By Kurt Campbell
More than four decades ago, a young Petal Elizabeth Ridley walked in for her first job in the local hotel industry. The hotel? The Trust House Forte Group of Hotels, now known as the Pegasus Hotel, in Kingston, Georgetown.
There, she started off working as a telephonist (an operator of a switchboard) and stayed in the position for one year before moving into the receptionist position.
It was while working at the front desk that she developed a passion for the job – a passion that would later land her a national award.
“At first it seemed hard and difficult but with time and application and constant training, it was easy.
“I got to love this job over a period of time because I was exposed to various training – training at the highest level.
“[While working as a receptionist], I had a longing or a yearning to not be satisfied with being a receptionist. So, I would study.”
By 1994, Ridley was appointed as the Assistant Front Office Manager, moving her into management.
“Management is good…I took my time to understand the operations of the front office.”
“Forecasting of a hotel was one of my top priorities
“I love to overbook a hotel, I like to play with numbers… I overlooked the hotel several times and we came out very well.”
Throughout her 47 years in the profession, Ridley worked in several departments, gaining experience in concierge, laundry, housekeeping, and security.
“I also acted as Chief Security Officer. Can you believe that, me being in charge of some strong men? It was a rewarding experience!”
Ridley would go on to be appointed Front Office Manager, all while being exposed to external training and exchanges with several regional hotels including the Sandy Lane hotel in Barbados, the Jamaica Pegasus and the Bahamas Hotel.
With a flair premised on her confidence in her own talent, Ridley is now a strong advocate for the delivery of good service and adherence to standards.
“Service is important to me. You have to understand it and have a certain attitude in order to meet your altitude.
“If you don’t have that attitude and flair with style, it means you simply don’t have the love … you have to be a people’s persons. If you are not, then you are in the wrong business.”
But there are diversions to Ridley’s story, a deviation that would allow her to work across the spectrum and one that would play up her innate appetite for helping the less fortunate.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
After moving on to the Ocean View Hotel, where she racked up 14 years of unbroken service in senior management and serving on several tourism bodies, including the Tourism and Hospital Association of Guyana (THAG) and the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA), Ridley retired from working in the hotel industry and decided to be an entrepreneur.
“I decided that I was time for Petal to be Petal, for Petal to be that entrepreneur.”
As such, Petal Spectacular Events was birthed, a company that deals with transportation, conference booking, event planning and decorations and training.
On demand, Ridley returned to the hotel industry – this time taking up a managerial position at the Ramada Princess Hotel in 2010. She currently works as the Director of sales and marketing at the Providence, East Bank Demerara location.
She is the recipient of a National Award – the Medal of Service – received in 2019 from then President David Granger. Ridley explained that this was surprising to her.
“A number of persons approached me over the years to give them background on me and what I had done… I never took anyone seriously until recently… but when it was announced I was definitely surprised.”
She made the list of national awardees and received the accolade as an acknowledgment of merit for her sterling contributions to the hotel industry in Guyana.
Contribution to Tourism
While employed in the industry, she was always prominent in not only promoting the hotel but the tourism industry as a whole.
She believes that her service in the industry, both working for several hotel brands and her contributions to tourism bodies, have helped to change the face of tourism but her credit is shared and heaped on the support of her colleagues.
“Petal Ridley alone cannot do anything.”
She said while working for the tourism bodies, she always thought it was necessary for people to understand that the human resource was most important to tourism.
“We did our best to implement strategic training across the board, not only for frontline workers but for the gardener and everyone…we need to start a curriculum in schools so that the smallest child will be able to talk about tourism,” she added.
Ridley believes Guyana’s tourism product today is a good one but her concerns are with infrastructure.
“The product is there we have to be able to sell it to the right people.”
Ridley was not just confined to her work in the hospitality sector but served and continues to serve in many other capacities. She is regarded in this sense as a philanthropist.
She served within the Junior Chamber International (JCI – Guyana) in various capacities, on the Salvation Army Board and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
She is well known for her volunteerism as part of the Lions Club where she has been a member since 1999 and is the founder member of the Diamond Grove Lions Club.
She has definitely served with distinction, and now looking back at the 47 years of her professional life, Ridley says the highlight is the impact she has made on her peers and colleagues.
She said her high point will always be customer satisfaction.
“Looking at their faces and knowing they are pleased with the output that’s my highlight.”
“I was very gratified and always remain humble when I would meet my staff from yesteryear, more so those living abroad, and they would say, ‘Ms. Ridley, hadn’t it been for your principled position and your training I would not have made it in the United States.’ I am gratified by those remarks.”
Editor’s Note: The spotlight is being placed on Ms. Petal Elizabeth Ridley’s accomplishments as part of a series of stories focusing on the contributions of individuals to Guyana’s tourism and hospitality industry as Tourism Awareness Month is being observed this November.