The best way to explore this industry is to work in a hotel after school or during summer vacations. Although you may not land a desk clerk position, you may be hired as a waiter, waitress, dining-room attendant, or for a housekeeping position. You will be able to talk to people in the industry and learn the pros and cons of each job. If you can't find a job in the hotel industry, you might consider asking your school counselor to arrange an information interview with someone working in the field.
In general, hotel desk clerks are responsible for welcoming guests to a hotel and providing customer service during their stay. They also keep the hotel's information systems up to date. Many hotels now keep detailed information on their guests—such as the reason for their stay, their likes, and dislikes—and use this information for future marketing needs. Depending on the type or size of the hotel, they may also be responsible for working the switchboard, bookkeeping, house banks and petty cash, daily bank deposits, and recoding key cards. In addition, they must keep the front desk area clean and presentable. Their main duties can be separated into four categories: process reservations, register the guest, serve as primary guest liaison, and process guest departure.
Desk clerks, or more specifically, reservation clerks, handle the duties of guest reservations, most often over the phone as well as via e-mail. They determine if the requested date is available, quote rates, record advance deposits or prepayments, confirm room reservations, and describe policies and services to guests. Reservation clerks, when dealing with reservation discrepancies, may have to retrieve hotel records or change or cancel the reservation to resolve the problem to the guest's satisfaction. Reservation clerks must also analyze the guest's special needs while at the hotel and relay them to the proper department.
After greeting the guest, desk clerks obtain and verify the required registration information, such as the guest's name, address, and length of stay. A credit card is usually required as a deposit or guarantee. Once the paperwork is done, room keys or key cards are issued, and guests are directed to their rooms.
Desk clerks often act as a buffer between the hotel and the guest. When guests have problems, have special requests, or encounter difficulties, they usually turn to the most visible person for help—the desk clerk. Some services provided to guests are laundry and valet requests, wake-up calls, and delivery of mail or messages. Clerks may also provide general information regarding the hotel or surrounding community. Their most important task, however, is to quickly address requests and complaints or to redirect the guest to the proper department.
In some lodging establishments, a guest can choose to settle his or her account while in the room via the express, or video, checkout. Room charges are tallied on screen and charged to the customer's credit card. Desk clerks settle video checkouts at the end of the day, and send folios to the guest's home address. However, many people still choose to personally check out at the front desk. After verifying and explaining all room charges, the desk clerk can begin to settle the guest's account. Sometimes, if credit authorization is declined, the clerk may have to politely negotiate an alternate method of payment. After thanking the guest and listening to any comments, positive or negative, the desk clerk can move on to the next customer or task.