Travel insights from Ali Schmidt, Director of Sales at Universal Studios Hollywood

The Role of Hospitality in the Time of COVID-19

Ali Schmidt, Director of Sales at Universal Studios Hollywood, shares her thoughts about the need for hospitality now more than ever.

Nationwide, hotels are nearly empty and the number of people traveling by airplane has dropped 96% amid the Coronavirus Pandemic. Concierge desks are closed, ticket booths are unstaffed, rental cars are parked and theaters shuttered.

Despite the pillars of the hospitality industry being closed, there is as much need for hospitality now as ever.

The first time I experienced real hospitality was at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek in Colorado. It was summer of 2001 and I was mountain biking. I’d come down off the mountain, bruised, covered in dust, and feeling rather out of place in a luxury hotel lobby, but I was famished for lunch. I asked the first staff member I could find, a doorman, for directions to the café. To my surprise, he said, “Come with me. I’ll show you the way.”

That experience sticks with me so many years later because it marked my a-ha moment about hospitality. The doorman didn’t just point me to the restaurant, which would have been easier, and frankly, a more common response. Instead, he went out of his way, left his post, and escorted me. He took out all the guesswork. He was charming as we bantered back and forth on the way. He made me feel comfortable despite being covered with dirt and feel valued even though I wasn’t a hotel guest, and, above all else, he helped me find a grab-and-go lunch.

The Hospitality Industry is where I have made my career for the last twenty-plus years. These days, as Director of Sales for Universal Studios Hollywood, I find myself in the best job on the planet. I build and nurture relationships with trade industry partners to promote and sell tickets to Universal Studios. It helps to sell such an awesome product as Universal, a product that I, myself, love.  

And, I’m not the only one! Trip Advisor guests have awarded Universal Studios Hollywood the top ranked theme park in California for the last three years running. That award is earned through the hard work of thousands of Team Members who work in our Park each day operating rides, selling doughnuts, facilitating character meet-and-greets, keeping everything clean, and so much more. This award was earned by our team members whom, like that doorman back in 2001, go the extra mile for our guests.

Hospitality is about making others feel welcome and comfortable. At Universal Studios Hollywood, that means anticipating the needs of guests before there is friction and, when friction happens, resolving it with surprising kindness. Hospitality ensures guests have the best day ever. But what does hospitality mean when the park is closed? How can Universal be hospitable when our gate is closed and we can’t welcome guests?

Hospitality in the time of COVID-19 is a lot like that doorman in Beaver Creek. He took me, when I was lost, bruised, and out of place and kindly guided me forward to sustenance.

That is the role of our Sales Team now - to turn to our industry partners and acknowledge these are strange times and we’re all a little lost. We’ve all sustained some bruises. Yet, together we will find our path forward by caring for one another, valuing one another, and anticipating how we can remove friction to ensure that future guests have the best day ever.

One day soon, the hotels will be full, the planes will fly, and the ticket offices will be open and busy. One day soon, guests will ride rides and make memories together.

We are the hospitality industry, but hospitality is more than a business category - it is our culture and it will fuel our recovery and our successes together.

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