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A minute on the clock: Una Smyth

27 October 2005

Una Smyth, 54, is assistant front office manager at the Hastings Slieve Donard hotel in Newcastle, County Down. Last week she was awarded the 2005 RAC Hotels' People's Award for Receptionist of the Year. She talked to Emily Manson

How long have you been a receptionist? Only seven years. I looked after the elderly before, but that has helped me because you have to identify with people in this job. Lots of people come to hotels for a break from their normal situations and it makes you more sensitive to their needs. That's what the hotel industry is about - caring for people and giving them good service.

How did it feel to get the RAC award? Fabulous - I didn't know I'd been nominated and received a parcel in the post last week. I assumed it was for a guest, but when I found the certificate I was totally surprised. It's a really nice recognition of what I try to do. I like making people welcome to Newcastle and the hotel because it's so lovely and I enjoy sharing it with everyone.

What do you think clinched it for you? I think age is an advantage. Receptionists are supposed to be glamorous, but it's good to have a certain amount of maturity and be sensitive to what people need, especially when guests come to stay as a break from tough times.

The RAC was particularly impressed by your willingness to go the extra mile for guests. Can you give me an example? One evening, a couple were on their way down for dinner and the husband stopped to speak to us while his wife went to look outside for a moment. Then he just dropped down dead, right there, in front of us.

Apart from dealing with his tragic death, I was very sensitive to the fact that the lady was now on her own and knew no one. I called the local minister and he brought his wife, who stayed, comforting her overnight. I just knew she shouldn't be left on her own that night.

We got her a different room and her son stayed with us free of charge until his father's body was released. We just looked after her as if she was family.

What makes a good receptionist? Being a good hostess is the key, and if you can't help out yourself, find someone who can. I grew up in the countryside and my mother regularly invited people back to stay and enjoy our lovely house, so I hope I'm as hospitable as she was.

What do you enjoy most about your job? It's not the money, because like the rest of the industry it's quite badly paid. But I love what I do, especially the variety. No two days are the same. It's always a challenge, and I really enjoy being with people.

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Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

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