IHG Hotels and Resorts Director of Performance, Sam Swaffield, was so interested in a career in hotels that he offered to work for free to get a foot in the door. He hasn’t looked back since.
How did you get started in the hotel industry?
My very first ‘job’ in the industry was actually a volunteer role at a hotel in Auckland. I was studying for a commerce degree at Lincoln University in New Zealand and my favourite subjects at the time were Real Estate investment and Accommodation Management. I was really interested in the commercial side of the industry and needed to know if I would enjoy working in a hotel. I randomly contacted a hotel in Auckland and asked if I could work for free over the holidays to see if I liked it. Six months later I was offered a place on the IHG Future Leaders program at Crowne Plaza Auckland – and I haven’t looked back.
Tell us a bit about your current role?
My job now is Director of Performance for Japan, Australasia the Pacific, still working with IHG Hotels and Resorts. Based in Sydney, this role drives the performance of the 120 hotels across our diverse region, focusing on customer sentiment, customer loyalty, brand standards, hotel quality, and all of the tools and resources that support this performance.
What about the hotel industry appealed to you?
It was, and always will be, the people in our industry that make it what it is and why people stick around. I never got the top grades at university, but I did make the most of any leadership opportunity that came my way. I knew that these skills were transferrable into the industry because, at the end of the day, people are our greatest asset and people are also our customers.
I was also drawn to the fact that hotels offered a balance between the product (i.e hotels and service) and the business (i.e the investment, management companies etc). It seemed like there would be a lot of opportunities to straddle both worlds and I feel that the first 10 years of my career have proven that.
Do you have a career mentor or support network?
I’ve been extremely lucky to have had amazing mentors throughout my career. Some have been the people I report to, but a lot of the time they have been my colleagues, peers, and enthusiastic supporters within the industry. I have found the industry to be incredibly supportive of young leaders coming through and the opportunities I have had both within IHG and outside have been really rewarding. Hospitality has a steep personal growth curve, and this is matched by challenges and opportunities along the way. To have people in your corner to help open doors is the best advice I can give, and I am very thankful to the people who have and continue to open doors for me.
Who inspires you professionally?
I am always in awe of the professionals within our industry who have mastered their craft. Whether it is a sashimi chef in Tokyo, a chief concierge in Wellington, or the front desk agent who knows every VIP preference by heart – these are the people who continue to inspire me to be better.
What change would you like to see in the industry?
Our industry is incredibly diverse, and I love that hotels have opportunities for everyone to be a part of this wonderful industry. However, when I look around at industry events or in hotels, we still see a lack of diversity in our senior leaders and decision makers. We thrive when we have a diversity of opinion around the decision-making table, and I think this generation has a real point to prove that anyone can make it to that table.
In recent times, I have loved having the opportunity to work laterally across our industry into the wider hotel eco-system. Whether its management companies, investors, owners, white label operations, consultants, valuers, or asset managers, I think we can all benefit by collaborating and working on industry problems together. We all stand to learn a lot from each other so the more we have a forum to discuss and connect, the better.