. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, proves just how dependent people are on the sector.
“The tourism sector is very important to our country’s economy,” said Lewis. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I saw many people lose their jobs and not being able to work for nearly two years. I can hear the cries of single parent mothers who don’t have any money to take care of their families. So guests coming to the property where I work was a breath of fresh air. It’s always a joy to see them check in, because if they don’t, no one gets paid and the economy suffers.”
From the inception, Lewis said, Cheryl Gustave has been a great inspiration to her, teaching her everything she knows about the job. She considers Gustave her mentor, adding that she appreciates and thanks her for all that she has taught her over the years. Lewis is now paying it forward by advising others to challenge themselves both personally and professionally.
“Always listen and be very attentive to your clients,” she advised. “You must also be disciplined and have a keen eye for detail. Passion, drive, self-motivation and humility are also key attributes to have in this line of work.”