Casey Illig started her hotel career 17 years ago as a front-desk clerk. Now, she’s GM of the Fairfield Inn & Suites Columbus Airport and having lots of fun at the helm.
COLUMBUS, Ohio—Casey Illig has seen many opportunities come her way during her 17 years in the hotel industry. She’s risen from front-desk associate to director of sales to acting GM, and now she is the GM of the Fairfield Inn & Suites Columbus Airport.
Illig started her hotel career in 1999 as a part-time desk clerk to help pay for college.
“I was a ceramics major with a minor in art therapy,” she said. “That was my goal at one point: art therapy. When I was in college I needed money … and I just kept getting promoted.”
Illig went on to have a family during that time, and earning a master’s degree would have meant moving states away. She decided to stay and see where the hotel industry could take her.
“I was doing so well in the hotel industry, and I was having so much fun,” she said. “Every day is different. The people are great.”
Working at the front desk eventually took Illig into the role of acting GM to cover a maternity leave gap at a hotel. Her career progressed to more GM stints as well as a director of sales role. Now she’s back to GM at the Columbus Fairfield property, which is managed by First Hospitality Group and owned by Rockbridge and the Port Columbus International Airport that it’s adjacent to. She has been with the hotel since its opening in July 2014.
Happy team, happy guests
Illig said her management philosophy comes down to keeping a happy team who will then take care of happy guests.
“I had a lot of people in my career (in the past) who have hovered and micromanaged and made sure that everyone did everything exactly the way they wanted them to,” she said. “I’ve learned that if I take a step back … and you let them do the job that it seems to go a lot smoother and people are a lot happier.
“If my staff is happy, my guests are happy. If the guests are happy, they’re going to come back and we’re going to continue to make money.”
Illig said a happy team starts with finding the right hires in the first place.
“I’ve learned over time that I can teach you how to check somebody in and use the computer. I can’t teach you to be nice to people. I can’t teach you how to chitchat and small talk,” she said.
Illig looks for a great personality during the hiring process. Eye contact during interviews is a must, and laughter almost guarantees the job.
“Laughter is wonderful. If you laugh during an interview, you’re in,” she said between laughs. “If you’re looking at the floor and you’re nervous and no matter how many questions you go through you can’t get out of it, it’s just not going to work.
“Not everybody is meant for this industry. You have to really love people and have to be able to get yelled at for things that aren’t your fault and not take it personally,” Illig said, adding that it’s her team’s job to make guests a little happier than when they arrived on property.
All the smiles and laughter come down to the core of why Illig chose to stay in the hotel industry.
“Every day is different,” she said. “If you don’t like today, it doesn’t matter because tomorrow I’m going to have a whole new set of guests. I’m going to have a whole new set of experiences.”
Editor’s note: First Hospitality Group provided one complimentary roomnight at the hotel, where the interview for this story was conducted. Complete editorial control was at the discretion of the Hotel News Now editorial team; FHG had no influence on the coverage provided.