Walk up to the front entrance of the Civic Hotel and chances are that the first face you see is the face of our Valet Ambassador, Norm Hughes. After a pleasant ‘hello,’ he’s quick to extend a helping hand as he directs you to the front desk, or takes your keys. From his friendly chat about your trip, his impressive knowledge of BC or suggestions for where to find the best local bowl of noodles, you’d certainly never know the calm man behind the smile is a relative newcomer to hospitality. Yet if guest feedback is anything to go by, he’s really found his niche here at the Civic.
Hughes’ position as Valet and Doorman at the Civic is a rather poetic career move for someone in the hospitality sector for about five years. He stepped into hotel work after wrapping up several decades in the technology and internet sector, during which he installed commercial systems in towns across British Columbia. Along with his extensive knowledge of the province, his IT background is already paying dividends with some of the guests and visitors to the Civic.
“I have a very broad knowledge of internet technology, so I can really relate to the people who come to Surrey to work in the tech sector here,” he says. “With health and biotech, there’s always IT involved and when I ask guests what they’re working on, we get into conversations. And they respond really well to knowing that I understand something about the work they’re doing and can speak on their level.”
After leaving the tech sector, he found himself drawn towards work that involved another of his passions, cars, and took a job as a valet at a downtown casino. He confesses to being a ‘car guy,’ with a lifelong interest in all things car and motorcycle-related. He is also an antique car aficionado, once owning a 1928 Ford Model A. These days, he finds the most satisfaction from his work at the Civic in his role as the doorman.
Like the best service professionals, he’s a natural when it comes to bringing his personal experience with travel to bear on his own standard of care when greeting new arrivals or departing guests. He recalls one of his many work-related trips across the province to complete an IT job. Landing in Castlegar, he discovered his travel agent had booked a hotel room in Castlegar instead of Nelson where he was scheduled to work.
“I rented a car and drove to Nelson and pulled up at a hotel I’d stayed at quite a while back. I walked in and the person at the desk remembered me instantly and knew I didn’t have a reservation. She actually remembered my name, didn’t hesitate to check me in and then said she’d take care of the paperwork. That level of attention really made a difference to me, and so that’s the quality of attention I try to give people staying with us here.”
Whichever side of the door he’s on, Hughes combines his past experience and knowledge with a quiet empathy that resonates with guests. “In my past career, I stayed in a lot of hotels. I know that after a long day you simply want to retreat to your room or go have something to eat. But some people are away from their families, sometimes for extended periods of time, and all there is to do in their room is watch tv. So they’ll come down to the lobby. They just need someone to ask them how their day was maybe, or chat about the game. I understand that. I’ve been there.”