In 2017, Viktoria Ivachyova caught the eye of cold bed haters everywhere when she began offering her services as the world’s “first” professional bed warmer. Virtually unknown before, Ivachyova’s service delivered exactly what it claimed: for a nightly or monthly fee, the 21-year-old would lie in a stranger’s bed for the sole purpose of warming it up for them.
It wasn’t just the nature of his work that got people talking. Ivachyova reportedly charged £65 a night or £1,350 a month for her quirky service… and people were paying. It proved that not only did weird jobs like “professional bed warmers” exist, but there was also a market for them. A market that predated Ivachyova’s claims to pioneer status by nearly a decade, in fact.
In 2010, Holiday Inn piloted a human bed warming service at three hotels across Britain. Similar to the Ivachyova concert, a “willing” staff member slipped between the sheets in fleece pajamas and waited for the thermometer he wore to read 68 degrees Fahrenheit (the ideal temperature for a bed, apparently) before to get out. It was “kind of like having a giant hot water bottle in your bed,” a Holiday Inn spokeswoman told Reuters at the time.
In 2022, for a whole host of reasons, bed warmers aren’t exactly in high demand. But the fact that they exist speaks to the fact that hospitality workers around the world are being asked to take on strange and obscure responsibilities to make sure guests enjoy their stay.
And it doesn’t stop at warming the bed. Hotels, resorts, restaurants, and theme parks employ a slew of odd jobs, many of whom earned their degrees in these jobs through other jobs often unrelated to the field. Kristin Klus, Guest Relations Manager and Head Concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, made her hospitality debut with a Disney audition for the role of Cinderella. After she was deemed too tall for the role of the princess wielding glass slippers (1.25 inches, to be exact), she was offered a job at the janitorial instead.
Ka’iulani Blankenfeld, who is currently director of Hawaiian culture at the Fairmont Orchid, has had a similar career trajectory. She started as an assistant director of human resources before becoming director of recreation, where she helped create a program centered on Hawaiian culture. As this program grew, it created demand for a new position that would allow guests to experience the rich cultural offerings of Hawai’i on an even deeper level. Given her origins – she was born and raised on the island of O’ahu and can trace her genealogy back to the early Polynesians who settled Hawai’i, and is also a dance teacher (master teacher in the art of the hula), lei maker and avid storyteller – Blankenfeld was asked to take on the role of Hawaiian Culture Director in April 2019. Today, she oversees strategic initiatives to create and strengthen the property’s Hawaiian presence, programs and practices. .
Many of the most unique jobs in the travel industry are also location specific. Example: meerkat men. Employed by Natural Selection’s Makgadikgadi lodges (Camp Kalahari, San Camp and Jack’s Camp), meerkat men are responsible for developing and maintaining intimate personal bonds with local meerkats as part of a larger effort to ensure that they remain comfortable with tourists.
Motlhokomedi Keitumetse started out as a casual worker at Jack’s camp before becoming a meerkat himself. After replacing another meerkat guide who was on leave, Keitumetse began reading books about meerkats and spending a lot of time with them in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. Now he spends virtually every waking moment – from sunrise to sunset – interacting and existing with the meerkats as part of their clan. He arrives at the clan’s lair before they wake up, follows them wherever they go throughout the day, and leaves only after they fall asleep.
The Shabbat Technician at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem is also a role that requires a deep understanding of the local culture, as well as a particular skill set. Responsible for assisting Orthodox Jewish guests do not using electricity on the Sabbath day, his responsibilities include unplugging the electrical mechanisms for opening/closing the curtains in the bedroom on Friday afternoon and reconnecting them on Saturday evening; fix (and, later, remove) the rods for opening/closing the curtains; providing room keys to Sabbath guests so they don’t have to use their key cards (which require electricity); provide customers with light timers so they can set the time the lights will turn off on Friday evening; and transforming one of the hotel’s elevators on Friday afternoons into a “Shabbat elevator” that automatically stops on each floor, so Orthodox guests don’t have to press numbered buttons.
For Malsa Maaz and Kristin Smith, currently barefoot bookseller at Soneva Jani in the Maldives and avian curator at Baha Mar in the Bahamas, their careers have spanned years. For his part, Maaz – originally from the Maldives – holds a research master’s degree in engaged anthropology from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and has extensive experience in other fields, including retail and l ‘hotel. In addition to selling books, she also hosts creative writing classes and library-dialogue sessions, offers one-to-one lessons, and hosts open reading sessions for guests seeking a digital detox.
Likewise, Smith has a bachelor’s degree in zoology and held similar positions before joining the Baha Mar team, including Curator of Training and Breeding at the Denver Aquarium and Assistant Curator of Ambassadors for the animals at the Denver Zoo. With over 30 years of experience in the field, she was an obvious candidate for a role focused on the acquisition and care of birds – Smith works closely with local scientists to develop and maintain the resident flock of flamingos of Baha Mar – as well as the corresponding guest programs.
But sometimes it’s as simple as being in the right place at the right time. Harvey Makasa had a lot of hospitality experience under his belt, but it was ultimately his scheduling availability that earned him the title of Fish Valet at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport. The hotel’s resident fish storage expert, Makasa — or “catch keeper” as he became known — has overseen the 575-cubic-foot fish freezer since 2013, coordinating arrivals and departures of up to 200 lbs. of fish per guest and offering “a shoulder to lean on to [guests] who share the stories of the one who got away.
The list of obscure travel jobs goes on and on: there are soap and perfume butlers, steamboat calliopists, flying chefs, bee butlers, and animal relations directors. company (the last being a black Labrador puppy named Laurel). In most cases, guests are probably unaware of the very specific staff members operating behind the scenes, but it is these same people who are often responsible for turning a standard vacation into a truly exceptional one.
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