What Are the Qualifications for the Travel Industry’s Weirdest Jobs?
From pro bed-warmers to “meerkat men,” the world of hospitality is full of gigs that require a very particular set of skills
In 2017, Viktoria Ivachyova caught the attention of cold-bed detractors everywhere when she began offering her services as the “world’s first” professional bed-warmer. Virtually unheard of prior to then, Ivachyova’s service delivered exactly what it purported to: for either a nightly or monthly rate, the then-21 year old would lie in a stranger’s bed for the singular purpose of warming it up for them.
It wasn’t just the nature of her work that had people talking, though. Ivachyova was reportedly charging £65 per night or £1,350 per month in exchange for her oddball service … and people were paying. It proved that not only did strange jobs like “professional bed-warmers” exist, but there was a market for it, too. A market that predated Ivachyova’s claims to pioneer status by nearly a decade, in fact.
Back in 2010, Holiday Inn piloted a human bed-warming service at three hotels across Great Britain. Similar to Ivachyova’s gig, a “willing” staff member would slip between the sheets donning a fleece sleeper suit and wait until the thermometer they carried read 68 degrees Fahrenheit (the ideal temperature of a bed, apparently) before making their exit. It was “a bit like having a giant hot water bottle in your bed,” a Holiday Inn spokeswoman told Reuters at the time.
In the year 2022, for a whole slew of reasons, bed-warmers aren’t exactly in high demand. But the fact that they exist at all is a testament to the fact that hospitality workers around the globe are asked to fulfill strange and obscure responsibilities to ensure that customers enjoy their stay.
And it doesn’t end with bed-warming. Hotels, resorts, restaurants and theme parks employ a whole host of odd job-doers, many of whom have graduated into those jobs via other, often unrelated jobs in the field. Kristin Klus, Guest Relations Manager and Chef Concierge of the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, got her start in hospitality with an audition at Disney for the role of Cinderella. After being deemed too tall for the role of the glass-slipper-wielding princess (by 1.25 inches, to be exact), she was offered a position at the concierge desk instead.
Ka’iulani Blankenfeld, who is currently the Fairmont Orchid’s Director of Hawaiian Culture, has had a similar career trajectory. She started out as the Assistant Director of Human Resources before transitioning into a role as Director of Recreation, where she helped to create a program centered around Hawaiian culture. As that program grew, it created demand for a new position that would allow guests the means to experience Hawai‘i’s rich cultural offerings on an even deeper level. Given her background — she was born and raised on the island of O‘ahu and can trace her genealogy back to the first Polynesians who settled in Hawai‘i, and is also a kumu hula (master teacher in the art of hula), lei maker and avid storyteller — Blankenfeld was asked to assume the role of Director of Hawaiian Culture in April 2019. Today, she oversees strategic initiatives to create and enhance the property’s Hawaiian presence, programs and practices.
Many of the more unique jobs in the travel industry are similarly location-specific. Case in point: meerkat men. Employed by Natural Selection’s Makgadikgadi lodges (Camp Kalahari, San Camp and Jack’s Camp), meerkat men are charged with developing and maintaining intimate personal connections to the local meerkats as part of a broader effort to ensure they remain comfortable around tourists.
Motlhokomedi Keitumetse started out as a casual worker at Jack’s Camp before becoming a meerkat man himself. After stepping in for another meerkat guide who was on leave, Keitumetse began reading books on meerkats and spending extensive time with them in Botswana’s Kalahari desert. Now, he spends virtually every waking moment — from sunup to sundown — interacting and existing with the meerkats as a member of their clan. He arrives at the clan’s den before they wake up, follows them everywhere they go throughout the day, and leaves only after they’ve fallen asleep.
The Shabbat Technician at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, too, is a role that requires a deep understanding of local culture, and also a particular skill set. In charge of helping Orthodox Jewish guests not use electricity on the Sabbath, his responsibilities include disconnecting the room’s electric drape opening/closing mechanisms on Friday afternoon and reconnecting them on Saturday night; affixing (and, later, removing) opening/closing rods for the drapes; providing actual room keys to guests for the Sabbath so that they don’t have to use their key cards (which require electricity); providing guests with light timers so that they’re able to set a time for the lights to turn off on Friday night; and transforming one of the hotel elevators on Friday afternoon into a “Shabbat elevator” that automatically stops on every floor, so that Orthodox guests don’t have to press floor-number buttons.
For Malsa Maaz and Kristin Smith, current Barefoot Bookseller at the Soneva Jani in the Maldives and Avian Curator at the Baha Mar in the Bahamas, their careers were years in the making. For her part, Maaz — a Maldives native — holds a Masters in Research in Engaged Anthropology from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and boasts an array of experience in other fields, including retail and hospitality. In addition to selling books, she also runs creative writing classes and biblio-dialogue sessions, offers private tutoring and hosts open reading sessions for guests in pursuit of a digital detox.
Similarly, Smith has a Bachelor’s in Zoology and held similar positions prior to joining the Baha Mar team, including Curator of Training and Husbandry at the Denver Aquarium and Assistant Curator of Animal Ambassadors at the Denver Zoo. With more than 30 years of experience in the field, she was an obvious candidate for a role that centers around bird acquisition and care — Smith works closely with local scientists to grow and nurture Baha Mar’s resident flock of flamingos — as well as corresponding guest programs.
But sometimes it’s truly as simple as just being in the right place at the right time. Harvey Makasa had plenty of hospitality experience to his name, but it was ultimately his scheduling availability that earned him the title of Fish Valet at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport. The hotel’s resident expert on fish storage, Makasa — or “keeper of the catch” as he’s come to be known — has overseen the 575-cubic-foot fish freezer since 2013, coordinating the arrival and departure of up to 200 lbs. of fish per guest and providing “a shoulder to lean on for [guests] who share stories of the one that got away.”
The list of obscure travel jobs goes on and on: there are soap and fragrance butlers, steamboat Calliopists, flying chefs, bee butlers and directors of pet relations (the latter of which is a black Labrador puppy named Laurel). In most cases, guests are probably unaware of the highly specific staffers operating behind the scenes — but it’s those very people who are often responsible for elevating a standard vacation into a truly exceptional one.
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