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IWD2022 – Meet Iris Marhencke

In the second in our #IWD2022 spotlight on our members, we’re delighted to introduce you to Iris Marhencke.  Iris is the Guest Relations Manager at the 5-star Gleneagles Hotel, and is also a Blue Badge Guide – welcoming visitors from all over the world.

What inspires you to work within Scottish tourism?

Ever since I came to Scotland for the first time in 1992 after my hospitality apprenticeship at The Atlantic Hotel Kempinski in Hamburg, Germany, and started as a receptionist at Gleneagles Hotel, I found myself fascinated by what I saw around me.

Not only at the Gleneagles Hotel, but in country pubs, emerging farm shops and exciting visitor attractions which seemed to fill this stunning country. These were what I would explore on my days off, often with my camera.

Then coming across institutions like Springboard – where I became a hospitality ambassador and the Hospitality Industry Trust HIT where I have been lucky enough to win two scholarships in the last 20 years. VisitScotland played a large part too, not only was its former Chairman Peter Lederer based at Gleneagles, but I witnessed in Front Office a lot of involvement in the high end hospitality sector by helping to run and host Familiarisation Trips for visiting national and international companies who were looking for exceptional service and one off locations for their meetings and incentives. VisitScotland and local agencies were involved in bringing these visitors across to Scotland.  Then my love for castles and history led me to become a member of HES and The National Trust for Scotland which exposed me to even more unique visitor attractions which then helped me to inspire guests and visitors to explore these sites and areas – famous ones and “off the beaten track ones “.

Meeting Blue Badge Guides in our lobby I became interested in the 2-year course and I discovered another chapter of the Scottish Tourism Industry: the world of Guiding in and around Scotland “a most beautiful office indeed”. After this intense course, sponsored by Gleneagles Hotel, I was finally able to show Scotland off in German and English to individual couples & families, to Incentive guests and cruise passengers, while being a host on The Belmond Royal Scotsman Train, and to foreign visitors exploring Scotland after attending the annual Expo Scotland.

As far as I am concerned there are so many facets to the Scottish Hospitality Industry, for young starting out employees, and more seasoned employees that it is the ideal sector to engage with people, make them feel at home and astound them by showing off the incredible Scottish countryside day by day.

How has the pandemic impacted your business?

The pandemic has been a truly surreal happening as our 98 hotel has been closed twice for periods of 3-months and 5-months and I can only count myself lucky to have been on the receiving end of the furlough scheme. Even luckier is the aspect that our owners were able to reopen the business with all that needed to be done and keep the 900-strong employee workforce going.

Looking at the guest side, we have had the busiest year ever since we reopened last July as nobody went abroad and everybody wanted to get out of the urban environment and “escape ” to Scotland.

However, on the down side, staff had time to assess their work-life balance which is not always a given and found other professions which suited them better. This and Brexit – the latter sadly means we can no longer get our usual hospitality students from France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland to join us – has created a real challenge for our business. Especially as there is a distinct lack in the offer of apprenticeships ( we are launching our own one at Gleneagles as we speak ) in hospitality with an added perception that a career in this field is really not what to go for nowadays.

My Guiding business (which is still a sideline at them moment but which I am hoping to expand in the coming years ) has suffered immense – I was only hired for two Host jobs on The Belmond Royal Scotsman Train last year which financially would have been detrimental and I would have seen myself applying for the different business loans on offer.

What are your hopes for you, your company and the industry this year?

A return to a new normal are my hopes for all the three above. It will be a different year as national guests start travelling abroad again and hopefully international guests are starting to come back slowly. The challenges I can see are : disposable income – as everything is getting more expensive – vaccination status requirements in different countries – the presence of Omicron – ” travel is not as easy as it used to be” (passenger locator forms, Brexit) – and the natural fear of leaving one’s home comforts.

Hence we as employees, company owners and industry have to embrace every single visitor and guest and make sure that they have an outstanding experience when coming to Scotland.

Which female leader do you admire most, and why?

I must say The Queen, as she is 95 years of age now and has always done what she promised when she stepped onto the thrown; Serve the people of the United Kingdom with heart and soul and her life .

On the other hand, Nicola Sturgeon has done in my view – non-politically – an excellent job in steering us through the pandemic. She has had hundreds of obstacles thrown at her : from her own party, personal ones, legal ones, from the central London Government and still her dedication to the Scottish people was intensely visible. While we were furloughed etc she cannot have had a single day off really since 23.3.2020. Her very move and speech was monitored by press and photographers which must be unbelievably difficult to deal with and not everybody can do it.

Is there a woman within the tourism industry you recognise as doing great things at the moment?

Kate Nicholls OBE – CEO of UK Hospitality, for looking after our industry UK wide

Also, Justine Mitchell, Chamomile Sanctuary Spa Owner who has been flying the flag for her part of the industry on LinkedIn and on STV, and in the Scottish press.

Lastly, Giovanna Eusebi of Eusebi’s Restaurant in Glasgow – who employs over 40 people, and who has had such a tough time with Glasgow Council when she wanted to install special outside dining pods during the pandemic, she has been creating a large takeaway business and also has been providing free meals to charities within Glasgow during the pandemic – passionate to the core.