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5 Stars at 30


Back when Emma McKinnon was 18, fresh out of school, and in her first job greeting guests at the front desk of Blenheim’s luxury five-star Chateau Marlborough Hotel, all she longed for was “to be in management telling people what to do.”

Ten years of solid work experience later, and with hindsight gained from discovering what it’s like to lead ten staff for five years as the hotel’s Food & Beverage Manager – she’s ready for an exciting new challenge at the prestigious venue.

“I realised that, for me, managing people is not all it’s cracked up to be and it can feel pretty lonely. Looking back, I spent my twenties learning how life works and these days I have different goals. I’d still like to manage a small boutique hotel, but not until I’m in my fifties,” she says with a laugh.

In fact, Emma’s literally spent her life in the industry. In her late teens, Emma and her sister Jess lived in the hotel where her mother is the general manager. Not that they were dialling up room service or taking over the swimming pool. “People think it must be luxury, but it’s not like that at all!”

Now, three days after celebrating her 30th birthday, Emma is moving up to her new role as Chateau Marlborough’s Conference & Events Manager. At the same time, she’s completing an important industry qualification, the ServiceIQ NZ Diploma in Hospitality (Operational Management) – Level 5.

“It’s perfect timing. The Diploma will help me in my role and it’s formal recognition of all the training I have done on the job and skills I’ve achieved over fifteen years in the industry.

“It’s also great because you don’t have to stop work to do it which means you can keep on earning while you’re learning.”

Emma was one of just eight New Zealanders to receive a Hospitality NZ/SKY Future Leader Scholarship valued at $3,000 each.

The sought-after programme is awarded to up-and-coming hospitality professionals for strong leadership potential, and, in Emma’s case, her very strong work ethic underpinned by many years of industry experience and well thought out goals and plans.

So far, she’s eight months into completing the Diploma, and all on the job.

“One of the best things is how flexible ServiceIQ is in working around our business demands. They understand how busy we get and give me time to complete my work without rushing and compromising its quality.”

Emma’s new role is focused on arranging the logistics and helping to meet the many and complex requirements of large conference groups visiting the top-rated hotel.

Chateau Marlborough, which was recently named New Zealand’s best regional hotel at the Australasian HM Awards for Hotel and Accommodation Excellence in Sydney, is expanding its operation to meet visitor demand in the region. This includes increasing capacity from forty to eighty rooms, hosting bigger events and hiring more staff.

“As part of the Diploma I’m currently learning about staff recruitment which is knowledge I’ll use for the rest of my career.”

Helping visitors enjoy an even better experience is still the most satisfying part of hotel life, says Emma.

“I love meeting new people, exceeding our guests’ expectations and just seeing them smile. We’ll do everything we can to make sure our guests have what they need.”

These days, everything means fully gluten-free menus, porter service and seven pillows-plus.

“These are people who tend to stay in five-star accommodation wherever they go. We get many comments from guests saying we’re the best hotel they’ve stayed in.”

With her extensive hotel experience, would she recommend it as a good career?

“Absolutely. It’s so rewarding, and it pays well. You can train on the job, you can travel with it, and there are always going to be jobs in hospitality.”

Emma McKinnon

For more information, please contact ServiceIQ on 0800 863 693 or email