When I first moved to the Shoalhaven and started doing the motel meet and greet, I was always quick to tell guests I wasn’t really a motelier, I was a professional journalist.
But over the past six years my work in the motel has escalated and my work as a journalist declined.
I was a reluctant recruit back into the hospitality industry after being scarred in the late 1980s when my first husband and I took on a struggling resort at Adaminaby in the Snowy Mountains.
Neither of us had worked in hospitality before and the workload was huge. The 70-hectare resort could sleep up to 150, all laundry was done onsite, it had a licensed restaurant, a tennis court, a swimming pool and a riding school.
A week into our misadventure, the chef walked out and we stumbled in.
For three years we toiled, but in the end cut our losses and returned to Sydney. I swore never to work in hospitality again.
But 15 years later I fell in love with a South Coast oyster farmer who also happened to have a motel.
The motel was doing poorly and little by little I was drawn in to help rebuild it, finally moving to the Shoalhaven in 2006.
“You must REALLY love that bloke,” my family muttered in disbelief.
But we have worked hard and turned the business around, mainly by tapping into the global reach of the internet.
We are only a small 12-room motel off the main highway but on any given night we can have up to eight different nationalities residing with us.
We’ve upgraded the rooms, we’ve installed digital televisions and air con, we now provide free Wi-Fi and just recently developed a smartphone friendly website.
And we are very focused on customer service, going out of our way to welcome guests and meet their needs.
At times this has meant supplying toothpaste at 11pm to offset the taint of garlic prawns, researching Chinese phrases to help communicate with non-English speaking guests, and providing complimentary flowers and champagne for special occasions.
We realise we can’t make everyone’s day, but most people are well pleased with our approach.
Earlier this year, husband Garry suggested we enter the Shoalhaven Business Excellence Awards. I took a deep breath, turned on the computer and started to tell our story.
I realised how far we had travelled.
It made us proud of our achievements, it forced us to reflect on our efforts, it identified areas that still needed improvement.
It took a lot of time but it was one of the most constructive exercises we have ever done.
And it paid off; we were named finalists in three categories: small business, tourism and hospitality, and service excellence.
The big night was last Friday and we were named winners of the service excellence award. Such excitement, such celebrations.
The judges said we had moulded the Anchor Bay Motel into a ‘‘model of customer service excellence’’ and customers are welcomed and cared for like true guests.
We may not be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but The Most Excellent Award Winning Motel has a certain allure!