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From Four Seasons’ African Safari Lodge, to the white sands of Myanmar, Serena Lugli’s fast-paced career in hospitality management has taken her through many departments and countries in only 7 years. In this interview, she shares her secrets to climbing the ladder of success and for finding the hospitality career path that fits.

On choosing hospitality management and Glion

The word “Hospitality” evokes a world of cultures, ideas, specialties and warmth that can be a wonderful link among people around the globe. It is not the glamorous and luxurious component of it that attracted me the most to hospitality management, but rather the privilege of becoming part of an industry that blends different cultures and promotes their special traits through professionals who, thanks to their open mind, creativity and continuous passion, embody the prestigious role of being a true “hotelier”, or hotel manager.

Among all the schools I visited, Glion was the one that best represented that idea of being part of an open world, where the best opportunity lays in getting to know and learn from people who come from different cultures and who have enriching knowledge. At Glion, you become an adult and a professional, you understand how much you can be creative and communicative, but most of all you break down the boundaries between yourself and all that may be unfamiliar to you.

Glion life in Switzerland

Glion felt like my home away from home from the moment I walked in, until my graduation day. I got the opportunity to grasp my own potential and see how far I could aim for my future; this self-development would already be more than enough to be thankful for, but I was also blessed by getting to know very special people who are still some of the closest friends I have ever had.

Glion goes beyond the classic university experience; it’s a school of life where you learn how to be a solid professional and a better person. After Glion, once you are out in the working world, you’re standing so strongly on your own two feet that going ahead is a natural, endless option.
We all shared a beautiful stage of our lives where we met as teenagers and we said goodbye as adults, each one ready to follow his or her path.

Internships in hospitality and tourism

I did my first internship at the Four Seasons Resort in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt as a cross training in Rooms Division. I was 19 and everything was new to me: from the Middle Eastern culture, to the real world of hospitality, and what it meant to work in it. This experience marked important milestones for me; I developed a bond and fascination with the Middle East, I found my drive to be part of Four Seasons when I graduated, and I grew to understand that this business was the right fit for me.

For my second internship, I was looking for a valuable alternative to my first experience, hence a city hotel instead of a resort, another strong chain instead of Four Seasons, and a different division from rooms. Without hesitation, I chose the Sales & Marketing cross training at Hotel Arts in Barcelona managed by the Ritz Carlton.Thanks to this experience, I learned Spanish fluently, I lived in full the glamor and fast paced rhythms of city hotels and I got a broader understanding of what it meant to be part of these perfect top hotel chains that work like Swiss watches.

The variety of my internships allowed me to test myself and understand better what I was more skilled at, my strengths and weaknesses, my simple likes and dislikes. On top of everything my internships helped me build an appealing CV that becomes the best tool for students to get noticed and get the job they desire during the recruiting period before graduation.
Internships definitely have a lot to do with putting into practice what we were learning in class and getting a much deeper knowledge about the job, but for me they were undeniably closely linked to how I developed as a person: I gained confidence and more control of my emotions, I started shaping myself into the professional I wanted to become.

Hospitality career progression within Four Seasons

Just before graduation, I was fortunate to have five job offers, but I was very clear in my mind that I wanted to join Four Seasons. I started my 6-year journey with them (and in their Doha property) with a Rooms Division Management Training contract that lasted one year. It was a great opportunity in a strong program that aims to prepare fresh graduates for the Assistant Manager role. At the end of it, I was promoted to Housekeeping Assistant Manager and then Concierge Assistant Manager.

Although these roles require very different skills and are filled with uncommon challenges and logistical requirements, I benefitted equally from both experiences. To succeed, I had to be adaptable and flexible at all times, I had to learn how to become a fast decision maker and a rational problem solver, I had to strengthen my people skills and try to take the right steps to become a balanced leader.
The time came when I felt the desire to leave hotel operations, and the hotel was seeking someone who would coordinate and look after a series of renovation projects that the property had to go through. This opportunity allowed me to move to the position of Project Manager where I got the chance to be involved with very interesting projects such as the rooms renovation, the opening a brand new restaurant and the capital projects.

Thanks to this exposure, I got into what I still consider the most beautiful and important experience of my life. In June 2012, I went on a task force to the Serengeti Park in Tanzania with the pre-opening team of the Four Seasons Safari Lodge. There, I was involved with the purchasing part of all the operating supplies and equipment required for the opening and I worked closely with the Corporate Office. Without the exposure and the opportunities I had with Four Seasons, I wouldn’t have been ready for what came after, and I will always be thankful to the company for that.

Sustainability in hospitality and tourism

The radical decision to leave Four Seasons came from my understanding that I needed a different lifestyle and work objectives for the future. I realized that my motivation in hospitality management was found in the educational side, and in sustainability and ecological solutions. To follow my heart, I gave myself the goal of opening my own eco-lodge or guest house as soon as I could find the right place to settle down, and until that time, I kept polishing my lifestyle and knowledge to be prepared when that time would come.

The Sandoway Resort opportunity came along as a trick played by destiny: it was not planned, but it turned out being the right place at the right time. It is not an eco-resort, but it is built in total harmony with nature and in our team there are only local people from the villages of the area. It was the right transition point for me to take the next steps towards eco tourism.

I am also lucky enough that I work with great owners who are very keen to keep the resort’s unique identity as untouched as possible and who are supporting the implementation of regulations which will ensure that any sort of development made in the area will be as sustainable as possible and won’t damage the local’s life and their home environment, while meeting the needs of the fast growing tourism demand in the country.
At the Sandoway I get the opportunity to witness a very gentle kind of tourism, with cautious and understanding visitors that, for the majority, seek nothing more than witnessing the authenticity that characterizes this marvelous country that is still true to its culture and traditions and is enriched by wonderful untouched landscapes.

Advice for future hospitality managers

Glion has been the very origin of my journey. Before Glion, I cant’s say I was sure about myself or about what my path would be, but I had the willingness to find it and to test myself out of my comfort zone. Glion has the key to so many locks: personal and professional development, mind opener, solid knowledge, cultural exchange, and great exposure to the field. Being a “Glioner” always generates positive impressions and can definitely open many doors.

For motivated students who want to become leaders and managers, my advice is very connected to my personality but it is genuine, I would tell them: It is not about being the best, running after a title just for the sake of it, but it is about finding happiness in what you do and doing it with your heart. There will be no limits or challenges hard enough to stop a passionate soul. Always be curious and think that the best insights come from the most diverse people you will meet along the journey of your life. Never avoid the unfamiliar or the unknown; this is a global industry all about discovering, renewing and most of all respecting.

Glion opens doors to the whole word for you; you just need to pack a luggage full of memories and lessons you have learned and go find the path that makes you heart beat the most.

Serena Lugli, Glion Alumna 2007, Resident Manager at the Sandoway Resort, Ngapali Beach – Myanmar

Photo credits: Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti and Sandoway Resort

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About the author

Glion Institute of Higher Education
Glion Institute of Higher Education is a private Swiss institution offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality, luxury and event management to an international student body across three campuses in Switzerland and London, UK.
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