Mackenzie Mathews ’23, who will graduate this fall with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management, had the interesting experience of putting her knowledge and skills to work this past summer as an intern at one of the nation’s most exclusive hotels.
Once Mathews, who has had a long-standing interest in working in the hospitality and tourism industry, learned about this unique opportunity for an internship, she sought the advice of one of her professors on how to best pursue it.
As a result, Mathews was selected to intern from June through August at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, a four-star luxury hotel and estate encompassing some 8,000 acres in Asheville, North Carolina.
The inn and estate were originally owned by George and Edith Vanderbilt, a couple famous for their hospitality.
We asked Mathews about working at the Biltmore — and how the knowledge and skills she obtained through the Department of Hospitality, Hotel Management and Tourism in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences helped her succeed during that internship.
What sort of facility is the Biltmore, and what amenities do they offer?
The Biltmore Inn and Estate is a luxury facility. In addition to the four-star Biltmore Inn, the property has a spa, hundreds of acres of beautiful gardens and grounds, walking trails, another smaller hotel, private cottages, a winery and an entire village with restaurants, shops and outdoor activities for the guests. There is also a concierge, valet service, a library, an exclusive restaurant with a dress code and in-room dining.
What were your hospitality-related responsibilities?
I had a number of responsibilities during my three months at the Biltmore – from working the front desk to serving as a concierge, phone operator and shift supervisor.
At the front desk, I was responsible for checking guests in and out as well as answering any questions they may have about the inn and the estate. My concierge duties also included answering questions about the facility, as well as booking dinner reservations and activities for our guests. As the phone operator, I answered any and all calls from inside and outside of the estate and directed them to the correct person or department.
My responsibilities as supervisor included seeing how to make a work schedule and assisting my coworkers with answering questions or addressing any guest concerns.
How did you learn about the opportunity at the Biltmore?
My mom was helping me look for internships and came across the internship opportunity at the Biltmore. Dr. Heather Eden in the department helped me with my résumé and guided me on how to present myself during the virtual interview. She also instructed me on how to properly and professionally correspond in writing with the people who were deciding to choose me for the internship.
What were some ways you adapted to work with a more exclusive clientele?
Of course, I was expected to dress professionally and act that way at all times. We addressed the guests as “mister” or “miss” and used their last names – never addressed them by their first name. I remember it also took me a while to remember not to say “howdy” or “y’all” when speaking to a guest because everything, including all conversations and interactions with guests, was supposed to be formal and professional.
Basically, we were expected to dress and act in a way that would be in keeping with being a part of the Vanderbilt legacy and conduct ourselves accordingly.
What were some of the specific skills you used during your internship?
I used a lot of communication and networking skills in working with the guests and staff, but one of the skills I used most was time management. This was more than managing time for myself, but also when acting as a supervisor. I had to consider other people’s needs and availability to put together morning and afternoon schedules. Time management was also important in completing a project I was working on for the Biltmore during my internship.
Who was your most influential instructor while working toward your hospitality and tourism managment degree at Texas A&M?
Dr. Eden was the professor who influenced and helped me the most. Not only did she help prepare me for obtaining my internship, but she also gave me tips on how to communicate with the type of clientele I would be serving – people who were used to getting the best and being treated with respect. She also gave me the opportunity to share my experiences at the Biltmore with other students and has kept in touch with me to see how I am progressing toward my degree.
Do you plan to remain in the hospitality and tourism industry after graduation?
Eventually, I’d like to return and work at the Biltmore or in another luxury hotel. Right now, I’m living in College Station and am not financially able to move, so I’d like to find work in the local hotel and tourism industry.
Whatever I end up doing in the future, I want it to be in the hospitality tourism industry. I would also like to use more of the skills I have acquired in the areas of event planning and management. At the Biltmore, there were a lot of weddings, corporate meetings and other functions, as well as a variety of planned guest activities. In the future, I’d like to be more involved in planning and managing these types of events.
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Author: Paul Schattenberg