|Jacob Tomsky has a lot to say about hotels—and he’s not sugarcoating any of it. The author of the newly released Heads in Beds spent over ten years working in the lodging industry, holding down positions ranging from valet parking attendant and front desk agent to housekeeping manager at luxury properties in New Orleans and New York City. His book is a no-holds-barred look at the industry from an insider’s perspective. And no—it’s not all pretty.
Tomsky spills secrets that will surely make upper managers and company executives cringe. But he also paints a vibrant and humorous picture of the people that work in hotels and make the industry tick. We spoke to the author and industry veteran over the phone to learn more about his time spent hustling in the hospitality business.
Lodging Magazine: What prompted you to write a book about your time spent in the hotel industry?
Jacob Tomsky: There was a moment near the end of my ten years in the industry where I was in the lobby and I really understood everything that was going on. I was answering the phone, and dealing with a canceled reservation, and helping someone store their luggage, and I was like—I understand everything, and if I could just encapsulate it in a memoir of my life, it would be some readable content. I feel like there are a lot of people who walk into a hotel who have no idea what goes into it or what we do. I figured, to have readers understand our perspective as hoteliers could be invaluable.
LM: In the book, you seem to have a love-hate relationship with the hotel industry. Can you speak a little more about this dichotomy?
JT: It’s definitely a mix of feelings, which I think is natural for any kind of job. On one hand it’s the most exciting job that I think you can have. It’s fresh every day. The people I worked with were wonderful. But on the other hand, it was incredibly grueling and emotionally crippling sometimes. I really wanted to approach it from every single angle and be as honest as possible. I didn’t want to hide things that I felt the industry would be unhappy about or the guests would be unhappy about.
LM: What do you think is the most grueling job in a hotel?
JT: Housekeeping was a very difficult time, and it’s a very difficult job. I have the utmost respect for housekeepers and what they do. These ladies were cleaning 13 and 14 rooms a day and that is very tiring. Cleanliness of the room is the bottom line and the absolute pinnacle of hotels. You can make or break a hotel by a clean room.
LM: Since you worked in both lower-level and management positions, you probably have a good idea of what makes a good manager. Do you have any tips or suggestions for hotel managers?
JT: I would say that in my experience, there was way too much focus on the negative. I might have 500 positive guest interactions during a day, and I would have one negative guest interaction, and I’d be held accountable for that one situation. Employees know when they do wrong. We are fully aware when a guest walks away unsatisfied. Pointing it out is not necessarily taboo, but only pointing it out is terrible. When an employee performs well and creates a unique guest experience, it is important to point that out and reward them either verbally or with any other method that you have employed in your hotel. I think there at least needs to be a balance. Fear tactics are not the way to go in the service industry. It’s going to make your employees dislike you. You really want to feel like management has your back and trusts your judgment.
LM: Do you have any advice for people who might be thinking about a career in the hotel industry?
JT: if you’re thinking about going into the hotel business, I would hope that reading my personal story would influence that decision in one way or another. It’s definitely not for everyone. But, the starting pay is great and there is room for advancement if you’re interested in it. You don’t need special training. The hotel is a wonderful world where, as long as you have a desire to work with people and a little bit of flexibility, you can be whatever you want in the business as long as you keep working hard.
For someone applying for a job, I would recommend seeing if you could talk to an employee at the hotel you’re interested in. Pull an employee aside and ask them about the environment. In general, they’ll probably give you a solid, honest answer. If the employees seem to be enthusiastic about their positions or their jobs, most likely you can find a comfortable home there.
LM: In the book, you reveal some secrets that might make some industry insiders unhappy. For instance you explain that guests never have to pay for minibar charges or in-room movie rentals by just disputing the charge at the front desk, since a hotel will never accuse a guest of lying. Have you had any kind of negative reactions from the industry?
JT: I’ve heard some rumblings from upper management, and people have contacted me saying, “You shouldn’t be advocating stealing.” I just wanted to be honest and those things are part of the system. But I have gotten an offer to be a general manager, which might surprise you, considering some of the ideas expressed in the book.
As far as reactions from employees, those have almost been 100 percent positive. I know there are a few things that the hospitality industry might have preferred me not to say, but in general, I feel like no one can accuse me of not doing a good job of explaining the whole business. All I could hope is that any hotel worker clocking in and out who reads my book thinks I did a good job and thinks I represented them well.
LM: What are your future plans? Do you think that you’re officially finished with the hotel business, or do you think it will draw you back in?
JT: I miss the business. I miss my friends, I miss the job, and I miss the guests. It’s not something I would ever run from and actively not want to be involved in. I might try to go somewhere different with it—maybe some kind of consulting or an outside agency situation.
But my next writing project is a novel, and after that I will be publishing a sequel to Heads in Beds. The book ends at a pretty pivotal moment in my life in the hotel business. So, there’s plenty more to go.
Monday, December 31, 2012 by Bill Roberts
Before purchasing the book or even spending the time to read it, I recommend reading the reviews on Amazon. There are a “couple” of very strong negative reviews.