I always wanted to work in accommodation, particularly backpackers, as I believe it keeps you young and I knew work would never be dull! I worked just up the road from Blue Mountains YHA – managing a high end outdoor clothing and equipment store (Mountain Designs).
I had started off as assistant manager in 2008 at their sister brand, Columbia Sportswear in ‘Outdoor Alley’ in the city. Then, I got promoted to duty manager of Columbia and Mountain designs in Bondi Junction, and again to Manager of Mountain Designs Katoomba.
In my first year managing the Katoomba store, I was nominated for rookie manager of the year and managed to double the profit of the franchise. In a few years, I had achieved everything I'd set out to do and there and there wasn’t much room for movement or anything keeping me engaged in the role anymore. Not too long after, the ad for deputy manager for Blue Mountains YHA came up on Seek...
Knowing already that the staff turnover for the property was very low, I took this as a sign to finally get a foot in the door into what I’d always wanted to do, and with the most well-known hostelling brand in the country, too! What luck! I got my resume and relevant documentation ready and walked down the road to introduce my-self personally to Bronwen, the manager at the time - and the rest is history!
My current role at YHA is area manager of regional NSW and ACT. I like everything about the role, but the difference between this and my last role that particularly excites me is to be working with EVEN more people! I’m passionate about people, and one of my favourite things is to see people have wins, grow, overcome obstacles and gain confidence.
If you look carefully, it happens all around in big and small ways, and if I can play a small part in helping fulfill or facilitate this happening, I get a real kick out of it! It then inspires me to do my job better and when I’m having a bad day or an issue that seems hard to overcome - I can draw on those thoughts and experiences and get through those tasks more efficiently by turning a negative into a positive.
There are so many things that makes this property special, but I believe the biggest thing is that people feel so at home here. We regularly have people call it their 'home away from home', and for myself and the amazing team here, there is no praise higher than that!
The guests we have staying at the property are so varied, and we have everyone from all types of families to the solo adventurer and everything in between. With so much space and such diverse guests, people can choose to mingle and meet people, or just curl up in a corner with a book or chill by the fire.
We are very well equipped at the YHA with different rooms that can be used for functions or activities and we have a great mix of different types of private and dorm style accommodation. We've been able to maintain an even line of keeping the place modern without forgetting our heritage theme, and the art deco look of the hostel when you walk in for the first time always takes you pleasantly by surprise.
I have many hobbies (too many!). I love gardening, particularly succulents, so there’s many arrangements dotted around the hostel and I even give some to guests to take home if we happen to be chatting about them (I love that you only have to buy a couple and then grow everything for free from the main plants).
I’m a qualified fitness instructor and personal trainer, so in summer, we run a free fitness class for inhouse guests for anyone who wants to join in. I still remember one class I ran where we had a group staying of army personnel who all signed up and it was the one time that my ever reliable no matter what, rain hail or shine long-term guest decided not to join in! [laughs]
I feel lucky to be working in a property smack-bang in the middle of the adventure capital of Australia and within a heritage national park as well! The local area offers everything you will ever need in terms of commodities and entertainment, but everyone still knows everyone locally, so you also get the small country town feel.
For myself, having grown up here, I love to be able to go for a ride, or wander into the bush for a few hours to recharge and many locals and guests feel the same. People mill about in the evening discussing their next hike and giving each other tips and ideas, and making lifelong friends. For me this is a demonstration of what YHA does for people and it's wonderful to watch.
I have travelled all up and down the east and south of Australia many many times, sometimes camping on road trips, sometimes in premium hotels and each trip has been special in its own way. One standout point was when I saw a baby koala in the wild for the first time on Magnetic Island while doing the Forts walk (I also held koalas there – which we aren’t allowed to do in NSW – so that was pretty special).
Another time, in Melbourne, I attended a wildlife show and we all got to hold a red-tail black cockatoo. I had recently died my hair bright red, and when it was my time to hold the cockatoo, he got super excited about my hair and did a big dance on my arm and the owner filmed it. That was pretty special.
I loved my most recent road trip to South Australia and Kangaroo Island (visited only a few months before the tragic bushfires). I did everything from visiting one of the country’s most famous wineries to seeing some of the most unspoilt beach and lagoon areas I have ever seen. Some required bush bashing, obtaining locals' knowledge and lots of trial and error, but laying in a beautiful, calm lagoon, listening to the waves only a few metres away and watching the colourful fish and starfish sitting with you was something I'll never forget.
People, passion, proud.
I love the people. The guests make every day interesting. Backpackers generally are so fun-loving and easy to accommodate. They bring about a vibrancy and level of excitement that you would not see in other accommodation style providers.
Working in a team in an accommodation setting is different to any other industry. We see each other at all hours of the day and night. We laugh and cry together and we have a bond tighter than in most other industries. This past year affected by COVID-19 aside (which no one could have foreseen and is no one's fault), the passion from the teams has always been positive and contagious. This has been the theme when talking with YHA staff, and form the results of our employee engagement surveys.
When I am asked what I do for a living, I am proud to tell them my role and the organisation I work for. We are more than just a bed!