How do you run a hotel with rooms spread throughout Amsterdam? And what skills are useful for this? Margot Vlek [F 2011] offers a glimpse into her life as the GM of Hotel the Exchange and the unique SWEETS hotel in Amsterdam.
I did my management internship at Lloyd Hotel & Cultural Embassy in Amsterdam. At that time, the management was setting up Hotel The Exchange - a 1 to 5 star hotel with rooms dressed by students from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute in the center of Amsterdam. I was then asked to work as an Assistant GM during the (pre-)opening of the hotel.
This was an enormously educational period, where I laid the foundation for an intensive collaboration with Suzanne Oxenaar and Otto Nan. A few months after the opening of Hotel The Exchange, together with Carlijn Kuiper - who set up the breakfast café at the hotel - I seized the opportunity to become General Manager of Hotel The Exchange and Café Stock. As a 21-year-old, I was the youngest female General Manager in the country. That's when the adventure really began! In the five years that followed, we set up a fantastic hotel and after that it was time for something new: SWEETS hotel. All this time, the idea from the management to turn Amsterdam's bridge houses, which were no longer in use, into hotel rooms was in play. This involved so much more than setting up a 'normal' hotel; suddenly I was not only a General Manager but also a contractor, designer and interior stylist. Something like SWEETS hotel did not yet exist and we had to figure out everything ourselves.
In March 2018, SWEETS hotel officially opened with 11 bridge houses dotted throughout the city. Since then, we have continued to renovate and currently, 22 bridge houses are bookable as hotel rooms. During my time at SWEETS hotel, I maintained an advisory role at Hotel The Exchange. When the pandemic broke out in 2020, I made sure that we could keep two companies open with a small and very flexible team. Since June 2020, I have been the General Manager of SWEETS hotel as well as Hotel The Exchange again.
In addition to leading the teams of SWEETS hotel and Hotel The Exchange, I ensure the quality of service and the concepts remain safeguarded. Additionally, I find it very important that the employees feel at home in the companies. With great attention to people, I create a place where different cultures feel safe. The broad knowledge I have gained over the years I use to guide (young!) talents in their development.
My biggest challenge so far has been setting up and marketing a hotel that is dotted across the city and has no reception or lobby. SWEETS hotel is a very innovative concept where everything had to be thought out and invented from scratch. Not only did the bridge houses lack addresses (!), but it was also impossible to establish an internet connection. In addition, we faced very practical questions, such as: 'How can guests open their door?', 'How are the bridge houses cleaned?', 'How do you reach a bridge house that is in the middle of the Amstel?', and 'Where do guests eat?'. The period after the pandemic, where I managed to get both hotels running at full strength again with a significantly reduced team, I found very challenging.
The most important skills I learned at HMSM are collaboration and participation; achieving something together.
My best memory of studying at HMSM is my Rooms Division practical internship in Shanghai. A world opened up to me by being self-reliant in a city on the other side of the world, in a totally unknown culture, where body language was often the only common language. It was a wonderful experience and I still use the skills I acquired there daily in my work.
I am looking forward to the future with an open mind, as I have always done.
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Margot Vlek [F 2011] offers a glimpse into her life as the GM of Hotel the Exchange and the unique SWEETS hotel in Amsterdam.