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Women to Write Home About: Iris Marhencke

Iris Marhencke

Women to Write Home About is a blog interview series featuring Women in Tourism members. Find out more about what our members do, hear about important moments in their career and learn what motivated them to join Women in Tourism.

We’re delighted to hear from Iris Marhencke, Guest Relations Manager at Gleneagles 5 Star Luxury Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort in Scotland. In May 2019 Iris was presented with an Outstanding Achievement Award at the Business Women Scotland Magazine Tourism & Hospitality Awards.

Tell us about yourself and what you do

I am German-born and have been working in hospitality for over 30 years now, for the last 15 years in my current position as Guest Relations Manager at Gleneagles Luxury Hotel, Scotland.

After A-levels in Germany, I was going for a two and a half year apprenticeship position in Hotels and Restaurants at The Atlantic Hotel Kempinski Hamburg, (5 Star, 230 rooms), but they were full for the 1987 quota so the HR team there suggested to me that I should complete my English language studies by going abroad as an Au-Pair. I did exactly that and spent a character-building year with a lovely Mum and her two children in Sussex before starting my apprenticeship in August 1988.

This was followed by an internship in PR and at reception in the same hotel before I was heading back to the UK (as I loved it here so much) and got a position as a Receptionist at Gleneagles Hotel in 1992. I stayed for two and a half years and left to go to Hotel Management School in Heidelberg Germany as one can only go there after 5 years in the industry. This was a two-year course and gave me the theoretical background to Hospitality Management.

In 1996, after Hotel Management School, I went back to Gleneagles in a Duty Manager role Front of House until I decided in January 1999 that I wanted to try big city life again and I moved to Paris for a year, taking up the role as Assistant Reservations Manager at The Hotel Lancaster (5 Star, 63 rooms) which was a totally new ball game for me. Then in 2000 a Hotel school friend of mine needed some help in Front Office in a privately owned 4 star hotel near Heidelberg (80 bedrooms) and I accepted this challenge, leaving Paris.

Finally in 2001 I decided that I really wanted to be back in Scotland and I came back to help the owner of The Crinan Hotel for six months (3 star, 20 bedrooms) before returning to Gleneagles in July 2001 as House Manager, based in Front of House. In 2003 I took the position as Guest Relations Manager and have been in this role ever since.

The role of Guest Relations Manager based in the hotel lobby is an all-encompassing one: making sure that arriving, in-house and departing guests are happy and that their experience at Gleneagles has been the best one possible. Over the years, with over 50 percent of return guests every day, one gets to know the guests who are all coming with their own “agenda” to stay and one follows individual guests, couples and families through the ages. I am witnessing a generation change within the regular guests now, as the former children are returning with their fiancees, spouses and their own children. I am involved in a lot of special occasion planning especially setting up proposals around the resort which is an immensely rewarding role for which I am very grateful. To be part of somebody’s special day is an honour. I work in a shift system, five days a week with some incredibly dedicated colleagues and managers who have become close friends over the years.

What, about your work, makes you most proud?

The aforementioned special occasions that are happening at Gleneagles daily are a wonderfully precious part of my work. We deal with national and international guests and we are the stage for birthdays, anniversaries, proposals, retirements, weddings, wedding proposals, graduations: all the happy events in one’s life , sadly more and more as well as the more sensitive occasions coupled with terminal illness and couples and families wanting to spend precious time and create lasting happy memories during a challenging family period.

One has to “wear so many different hats” that when it all goes well and their stay is comfortable and all they had wished for, one can be immensely proud. The Gleneagles Team now comprises 1000 employees and this in itself is amazing and can be a challenge now and again. Working in this iconic 95 year old Grand Hotel, now an international resort hotel, which was created solely though the vision of one man – Donald Matheson, GM of Caledonian Railway who wanted his guests to travel on his trains, stay in his hotel and play on his golf courses – makes me very proud.

What other projects are you involved in?

