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Terry Cunningham Customer Service Engineer

Be Inspired Series

Siobhan O’Sullivan

Director of Sales and Marketing
Fitzwilliam Hotel, Belfast

Sales and marketing director Siobhan O’Sullivan loves the daily challenges that working in the hospitality industry brings

Give a brief outline of your career to date 

My first job after college was in The Mespil Hotel in Dublin where I worked as a receptionist and then, after a number of years, worked my way up to food and beverage manager. I worked as catering manager for the opening of the Guinness Storehouse and deputy manager in The Stillorgan Park hotel for two years following that. My career in sales began in Marriott Johnstown House in Co Meath and I then moved onto The Park Plaza in Blanchardstown as director of sales and marketing. Hotel Partners managed the Park Plaza and the Fitzwilliam Belfast, so when my current position in the Fitzwilliam became available, I was asked to move to Belfast. I have worked in the Fitzwilliam for the past five years and I absolutely love what I do. 

What was your favourite subject at school? 

I loved languages, especially Irish, and I spoke both German and French in school, but since leaving I have become a little rusty. 

Did you go on to further/ higher education, if so what did you study and where? 

Yes I went to college in Galway and studied business and hospitality management which I believe was a very good foundation course for my job now. 

How did you get into your area of work? 

Hospitality is something that came very naturally to me and as my parents own a pub at home in Kerry, I had some knowledge of the industry — I worked there since I was able to see over the counter. I think that’s where my skills in customer service and career in sales really began. 

Is this what you always wanted to do? 

I had originally wanted to study business and languages and to travel the world, but I suppose I would have ended up in a very similar career in my current role. While I am based in Belfast, I am lucky enough to get the chance to travel regularly to many parts of the world. 

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed? 

Yes in order to get onto the course after your leaving certificate you had to achieve certain grades or level of points. 

Are there alternative routes into the job? 

Yes, many people in the hospitality industry work their way up or train in their department, while also working at night time or taking up part-time education. 

What are the main personal skills your job requires? 

Positivity and creativity are both vital to make sure your brand offering stands out among the rest. I’m a strong believer in first impressions — that’s what people remember about you. Relationships and communication are the keys to success, knowing what your customers want and exceeding their expectations. 

What does a typical day entail? 

Every day is different. My day usually starts from 9am in the office, checking events and any VIP arrivals. We then have a daily operations meeting at 11am. My overarching role is to increase the sales and revenue of the hotel by maintaining and increasing the customer base. We have a very loyal customer base so we want to ensure that individual guest’s experiences are exceeded every time they stay, so I work closely with operations daily to ensure all our guests have the best experience possible. 

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job? 

One of the best aspects of the job is that every day is completely different; you meet new people from every walk of life and you are given the task to deal with a variety of challenges that come your way on any given day. The most challenging part of my job at the moment would be staying ahead of our market in Belfast and thinking of new ways to be different from our competitors both in the hotel and online. Digital marketing has exploded into our industry so it’s imperative that we stay up-to-date on all these advancements and include it in all our marketing strategies going forward. 

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path? 

Experience in the hospitality industry is very important so perhaps try and gain some work experience in the industry to ensure that it is an environment that you like working in. There can be lots of long hours when starting out, for example with split shifts, but you are guaranteed to have lots of fun doing it and you will certainly make lots of friends. It is also important to try and get third level qualifications as this will help to equip you for the industry and it will also ensure that you can progress and work your way up to management roles in the future.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do? 

I think I probably would have gone into sports science or physiotherapy. I am always amazed how far we can push ourselves on the field. 

If you could go back, what is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day? 

Be yourself and go for it, don’t let anything stop you. 

Describe your ideal day off 

One of my favourite things to do is a spa day with friends to help relax and rejuvenate after a busy period in work. I also love to walk along the beach in Helen’s Bay, which is a really beautiful part of Northern Ireland. It is always nice to catch up with friends for lunch in Belfast, there are so many great places to eat and it is of course lovely to enjoy dinner and the cocktails at the Fitzwilliam. Working in the hospitality industry I enjoy travelling both at home and abroad, so I try and get away a few times a year, whether it’s a city break or a trip to a far flung destination, I am a big fan of new adventures.

 

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