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A Young Professional's Experience - Booming industry of the USA vs. the Pristine nature of Botswana

If there is anything we can say about this year is that change is inevitable and it comes up at the most unexpected times. Change is always tough, even if it is something you have planned for. Working for a global company or a company that has many properties under its repertoire, I found it is extremely beneficial for career growth. Belmond is a company that offers a unique experience at the destination; it incorporates the culture and history of that area into each of the properties, making it a curated travel experience for the guest. Majority of their assets have a historical significance to that area. Not only is it a brick and mortar company, but it offers trains, cruises, dining experiences and safaris.

My name is Jessica Pfotenhauer, and I started with Belmond at one of their most desired experiences, Safaris, at the UNESCO world heritage site, the Okavango Delta in Botswana. My internship at Belmond Safaris, through Stenden University, reintroduced me into the world of exclusive safaris for high-end travellers. I became a Lodge Manager at the Belmond Eagle Island Lodge, where I worked for two and a half years. I decided for various reasons that it was time for me to move on. I had options outside of the company that I looked at, but I did really want to stay working for Belmond. My General Manager and other team members, who had been with the company for a while, were more than supportive in me pursuing my future endeavours and assisted in any way they could with contacts they had.

One of the most significant difficulties for me when making this decision to move was knowing I would be leaving behind a family that I had created. My team at the safari lodge was more than just a team, they were, and still are, a part of me and who I am today. The African bush was another factor for me; I grew up in the bush and have always had a connection to nature in some form or another. Belmond’s properties were all in metropolitan areas in North America, so I knew I wasn’t going to get that nature fix as much as I could, but I also knew nothing could beat the African bush. Secluded luxury like that of the safari industry in the Okavango Delta gives you an intimate experience with your guests, and you get to know them on a personal level. I never saw myself working in a big hotel, as I always enjoyed the human aspect to Safaris or boutique styled experiences. Getting to know your guests is very important to me.

I picked North America for personal reasons but also saw it as a way to grow within the company. I knew I would be stepping down in responsibility and roles when I moved to the US but also understood that sometimes that’s what one needs to do to get their foot into the door. I took up a position as guest room dining supervisor and then quickly moved on to service leader for the department. It was a tough transition for me job-wise. I went from working outdoors to working back of the house in LED lighting for most of the day not knowing what time it was. I also felt like I wasn’t doing enough and my responsibilities were fewer. I had to keep reminding myself that I went from a twelve-room boutique lodge, where I oversaw every department, to a four hundred and thirty-two room hotel. One thing that made it easier for me was that the company culture was the same. I was worried I wasn’t going to have the same experience as I did in Safaris but one consistency was that Belmond really does appreciate and go above and beyond for their employees. Take for example during this pandemic and we were out of work or on furlough, most companies in the US cancelled health insurance for their employees during this time, Belmond paid and is still paying for our healthcare! Something I found is that Belmond also hires like-minded people, I have interacted with a lot of people who have similar characteristics and approach to work ethic. I noticed, however, changes in approach to policy and standard operating procedures. I saw there was more of it as well as adhering to the policies and procedures was a lot firmer. Clocking in and out for work was a new concept for me, as well as having overtime. The US has stricter labour laws compared to Botswana. I have realised in a bigger hotel you are a cog in the machine, but you are just as valuable as you would be in a smaller hotel environment.

One of the scarier things for me was moving to a city I had never been to before. I did as much research as I could on the city but still didn’t know what to expect. Charleston was the perfect sized city to move to from the African bush. It’s a walking city, and often you find yourself wondering through streets that make you think you are in Europe. I am happy I made the move, I have a life outside of work now, a more structured schedule and I have time to work on myself as well. I am making steps to advance my career! I will always miss Africa and the Botswana bush, but I know that I can always go back. As the great Winston S. Churchill said: “Success is not final, failure is fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Hard work, determination, drive and enthusiasm to be at work will get anyone anywhere. Never give up always keep trying, no matter how scary or how difficult a situation is. At the end of the day, you are where you are with the hard work that you put in.

Jessica Pfotenhauer | LinkedIn

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