The College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management sat down for a career Q&A with tourism management alumna Laurie Savidge, director of operations at Marriott’s Grande Ocean on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Savidge earned her master’s degree in international hospitality and tourism management from the University of South Carolina and has been working with Marriott Vacations Woldwide for nearly 15 years.
How did you get to where you are now?
When getting my master’s degree at UofSC, Marriott International was interviewing for their Management Development / Voyager Program. I was flown to Marriott’s Corporate Headquarters in Washington D.C. for interviews and was subsequently hired for a guest care manager role in San Antonio, Texas. I was there for a year and a half before moving back to South Carolina to join the Vacation Ownership side of Marriott known as Marriott Vacation Club. I worked in front desk management roles (front of house) and at my last role, had the No. 1 front desk in Marriott Vacation Club for key metrics as department head of the largest resort on Hilton Head Island, Marriott’s Grande Ocean. I then transferred to the ancillary (back of house) side of the business as a food and beverage / activities manager at Marriott’s SurfWatch also on Hilton Head. At SurfWatch, I learned how to scale food and beverage, drive resort experience, and helped lead my teams to be number one in guest satisfaction and profitability. In 2020, I returned to Grande Ocean as director of operations. Since then, we have completed a full resort renovation of our 290 two-bedroom villas, encompassing 19 acres of coastline on Hilton Head Island.
What do you like most about your career?
What I like most about my career in hospitality is that it is a business truly focused on people — my associates, owners, guests and the community. It is fast paced, challenging, fun and extremely rewarding. To be able to provide an incredible vacation experience pays long lasting dividends to the countless individuals that visit our resorts and helps build the ever growing brand of vacation ownership.
How did your experience at the University of South Carolina impact your career?
My experience at the University of South Carolina made all the difference to my career success. During the time I was in graduate school, the paradigm shift of corporate citizenship, ESG (environmental, social and governance), and volunteer / eco-tourism were really starting to gain momentum. I earned my undergraduate degree in biology from South Carolina and found the concepts incredibly fascinating and couldn’t get enough. I could see the connection between being a good steward of the environment the resort was in and positively impacting all metrics of the business. That learned approach to sustainable hospitality management has become a cornerstone of my business leadership style and it has helped me achieve sustained success in associate engagement, guest experience and profitability.
What is one of the best experiences from your career journey so far?
The best moments of my career journey have been when I have been able to bring back to my team the results, accolades, and awards received for their hard work, focus and dedication. To see the smiles and pride on their faces knowing they had accomplished something no one else had will always stay with me. I have always said, it is only when those that I lead are successful in their career journeys, that I will also be successful.
Was there a particular colleague who has been influential in your career?
The leader I have had for the longest time in Marriott Vacation Club and that I learned the most from has been Case Spencer, general manager of Marriott’s SurfWatch. Case was my “North Star” as a new food and beverage / activities manager. He presented clear expectations for my role from the very beginning but also taught me the skills I needed to be successful. He sought excellence in all aspects of the vacation experience and of his entire leadership team. Year over year, he showed full trust in me and let me make key business decisions that impacted my department positively. He cares deeply for his resort, is a future thinker and very financially focused which helped form my approach to being a leader at Marriott Vacation Club.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in hotel management?
Take extremely good care of your team and show them authentic appreciation for their efforts. Make the most of every single learning opportunity you are given — no matter how big or how small. Take great responsibility in your actions because they can have far reaching impacts. If you love what you do, you will be successful at it and will be willing to put the time in to ensure everything is done with excellence. Be willing to do any and all jobs so you can build important relationships with your team and a toolkit of skills and understanding.