Tell us a bit about yourself and your role.
I’m the Director of Quality & Training for the Shangri-La & Traders Hotels Abu Dhabi. I have worked for Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts for 7 years in various roles and places.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Shangri-La, Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, one of the world’s premier hotel companies, currently owns and/or manages over 95 hotels under the Shangri-La brand with a room inventory of over 39,000. Over four decades the group has established its brand hallmark of ‘hospitality from the heart.’ The group has a substantial development pipeline with upcoming projects in mainland China, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Myanmar, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. For more information and reservations, please contact a travel professional or access the website at www.shangri-la.com.
What inspired you to pursue this line of work?
I’ve always been exposed to the Hospitality Industry as my grandfather was Director of Food & Beverage for American Airlines (back when they served real food on airplanes). We had great family travel perks and were able to take advantage of them on a regular basis while growing up.
As the self proclaimed party planner, I was always planning events and activities for my friends growing up. I thought I wanted to be an event planner, so I studied Hospitality & Tourism Management at Purdue University.
Where has your global career taken you?
I started with an internship for 6 months in Nanjing, China. In 2009, I moved to Qingdao, China where I started working for Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts as a Guest Relations Officer. After a year and a half, I was promoted to Quality Improvement Manager. I stayed for 3.5 years in Qingdao before moving to the Maldives as Quality Improvement Manager. I lived and worked in the Maldives for 2 years before I transferred to Abu Dhabi. After 9 months in Abu Dhabi, I took over the Training Department as well, so I’m currently Director of Quality & Training for both Shangri-La and Traders Hotels Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi.
How did you end up with an international career?
It was a total accident! I started in the hospitality industry after majoring in Hospitality & Tourism Management at Purdue University. Through Purdue I had the amazing opportunity to do an internship for 6 months in a 5 star hotel in China and I was hooked! Living and working in a 5 star hotel for 6 months was an incredible experience. We met the most amazing people from all over the world, traveled across China and learned what the real 5 star luxury experience is all about. Asian hospitality is on a completely different level.
Once I graduated, I worked in Chicago for a year and was bored and hated the cold weather! I had the opportunity to join Shangri-La as a Guest Relations Officer in Qingdao, China. I thought I would be gone a year, but here I am 7 years and 3 countries later with no intent to return to the US!
Did you have any global experiences prior to your first overseas assignment?
I had only volunteered with my youth group in Mexico every summer while in high school and had been on a family vacation to the Bahamas. Otherwise, most of our family travel was within the US (and we covered a lot of it!).
What are the benefits and struggles of working overseas?
The benefits are the ability to travel easily to far away places, a better vacation policy than the US, meeting all sorts of amazing people and having experiences that I never dreamt of. Plus all the great stories to tell when I go back home 🙂
The struggles are always saying goodbye to new friends as the life is very transient. I think once you’re an expat, you become addicted to the lifestyle and are always on the move or meeting people who are also on the go. It’s so easy to make good friends, but really hard to say goodbye to them! Of course, the real hardest part is the lack of Tex Mex…
What job/location has been your favorite so far?
Looking back, each location has been my favorite at the time. I’m glad I moved to China when I was 23 and started my overseas experience there. Shangri-La is a company rooted in Asian hospitality which cannot be compared to. The sense of sincerity and the genuine hospitality from the heart is deeply rooted in the Asian service culture.
After 3.5 years, it was time to go. Maldives was a country I hadn’t heard of until leaving the US but when I saw the photos on Shangri-La’s website, I immediately wanted to go…for a vacation. I wound up staying on a 3.2 km island in the middle of the Indian Ocean for 2 years. There was nothing on the island except the hotel, staff accommodation and of course, most importantly, the staff bar which was snugly nestled in the middle of the island jungle. The morning sunrises and the evening sunsets were the best part of living on that island and are ingrained in my brain forever. The water was stunning. It was definitely a struggle to “survive” but I’m so thankful to have been able to live on an island that might not exist in the future and that is in a place few people are lucky enough to visit.
Abu Dhabi is the ideal expat haven. It is a world of many cultures molded together into a harmonious, very unique environment. The UAE prides itself on being an inclusive, tolerant and respectful country where all cultures, nationalities, religions, etc are welcome with open arms. Living in Abu Dhabi is extremely easy when compared to other expat assignments. You can get everything you need here (except Twizzlers & Tex Mex), you can experience the most authentic or the most extravagant, and no matter where you go you always feel safe.
Where do you hope the future takes you?
I’m happy to stay in Abu Dhabi for a few years, but eventually I’d like to own a vineyard in Italy.
Katie McConville is a proud Boilermaker and Texan who caught the travel bug early on and hasn’t looked back since. She currently serves as the Director of Quality & Training for the Shangri-La & Traders Hotels Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and often says “every job is a self portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your work with excellence”.