My amazing year
Martin Waters's career in the hotel trade started with bed-making. Now he's just won two top industry awards.
Not bad for a lad from North End, eh?’ he says with a smile on his face and a glint in his eye.
As he sits in the Marriott hotel at North Harbour, Martin Waters’s self-effacing humour makes light of what he has achieved in his career in hospitality and the accolades he has notched up in the past few months.
As sales director at the Marriott, Martin leads the staff that won both Team of the Year and Hospitality, Leisure and Tourism categories at The News Business Excellence Awards this year, and has since been named the Marriott’s European Property Sales Leader of the Year 2015 at an international ceremony which took place in Paris in March.
‘This year has been pretty amazing so far,’ he says with a hint of embarrassment. ‘It is always nice to be recognised for what you have achieved, but now I have to concentrate on doing better. It would be terrible if my career peaked at 35, wouldn’t it?’
Martin was born at Queen Alexandra Hospital, grew up at Hilsea and attended Northern Parade and City Boys’ schools before studying sports science and diet and nutrition at Highbury College.
‘I had loads of fun at school and really enjoyed it, but I could have done better academically,’ he admits.
‘Boys have a tendency to be disruptive and I was easily distracted. I didn’t get into trouble, it’s just that studying was not my top priority back then. I much preferred playing sport with my mates.’
At college he got a part-time job at the Marriott through his mother who worked (and still does, coming up for her 30th anniversary) in the accounts department. He made beds in housekeeping, served in the restaurant and helped out at events and conferences.
When the hotel discovered he had finished college he was offered a full-time role as meetings and events supervisor so he declined the place offered to him by the University of Chichester to train as a PE teacher and quickly progressed to assistant and then manager of the hotel’s conference and banqueting department.
At 24, Martin was feeling restless so decided to take a year out and travelled to New Zealand to stay with his sister who was doing a two-year teaching placement in Auckland. ‘That was very good for me,’ he says. ‘It gave me the opportunity to experience a different way of life, new culture and landscape. I loved my time there.’
After returning to Portsmouth unannounced (‘I just turned up on the doorstep and nearly gave my mum a heart attack!’) and rekindling his business contacts, Martin was offered the job of conference and banqueting manager at the De Vere Grand Harbour in Southampton.
In 2008, he joined Holiday Inn and in the following six years would hold operations and general manager positions at the brand’s Fareham and Southampton properties, as well as two years as the sales manager for all the company’s hotels for the Solent region.
During this time Martin married Emma, who he met while working at the Marriott before his travels, and started a family with the birth of their son Noah, in 2012. ‘We kept in touch while I was in New Zealand. She flew out for a month while I was there and when I got back, we became serious about making a life together. Because she works in hotels, she understands the job and is very supportive.’
In September 2014 Martin was asked to return to the Marriott, Portsmouth’s only four-star hotel, and it was there he feels he was given the opportunity to shine.
‘People often expect London to be on my CV, but I have managed to avoid working there. For me, it’s too busy, too crowded and you can easily get lost among a lot of people. There is plenty of opportunity here in the south and I think I have been able to build my reputation and experience with greater ease than it would have been in London.’
At the end of 2015 Marriott Portsmouth recorded the best financial performance in its 32-year history in the city and has been receiving plaudits ever since. When Martin received his award in Paris, he was overwhelmed. ‘I had a feeling the hotel would get some sort of recognition, but I had no idea I would be personally getting an award. It was surreal. I was in front of more than 500 people from 19 hotel brands across the whole of Europe receiving praise from Marriott bosses and I thought ‘‘ this actually happening?’’’
So what is it like to have a career in hospitality?
‘It is tough at the start,’ Martin admits. ‘To make a name for yourself you have to put in a lot of anti-social hours, make sacrifices and work really hard, but the rewards are there if you stay the course.
‘You have to have the right temperament, attitude and personality. But if you have aspiration and ambition, it is quickly recognised in the hospitality industry. However, you need to be adaptable, flexible and gain as much experience as you can, good and bad, to refer to as you move forward in your career.’
He adds: ‘For me, it is a love of people – meeting guests, visitors and working with different teams. You do tend to stay in touch with people you’ve worked with and everyone in the industry becomes part of a large extended family. I have my work friends and then those I grew up with since school who I watch football with. I don’t consciously keep them apart – it’s like two different worlds and I feel lucky to have them both.’
On the age-old question of hotels in Portsmouth, Martin can’t help but let out a little sigh. ‘There is always someone shouting about the need for new and luxury hotel accommodation in the city and the truth is, with the huge increase in budget accommodation recently, there isn’t the year-round business at the moment.
‘It might be that officials want the hotels to attract business, but that involves financial risk for the hospitality brands that have the resources to consider it.
‘What Portsmouth needs is a purpose-built property designed for conferences of more than 500 people that is slick, modern and accessible. That would be the beacon for people outside the city to see, but it isn’t happening. Conversions of old sites and cheap offerings won’t achieve what we need, so I don’t understand the city’s current strategy for the future.’
And what about Martin’s own future? ‘In the short-term, the hotel is going through a refurbishment for the next 12 months, so that will be exciting, while presenting inevitable challenges.
‘Whether I stay in sales or go back into a management position depends on the opportunities available at the time I think I am ready.
‘I would never have dreamed I would be where I am now when I was at school, but I do remember visiting my mum at work as a boy, going into the hotel and being in awe of the place.
‘I was so proud and excited, so may be that has some influence?
‘Now my son is exactly the same, so who knows?’