Tihana used to work at the reception of the hotel in which my husband and I stayed seven years ago with our son who was only a baby at the time. We had a strange experience with the restaurant staff, which I felt compelled to comment on my blog's Facebook page. Although I did not say which hotel restaurant it was, Tihana realized it was the one where she worked. She took the initiative and e-mailed me to apologize on behalf of her employer even though she didn't have anything to do with it directly. I was amazed by the sense of responsibility this young person had shown and was really wowed by her. After that I kept in touch with Tihana through Instagram and her culinary blog that I followed closely, reading about her departure to Stuttgart and a new job, about her trips and her wedding, and I was really pleased that it was all coming together for her.
What was it like when you were first starting out in hospitality industry?
First I was working at the reception. The job at reception had everything I wanted at that time. Speaking foreign languages, meeting new people on a daily basis and dealing with exciting aspects of tourism and hospitality business. So I worked as a receptionist (in 3 shifts - yes, night shifts also) for almost seven years and it wasn't always easy. After the recession in 2009 the job and salary market in Croatia collapsed and I worked without pay for almost 6 months. Those were probably the worst six months of my career. After those six months I quit and took some time off to clear my head.
What happened then? Did you start working in tourism soon after that or did you look for a different job?
Since I always saw myself in this business and had a lot of experience, I naturally went there again. To be precise, to one of the best workplaces I have ever had - LifeClass Terme Sveti Martin in Međimurje County. There I worked my way up from reception to telephone sales, as a sales manager for the Croatian market, and to my final position there as a sales manager for the German and Croatian market. This job lead me to the life I have now and I am eternally grateful to my former boss - Mr. Dan Vidošević - who believed in me and gave me the freedom to become what I am today. He also supported my decision to move to Stuttgart and accept an offer I really couldn't refuse.
Have you ever thought about living abroad before that?
My husband and I always dreamed of living in a foreign country and our dream came true. My main quote about life is:
… and so in 2015 my husband and I packed our bags in the small Suzuki and moved 800 km away from home - to Stuttgart. Here I accepted assistant manager job in a small family-run hotel and restaurant. Owing to my past experience and my entire CV, I got not only a job, but also an apartment and was entrusted with running a hotel and restaurant with over 30 employees. It was very challenging since I was in a foreign country, with new laws and rules and I had to learn all of it in a very short time. In just 3 months I got my first raise and was promoted to manager.
What is your perception of hotels, now that you have worked in your fair share of them? Do you secretly resent certain things and admire others?
Wow, that is really a question that I need to think about. I really love traveling and staying in hotels - and I am picky. I really care about two things when I come to a hotel - the staff and the cleanliness. A hotel can be old and not furnished well, but these are the things you can see when you book it. But when you arrive, the main thing is how the staff treats you and how clean the rooms are. Not that long ago I had a really bad hotel experience in my hometown. I knew in advance that the hotel was older, but that doesn't mean that you don't clean the rooms before your guests arrive - and you know they are coming because they have booked months in advance. There is no excuse for not cleaning properly.
What did you do in that situation? What should any guest actually do?
In that situation I would first inform the reception and try to get hold of the manager and talk to him about it. Depending on the answer, I would go one step further and write the online review as it was. I always write my reviews and that is really important - I also take pictures and post them online so people can see the real deal.
What are you like as a hotel guest?
I as a guest? I am a very simple guest if you are nice to me and the rooms are clean. I sympathize with the staff since I have been in their shoes for a very long time and I know how hard the shifts can be. But again, that doesn't mean that you can't be nice. What I learned early on was that if you have private problems, you should leave them at home and try to be professional with guests.
What kind of guests do you like?
As every hotel employee would say - uncomplicated guests! :) It often depends on the guests and the day they had. If they had a bad day, almost everything bothers them - even if everything is as it is supposed to be. I also like "normal" people who understand that we all are only employees and most of the time we are not in charge nor can we change some major things. Like the fact that the architect made the rooms as they are and things like that.
What annoys guests the most?
Probably the fact that you lose their reservation or that the room is not that what they imagined it would be. Over the course of many years it has also happened to me and that is human - we all make mistakes.
How would you sum up the life of a hotel employee?
Here I would just put a quote:
….that is the life of a hotel employee. Each day is different and brings different problems, but you feel accomplished after you receive good feedback from guests.
Would you say that working in a hotel is all-around business education, where you learn all about marketing, client relations, HR-u, bookkeeping...
If you work as a hotel manager, you really learn new things every day. Especially if you are in charge of employees, their contracts, payments, working plans and the fact that the laws are always changing and you have to follow them. But what you learn the most is how people behave! After so many years in this business, I have to say I have a hunch that tells me if someone will be a good or a bad guest. It has rarely failed me.
What kind of accommodation do you prefer when you travel?
Now that I look back, at my former job as a sales manager I traveled a lot and always booked hotels - since there were comfy beds and good breakfasts - all you need before a big day of meetings and traveling. Now I also book smaller private rooms and apartments that have a story. Like the one in which we stayed in the Dolomites, Italy, where we slept on a hill, in 500-year old beds that were amazingly comfy.
Which hotel did you find enchanting?
From the bigger hotels I stayed at, we really loved The Connacht Hotel in Galway, Ireland - amazing rooms, close to the city, free parking and an amazing breakfast. Just a few weeks ago we visited a small hotel in Austria, Der WILDe EDER and were amazed by the traditional but modern rooms and by a star worthy five course dinner.
Do you prefer smaller hotels or big chains?
I would always book smaller hotels with a story and a background - but since I travel to lots of big cities, we often stay in some hotel chains. I really love the Motel One Chain - I visited many of them in Germany and was never disappointed.
“If you're passionate about travel and hospitality, the hotel industry is a lifelong career path. You'll meet interesting people – team members, guests, vendors, media – that open your eyes to the world and help you clarify your own goals. Getting to ‘talk story’ with guests is a highlight of the day. You have connections around the world." One hotel manager said that, how much truth is in those words?
This is very true. I meet so many interesting people, from business people who have been in my hometown 50 years ago, to celebrities. People with amazing life stories that inspire you and make you happy that you choose this path.
This whole time Tihana kept working on her food blog Just Cake The Cupcake and back in the early days of blogging, she became the first Croatian ambassador for the KitchenAid. This year she decided to launch her own business enterprise that would tie in everything she has done so far with her passion for cooking and creating. I feel pretty certain that she will succeed in anything; just remember the girl from the beginning of this story: someone who is a natural people person with a strong sense of responsibility rates very highly nowadays.