I had been given the opportunity by the hotel back in 2010 to train as a Scottish Accredited Blue Badge Guide which comprised a two-year course based at Edinburgh University which was on top of my day job. This enables me to create itineraries and assist guests and our concierge team with guest touring and travel enquiries. On special occasions I will be guiding hotel guests on day trips around this beautiful country and its remarkable historic sites. I also run my own business “Iris Tours Scotland” as a guide which gives me access to cruise line passenger tours up to hosting positions on The Belmond Royal Scotsman Train. I am a Member of the AICR – Ametie Internationale des Chefs de Receptions- Front Of House Organisation around the world promoting the work in Front Office.

Share a moment in your career that you cherish

Being part of the G8 Team at Gleneagles in 2005 – helping to look after the Russian Delegation was phenomenal- to see all the Heads of State walking through the Gleneagles lobby was unreal including Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II.  As I have an interest in languages I was sent to Moscow in 2007 for a 2-week language course and total immersion which was incredible, in 2013 I was invited to attend a regular guest of mine’s wedding in Venice which was in a class of its own. Being part of the team looking after the European Team at The Ryder Cup 2014 was thrilling , even for a non-golfer like me.

What are your hopes for Scottish Tourism in the next 5 years?

Tourism does need to be sustainable and there are areas which need to be “administered” carefully, the creation of more routes like North Coast 500, East Coast 250 and the new HEART 200, we need to look after the corners of Scotland which are not the day-to-day “go-to” destinations and make sure that the whole of Scotland is showcased to national and international visitors. We need young, enthusiastic people who would like to work in this diverse industry and I see the strong need to focus on the Apprenticeship Scheme – which is already in place- run by several hotel companies in-house and by themselves. It needs to become a proper career that people aspire to choose- including working hours and pay.

Where is your favourite place to visit in Scotland? In the world?

The Isle of Berneray, off North -Uist in the Outer Hebrides , tranquility of two sandy beaches , one, 1.5 miles and the other 3 miles, no Internet in a holiday cottage, hardly a mobile phone signal: bliss. Italy: the stretch from Lake Garda in the North going East and ending in enchanting Venice (off season) and the Island of Elba which is a National Park.

Share a moment that, at the time, felt like a setback, but propelled you further into the career you have now

When I moved to Paris in 2000, it was for the purposes of promotion. I was initially set on London but as I could not find a position in London I thought Paris was fine too. I spoke the language but I had not entirely calculated what it means to go to a city where you do not know anybody, to have to find somewhere to live which you can afford and where the French Bank Manager of the bank where you want to open an account even comments on your address; stating that the area you are living in currently is not such a recommended one! (I did manage to move to a more “up-market” area in the end). You work challenging hours every day from 12 noon to 10pm (how is one supposed to meet people?) and earn the same salary that you have earned in Auchterarder, however you now you reside in Paris. Very tricky indeed – however in hindsight I realised that I was working with one of the most professional and dedicated teams on this planet and am happy to say that I am still in contact with my French colleagues today. In the end it was character-building and a valuable experience for the future, even if I did not realise it there and then.

What motivated you to join Women in Tourism?

I had been seeing it popping up on Facebook & Twitter as well as Instagram and thought it was a great cause and organisation. In my time I have had some great female bosses including my Scottish boss at The Lancaster in Paris who was one of the most hard-working and dedicated women in hospitality I have ever met. It is always exhilarating to meet like-minded and passionate individuals who give everything to look after people.

When family and friends come to visit, which local spots do you take them to?

On the West coast when I am on my days off, all places between Inveraray and Oban including Crinan at the end of the Crinan Canal; here within Perthshire where I am living during the working week, it is Lake of Menteith with its charming island, Drummond Castle Gardens and of course the new V & A Museum in Dundee.

What one piece of advice would you give to women starting out in the industry?

This industry is only perfect for you if you are genuinely interested in people and in creating experiences, in providing superior service (going that extra mile), a proud ambassador of your beliefs and passions, as it is a demanding industry but the most rewarding.

With kind thanks to Women in Tourism members Erin McLelland, our industry interviewer, and to interviewee Iris Marhencke for her contribution.

We’d love to hear from Women in Tourism members interested in contributing to the Women to Write Home About interview series. Please email info@womenintourism.co.uk