Dublin-born Patrick Stapleton, 48, has worked at hotels across the UK and Ireland, including the Cavendish in London's Jermyn Street and the former Posthouse at Heathrow, since he was 18. He's been general manager of the 800-bedroom Hilton Birmingham Metropole, one of the UK's largest conference hotels, for the past 18 months.
The biggest change I've seen in the industry over the past 30 years is the use of information technology. It has helped hoteliers run things, analyse sales trends and figures and helps you hold information about customers. It has been a huge change, not just for the hotel industry, but for general managers as well. Years ago, GM's would spend most of their time more or less exclusively with customers, but now they have to find a balance between dealing with all the information and being front-of-house.
I started out in Food & Beverage, but I think I always wanted to be a general manager of a hotel. I tried a stint as a chef, but I like to have lots of customer contact and as a chef you don't have that.
When I was growing up we always went to the local hotel for celebrations and special occasions because there weren't any local restaurants. Now, if you're a city centre hotel you have competition with so many high street restaurants.
We have 33 meeting and conference rooms here at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole. Hotel conferencing is a business within a business and when you have three or four events running at the same time you have to make sure that each customer feels like they are the only one with an event and that they are getting your full undivided attention.
We were asked to put on the hairdressing industry event Salon Success at short notice. It was originally meant to go to a destination in Europe, but they needed a venue in the UK at the last minute. We turned one of the function suites into a hairdressing salon and one of our training managers was asked if she could find staff and friends to act as hair models. The organisers said they'd never received such good service and they are now booking with us for next year.
You have to remember the customer is always king. That's crucial when you run an 800-bedroom hotel which is the second largest Hilton in Europe.
We had Crufts here at the NEC last week About 500 people from all over the world were exhibiting their dogs and stayed here. They bring everything they need for their dogs with them, but we have a supply of foods and doggy-related things in case there's an emergency. They are real pampered pooches. A few years ago a member of housekeeping went up to a guest's room and found a dog in the bath wearing a swimming costume.
Our leisure business is growing by 60 per cent year on year. We are known as a conferencing and events hotel, but we have done a lot of promotion towards the leisure customer, because the corporate market is not as big as it was. It's been my aim to turn this into a London-style hotel in the provinces.
Working in this industry gives you so many other skills that employers are looking for. The tourism industry will be worth £50bn by 2020 so there will be lots of opportunities to work in all areas in the future.
The most rewarding job in the industry is one where you have contact with the customer and in my view, you have the best chance of that in the hotel sector.