Being a hotel bellman isn’t simply standing at the front door and handling guest luggage. As Fairmont Vancouver Airport’s Aaron Harvey has come to appreciate, the job can range from helping a business executive transmit documents that will clinch the next big deal, to picking up a group of anglers and storing all the fish they’ve caught in a dedicated freezer located just off the hotel lobby.
Harvey learned a key tenet of customer service — that every person presents a unique opportunity — at his first job after high school, working as a cashier and service clerk for Save-On Foods. “I learned that each person is different, has different needs and expectations,” he says. He took that lesson with him to his next job, as a luggage handler for a major airline at Vancouver International Airport. “I learned a lot about customer service with the airline. I was handling luggage on a tight timeline, loading and unloading planes in 30 minutes.”
The timing of his airline job proved to be fortuitous. It was the late 1990s, just as construction on the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel was being completed. Harvey had watched it being built and was keen to land a job, there. He did, as a member of the bell team, and claims proudly, “I have been at this position since 1999, ever since we opened.”
His seniority has earned him the coveted day shift, Monday to Friday – now a family man, he is able to enjoy his weekends off. “My day starts at 5:30 a.m. and goes until 2:00 p.m. The first three hours are the busiest, as most guests are checking out and catching flights. We offer them assistance with checking out, ask them how their stay was and if there’s anything we can do in the future to make their next stay more comfortable, and help them with luggage and transportation. We offer wheelchairs or a golf cart, which we can do because we’re right in the terminal. And we have a car to drive them to the domestic terminal or the south terminal. We do a lot of business in the summer with guests in groups, and we have a couple of shuttles for that.”
To coordinate the multi-skilled and technical components of the role, he and his colleagues hold a Class 4 driver’s licence and are interconnected by mike phones. In essence, says Harvey, a member of the bell team has to be able to multitask as a doorman, front desk clerk, concierge, chauffeur and personal assistant. “We’re not just stationed at a front door,” he insists. The challenges of the job can be both physical and mental. “You’re on your feet all day. You could be in the Fairmont Gold lounge on the top floor and 10 minutes later, be at the south terminal loading 40 pounds of fish.” And not all guests are in vacation mode. “The obstacles include dealing with people who aren’t always happy staying at the hotel because of travel interruptions,” says Harvey, who recalls the early days, when some airlines encountered several scheduling issues. “There were 300-passenger flight delays at 5:00 in the morning, and grown men crying at the front desk because they’re supposed to be in Maui, and their wallet is trapped in their luggage on the plane. Once you go through something like that, there’s nothing that fazes you.”
Harvey provides the following advice to hotel job seekers: “Take any kind of customer service job where you’re dealing with people constantly ― not [just] your colleagues, but with customers. Being able to multi-task is beneficial. There will be people coming at you from all different angles. You’ll have a senior citizen who can’t walk, and the next second, a businessman who needs your help immediately to close a million-dollar deal.”