Ivy Wyche is the Guest Services Manager at the voco Oxford Thames Hotel, where she has worked for the past two and a half years. One day, she received a call from a woman wanting to book a table in the hotel’s restaurant for her father’s birthday. The guest happened to mention that he is blind and with just that bit of information…Ivy decided to buy a braille machine, learn how to type in braille(!) and made the dad a special birthday card. Fast forward to a Facebook post by her GM, and she’s ended up in part of a “Celebrity Service” book by training guru Geoff Ramm. We chatted with Ivy to get more about this inspiring story of service.
Can you give me more of the timeline?
The daughter called and made the booking a couple of months in advance, so I had lots of time to get everything together. I bought the braille machine right away, it was only £15 on Amazon, and started learning how to use it.
Hang on, how hard is it to learn braille?
It is a bit difficult to do the first few times. You need a card that is thick and won’t rip. Then, you have to punch them from the back of the card so that they are bumps, which are easier to feel than indents. Honestly, I did have a few “do-overs” because when checking the braille, I noticed mistakes. I also wanted the card to be visually appealing for the other family celebrating with him.
Then what happened?
I made the card and requested to work the morning of the day they were coming. I wanted to make sure that the card got put on the table and everything was set up nicely for them. They had a great birthday celebration! The family wrote a nice review of the hotel mentioning the braille card.
How did you end up in the “Celebrity Service Super Stars” book by Goeff Ramm?
My managers didn't actually know I had done the braille card, my GM found out by reading the guest review while I happened to be standing in the room. She was really happy with me! She posted it on Facebook and that's how I ended up in Geoff's book and mentioned in his roadshow.
Tell us more about you, Ivy, what was your first hotel job, and what attracted you to the industry?
My first hotel job was at a Hilton in Ottawa, Canada. I first became interested in hospitality by going to Disney World when I was younger with my family. Everything at Disney is incredible, but it was always the staff (or “cast members”) that made it really special. We all loved the rides and the shows, of course, but all of our absolute favorite memories were interactions with the amazing people who worked there. I earned my Bachelor of Hospitality and Tourism Management hoping to someday work for Disney.
Did you apply to work at Disney?
Along the way realized that I could create “magical moments” for people anywhere because it’s not the parks or the attractions, but the people that make travel special. I did apply for the Disney College Program, and was offered a place in food and beverage, but turned it down to work a front desk position at the Hilton in Ottowa. I wanted to move into rooms and away from F&B, which I’d been doing since the age of 16.
Why did you move to the UK from Canada?
At the end of my four-year program, someone came into our careers class to talk about hotels in the UK, and I thought this seemed a great chance to see more of the world! Plus, I have dual citizenship as my father is from the UK, though Canadians can get a two-year work visa.
You seem a very caring and kind person, do you think hospitality is a “gene” or it can be taught?
I think a lot of aspects of hospitality can be taught, but there is a big part of it that really does depend on personality. It is very hard to teach someone to be empathetic and caring.
What are your career aspirations?
For now, I’m happy in my role in guest services and am enjoying growing and learning in this position. I hope to be able to keep moving forward within the industry. I think it would interesting to have a job that would allow me to travel around at some point.
Is IHG helping you to move forward, do they help you with a career plan?
IHG definitely provides training, development, and career planning. The planning challenges me to think a bit more about what I want to do in the future and what skills I would like to develop.
What traits make for a good manager and leader?
In my experience, the best managers that I have worked for are able to listen and problem solve. They tend to guide and provide support rather than micromanage and pass blame. They lead by example and are approachable. The main thing that can make a manager or leader ineffective is if team members are scared to come to them with a problem. Mistakes will always happen, but if an employee is able to go straight to their manager and tell them without fear, any issue can almost always be resolved before it gets out of hand.
What did you do during the pandemic?
With the hotel and borders closing, I went back home and spent about six months of the lockdown with my family (and my dog!) in Canada. There were days at the lake, campfires, lots of reading and walking, a couple of camping trips, and white water rafting when things started opening at the end of the summer. Overall, I got very lucky. I was able to spend time back home but it was still difficult with all the uncertainty and not knowing when I’d be able to get back to my regular life. I really missed working, it was definitely hard not knowing if or when I could get back to the hotel.
When did you come back to the UK?
The hotel began making plans for a 10-person skeleton re-opening team and I was offered a place. I came back to the UK in August of 2020 to work and it was another six months before the hotel finally reopened after about a year of closure. That time was hard, most of the friends I’d made in the UK had gone back home, and the few around were difficult to see because of the lockdown restrictions.
Are you happy to be back working in hotels?
I am definitely happy to be back in hotels! I remember our first day reopening––our whole “skeleton” team was in and when our first guests after the year of closure showed up we were all so excited! In general, I think everyone is psyched to be finally out of the house and back to traveling and going out. Our regular guests are back, we’ve also hosted many weddings and family reunions. I’m glad that we can provide a place for people to meet up and really enjoy themselves.
What do you do for fun?
In my free time, I enjoy reading, drawing, and going for walks. I also like to spend time with friends, watching movies or making food and fancy drinks. My favorite days out are walking into the city center to get a new book from the library and then going for a hot chocolate while I start to read my new book, then meeting up with some friends for dinner or drinks afterward!