By Caitlin Raux
On a crisp February morning, I met with Rommel Gopez (Hospitality Management ’14) in the lobby of Hotel Edison, where he’s Director of Guest Relations. The first thing I notice about Rommel is his dapper appearance — he’s sporting a navy, three-piece suit and a purple pocket square placed with just a touch of nonchalance. Nestled in the bustling Times Square District, the hotel is buzzing with eager out-of-towners. As he shows me around the art deco lobby, the second thing I notice about Rommel is his way with people: he treats both guests and colleagues with warmth and genuine attention, putting an arm around the doorman when we take a few portraits outside. He’s no doubt a people person — and given his love for international travel, it makes perfect sense that Rommel ended up in the hospitality business. The Hospitality Management alum was generous enough to take time from one of his usual, hectic mornings to chat with me for an ICE blog interview.
You’re originally from Hawaii — did you stay there after high school?
After high school, I joined the military, the US Army, for five years. Then I decided to work on a cruise ship so I could travel for free with work. I did that for a while until I started working in hotels, using my experience from the cruise ships.
It sounds like you have the travel bug.
Yes, I love it. And that’s part of the reason why I love the business itself. I love talking to people from all over the world. I’ll talk to someone from one country and then think, “Oh, I should travel there next.” And when I do travel there, I already have a friend.
What made you decide to come to ICE?
Before I went to ICE, I was already working in the hospitality industry. But I wanted to learn more and have something under my belt to show that I was serious about my profession. I wanted the diploma to go with my work experience. And I learned so much [during my time at ICE]. I learned about hotel industry unions, management skills and the culinary side of hospitality. We also had the chance to get in the kitchen and prepare food. I love cooking, so that was a great experience.
What skills that you learned at ICE do you use in your current role as Director of Guest Relations at Hotel Edison?
I already knew Opera (a premier property management software) when I started at ICE, but ICE gave me the knowledge to teach the system. I’ve often had to train other employees, so this skill has been incredibly useful — not all, but I’d say 90% of hotels use Opera as their PMS. Additionally, the courses on union rules were a great help, professionally, because we have a large number of union employees.
Can you tell me about a-day-in-the-life in your current role?
It’s always busy. I get in at 6:30am in the morning and get out at 5:00 or 6:00pm. The first thing I do when I come in is check on my arrivals and my availability for the day. I check the rate and the occupancy. Then I look at how many VIPs I have and see whether I have enough rooms for my VIPs to be upgraded. I check emails and do my reports. From there, we have meetings and the day continues — I’m in the lobby talking to guests, showing rooms to guests, talking to my team about what’s coming up and any other issues.
What types of things do you report on?
I report on my VIP list, whether I have an executive VIP, honeymooners or birthday VIPs. I flag them all and make sure they have the proper amenities. We make sure that their rooms are ready. We prep everyone, not just my team, but all the other teams at the hotel as well. It’s important that everyone is aware of what’s going on.
What’s the difference between Director of Guest Relations and a concierge service?
The concierge is someone who offers guests recommendations about the city: the theatre, where to shop, restaurants, maps, and so on. My job is quite a bit different: I’m making sure that our VIPs are satisfied so that they’ll come back. By their second stay, most guests already know me and my team. And we already know what they want and which room they want. We want to make sure that when they get to the hotel, everything is ready for them. Many of the guests email me directly to let me know when they’re coming.
What is the most challenging part of the job?
Trying to get a team together that has the same passion and the same mentality as me. The hospitality industry is hard because it’s all about people and service. You have to have the patience, the passion and the willingness to do the job no matter what. We can’t satisfy everyone, but if you have those qualities and a good attitude too, you’ll be successful.
Are there any surprising parts of your job?
Yes, people think we can give everything for free (laughs), which isn’t the case. But we always do our best to accommodate.
How do you see the industry changing?
It’s changing constantly. We have hotels popping up left and right in New York City. A lot of great hotels are popping up in Brooklyn these days. That’s a lot of positions that need to be filled. The hospitality management program must be booming right now.
Do you see yourself working in hospitality in any other cities?
That’s for when I retire (laughs). No, I think New York is the city for me. If you want to work in a hotel, there’s no place like New York City. The experience you get here is like no other.
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