My fond farewell to St. Thomas

5 May 2014 | by Joan Toano


Joan Tuaño is coming to the end of her 12-month internship on St Thomas but is taking home a life’s worth of memories and experience.

There are exactly 13 days left until I hop on a plane and leave my beloved St. Thomas. It is on this amazing 32-square mile island that I learned how to drive (on the left), got diving certified, actually found myself on a sandbar separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean Sea and fell in love with the people of the West Indies.

Les Roches students on internship
With the dive centre on property I was able to achieve one of my life’s goals; getting my open water diving certification!

Having lived mostly in fast-paced places my whole life where trends are the ‘big thing’, it has been a breath of fresh air being in the Virgin Islands where anything goes. Nothing is urgent, everything is unrushed, uncomplicated, simple. Happy.

I must say the slow months in the Caribbean, also known as Hurricane Season, is not for all walks of life. Businesses die if they are unable to make it during high season and gear up for slow times; you could say the island becomes a little bit of a ghost town. However, hotels and restaurants take this time to renovate and refresh their offerings, and being in housekeeping during renovations was certainly a great learning experience as I learned the real meaning of hard work. Imagine turning a room from renovation status to something you could sell in 8 hours!

Les Roches internship
A view I will always remember and cherish in my heart

During these last two months, I finally find myself where I wanted to end my internship; the Front of House. Here, you are the alpha and omega of the hotel guest process. You are their first moment of truth, their trusted contact. You make things happen for them, solve their problems and hopefully engage with them so they come back to the hotel. You wow guests by anticipating their needs and being effortless and efficient in your tasks. Sometimes, you need to go the extra mile to amaze guests and make them feel ultra special, but this is important even if laborious, because those moments are what you use for your job interviews!

As a rooms controller, I learned that the front of house really does possess the reins on hotel guest experiences. I could upgrade guests and make miraculous things happen according to guest requests. Great coordination and multi-tasking skills are required to control the room product of a hotel, and it was enthralling to be part of the system. In the movie “The Wizard of Oz”, the wizard was the omnipresent being who was the answer to everything and the most powerful man in Oz, but actually he was just a regular person with a bunch of buttons. That is what I call rooms control.

The front desk is a fascinating department as well, being the main focal point for all problems and issues. It could be a great or painful place to work, depending on your occupancy and the ability of your team to prepare for and deliver engaging guest stays. The hotel is almost like Broadway on tour; everyday, the show must go on. There is something unique about each day… the groups coming in, the incredibly high influx of honeymooners, or a high turnover and all flights being cancelled! There was a time when most of my guests’ luggage would go missing, and they would just be extra challenging to work with. Could you imagine planning for months for a vacation in the Caribbean, and your luggage gets lost?

Les Roches internship
Being on internship means your friends also follow you! Here are two of my former classmates, Serene and Andy, who are currently on internship in New Orleans. So lovely to see them!

I will forever remember St. Thomas as a beautiful aquamarine paradise, with a million charming secrets and a mesmerizing mix of people from all over the world. It is funny how I find great similarities in the places I live, such as the interesting presence of a ‘hub’ of peoples in Abu Dhabi and St. Thomas. People come here and there to get amazing jobs, and basically “live the life”. This results in an incredibly colorful mix of peoples from such diverse cultures, and this for me reminds me why I love working in hospitality.

Joan Toano


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