Matthew Thompson, a maintenance supervisor at a La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham in Cary, N.C., is pursuing an upward course in the hotel industry even amid the pandemic. Thompson, who is a plumber and electrician by trade, says he was encouraged to head back to school to prepare for a management career by a former La Quinta executive impressed with his suggestion that they implement a preventive maintenance program. He described his path, his plan for a post-epidemic management career, and the role of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) Foundation in his education to LODGING, after speaking at a virtual After-Hours Cocktail event sponsored by Ecolab and Vesta Hospitality that raised $100,000 to support furloughed hospitality employees.
Thompson admits that some may find his focus on pursuing a hospitality career during a worldwide pandemic counterintuitive, but he believes the hospitality and tourism administration degree he is now working toward will position him for the future he wants after the industry, along with the rest of the world, recovers from the nightmarish scenario it is now experiencing.
Thompson’s vision of a hospitality management career began to take shape when he moved from working in apartment buildings to hotels four years ago. “Things are pretty much the same from one day to the next in apartments because people stay for a long time, but I found the hotel environment more interesting with so many different people coming together in one place,” he describes.
“I want to stay in school and keep building on my experience, so when we do recover, I’ll be educated and able to lead a team of my own.”
In the hotel industry, Thompson found, he was encouraged to participate and grow in his job, which led him to regard it as more of a career. This, he says, began when the regional supervisor of operations for the state gathered the regional supervisors for a brainstorming session. “I threw out this idea for preventive maintenance—how to keep rooms at 100 percent more easily. Everyone loved it, and when I spoke to that regional supervisor later, he said, ‘I can really see you getting into management.’”
Thompson says, very soon after that conversation, he signed up at the community college to begin studying for the associate’s hospitality management degree he’ll receive in December, after which he’ll go on for his bachelor’s degree.
Thompson regards the AHLA Foundation as something of a guiding light for him. “I started following them on Instagram for their leadership on approaches to the guest experience, and then reached out for their help in more direct ways. Their support for me individually has been amazing,” he says.
He adds that he was inspired by the virtual AHLA Foundation event he attended and addressed, adding, “I think it’s amazing to see so many great people come together—great leaders, with the mindset and desire to influence the next generation of hotel/hospitality employees, to show we’re looking toward the future. It was also such an honor for me, personally, to share my story.”
Thompson describes how different the guest experience is these days, compared to in the past. “Now there are barriers and other ways to physically distance ourselves from guests. We can’t be right in front of them for now.”
However, he says, he is optimistic about the future and remains committed to pursuing this relatively new dream. What’s more, he believes the industry will come back even better in the next two years. “Eventually, things will get back and people will want to attend events and experience different things again—especially after being locked away in isolation for so long.”
When that day comes Thompson plans to be ready. “I want to stay in school and keep building on my experience, so when we do recover, I’ll be educated and able to lead a team of my own to deliver that experience once we finally get there.”