Joanna officially started at the hotel in 2014, when she joined the Reception Team. But she actually grew up running around the hotel corridors, as her mum works in Reservations. Today, Jo’s role is hugely varied, with no two days the same…
Tell us your WBH story…
I’ve been running around the hotel corridors since I was born! I started life in mum’s tummy in the reservation’s office. Each hotel bedroom is individual, and exploring as a child definitely gave me an advantage when it came to knowing where all the different rooms are located…
I’ve been working in hospitality since I was 13 – glass collecting and waitressing initially followed by some kitchen work at a local holiday park pub. After a brief stint in a pottery studio and then fashion retail, I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do. My mum – who many guests know as Kate in reservations – recommended a receptionist role at the hotel, so I went for an interview and started full-time in March 2014. This was a great time during the year to start at the hotel – it meant that I could really learn the role before the summer rush!
For me, it was a hugely positive turning point. Working in a four-star hotel with such high standards was a real development for me, there was attention to detail in the role and a responsibility to provide positive experiences. Joining as part of the reception team really was great – it’s at the heart of the guest journey – before, during and after.
What skills did you learn from working on reception?
The number one thing was multi-tasking – you can be pulled from one thing to another and you need to focus on them all! 108 want full-cream milk, 202 want fresh towels, all while checking-in room 123 and changing 301’s dinner reservation and maybe a queue at the desk too. I learnt how to stay calm under pressure – swan on top, paddling frantically beneath! I also learnt how to speak more confidently on with telephone (something I used to dread) as well as talking with guests face-to-face. I started to learn a lot about IT systems and software and how they can make the guests journey smoother when used and set up correctly. Reception has a bit of a hand in everything across the hotel so it’s a really great way to learn about all the workings. I also started to get first-hand feedback on what our guests love, and to form ideas about how we can build on that.
Although I am no longer on reception, I still help the team every so often and relish the opportunity to do so. I like to find out what guests enjoy during their stay. I also love giving recommendations and hearing how guests get on with them. All of this helps me with my role in “back office” – which has now morphed into a much more creative, marketing-led role.
Why do you think reception is a good place to work?
When I started the hours were perfect for me and suited my lifestyle at the time. I would either start early and finish at 3pm, so I had time to follow my passions – like horse-riding, walking my two dogs etc. Or I would start a bit later and would have my morning to myself on the 3-11pm shift.
What does your role – Marketing Manager – involve?
It’s a mixed role, and Marketing Manager doesn’t really cover it at all! Hotels are fast-paced places, and I am involved with all kinds of things across the guest journey. The most unexpected is perhaps the work I do with the cinema! I book private hire events and choose what movies we will show on a weekly basis. From a marketing perspective, I am involved in graphic design, social media, and photography. I also respond to guest feedback, help to manage the website and design guest communications. When we’ve needed new software or systems, I have typically helped to configure them in one way or another. Our now Reservations Manager, Laura, who also started with me on reception in 2014 is also a bit of a tech wizard!
One of my favourite things is to work with the Managing Director on refurbishment projects. Our largest refurbishment was in 2019 when we built SALT Gym, Alchemist Spa and launched NEO Cinema. Designing new brand logos, developing ethos’s and translating that all before we opened via brochures and our new website was challenging but fun. Sal is also great at asking for thoughts and feedback, I’ll gladly look at colour swatches and fabrics any day. The copper tub in the spa was also collaborative idea when an initial plan didn’t work out (as can sometimes happen with build projects) – it’s rewarding to know you’ve had even a small role in delivering a successful concept that guests will later enjoy.
I know silly trivia like that we flew the popcorn warmers in from America. Another fun fact is that the little brass plaques on the spa doors were created especially for us – the ones that say “gentleman’s locker room” etc. We also ordered some quirky cinema prints which live in the Bay Brasserie courtyard suites and are really fun to look at. I’m proud to work somewhere with such fantastic attention to detail.
What does your typical day involve?
There genuinely is no such thing as a typical day in my role. Some of my regular tasks include attending management meetings, signing off invoices, ordering branded stationery, designing menus, planning campaigns, creating social media posts, and responding to guest feedback.
You never know what’s going to happen in hospitality, so one thing is for certain, and that is that careful planning and task lists are essential – time management and prioritisation are skills I have learnt. I really like to work under pressure, so hospitality is a great environment for me. But a task list is an absolute MUST for my working day.
What do you like most about your role?
I like the creativity and being able to produce something from nothing. I also really like when I can help departments and guests communicate better with each other; I like bridging that gap. Having started on reception, I could see that some little things could be ironed out; my role now means that I can help resolve these. I also have a real appreciation for the fact that if one little thing goes wrong in a guests’s journey, it’s not always so bad. However, if lots of little things go wrong, overall it can create a really disappointing experience. So helping to minimise that through miscommunication is really important to me. The WBH Family itself is well-established, as a team who know each other well, we can communicate and execute things swiftly behind the scenes which I’m proud to be a part of.
Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the little opportunities I get to do special things. When there is a guest request that doesn’t quite fall within one single department, it’ll often find its way to me. For example, I recently helped a gentleman plan the perfect wedding proposal – and she said yes! I also recently invited the PANDA Charity (Promoting Autism Neurodiversity Awareness) to a private cinema showing, which was donated to them by WBH. Myself and the WBH Team managed to get hold of special request snacks that would be more inclusive for all the children and overall we provided an inclusive, safe, calming space for those who wouldn’t usually be able to engage with a public experience like that under normal circumstances. This children/family members/carers that were able to attend were so pleased, and in turn, it made me really happy too.
And finally, food photoshoots! Each season I will work with the Head Chef – Eddie – to photograph his new season dishes. There’s a secret benefit to this: I get to be taster afterwards!
As Marketing Manager, do you have any new plans?
We have just launched a new website, so I have been working on that behind the scenes. I want to continue to work on our photography, and capturing more video – for me, these are things that help guide the guest journey. They help to build our brand and communicate a sense of this place to people who haven’t been here. It’s like sharing my love for Woolacombe. I’ll also be continuing to work with the rest of the WBH Family to create new experiences.
Why do you like working at the hotel?
I believe this place is special and is ingrained in my memories. The WBH has quite literally always been I my life and I’d by lying if I said it didn’t feel a bit like home. Our big house that we welcome guests into and hope they have a wonderful time with us. But over everything, it’s the people and the culture here – we all take pride in our own departments. We all help each other – from the Managing Director collecting glasses on the lawn to the Head Housekeeper helping in the bar, or one of our Reservationists knowing the answer to probably any maintenance question you could ask. So many of us have worked in every department! Genuinely, nobody is too good for any job. We really are a family at WBH.
Which is your favourite bedroom?
The Retreat is my favourite. I just about remember this suite when it was two smaller bedrooms, it was so clever, the way the team managed to merge it into one! In the bathroom there is a beautiful combination of original features alongside new modern touches and that really appeals to my tastes. The shape of the room still has that up-in-the-eaves feeling, so the space feels cosy and tranquil. Overall, I love the mixture of original and new.
What is the biggest challenge in your role?
I would say that it’s being adaptable! Sometimes my list gets interfered with. That can throw me off, but it’s also a good opportunity.
It’s very rare that we receive negative feedback, so when we do, it’s difficult, because we are emotionally connected. And that’s how we should be. We care. If we let someone down, it’s sad. Equally, if we have done our absolute best and somehow it wasn’t right, that’s hard too. To be able to respond to negative feedback, I need to speak to everyone involved, get myself into the right mental mindset, and find ways that we can learn from the situation. That is challenging, but it’s a challenge that’s worth it.
What do you love about living in Woolacombe?
I love the fact that I live close to my lovely horse, and all the beautiful adventures we have. I try to wild swim often – in the sea or on in the clear pools and streams of Exmoor. There are so many places to walk my two lovely pups! I am also lucky to have lifelong friends who live locally too. Being lucky enough to have National Trust headlands on your doorstep and being smack bang in the middle of a UNESCO biosphere reserve is something that younger me maybe took a little for granted, but that grown up me never will.