Emily Gilson-Jones, 19, who works at the five-star Pan Pacific London hotel in the City, came second out of 10 finalists at a ceremony at Hotel Café Royal in Regent Street on 14 November.
She said: “It’s a huge shock to be named as one of the best receptionists in the UK, but one of the best achievements of my career so far.
“When they announced the second runner-up as the girl from Four Seasons, I thought I haven’t got a chance, but then they announced me as the first runner-up. Suddenly, they handed me a certificate and I was in tears. I’m still gobsmacked to be honest. It has only just started to sink in.”
Emily achieved a triple-starred Distinction in her Hospitality Level 3 Diploma at WestKing in 2021 and was one of two students to share the college’s Best Hospitality Student of the Year award that year.
She began her hospitality career working part-time in front and back of house roles at the Roslin Beach Hotel in her hometown of Southend-on-Sea while she was studying at college.
After finishing her diploma, Emily worked as a Private Events Waitress for The Connaught in Mayfair before joining Pan Pacific London as a Front Desk Agent in March this year.
“I loved my time at WestKing. Even when everything went online during the pandemic, we were still doing all our classes and working as a team and all of the college tutors supported us,” she said.
“By the time it came to the graduation ceremony I couldn’t believe it was over. I wanted to stay on for another two years and do it all again.”
Emily was among a group of students at WestKing who provided catering and hospitality for a schools’ event at 10 Downing Street to mark International Women’s Day just prior to lockdown.
“I remember thinking this is quite overwhelming but really cool, I’m 16 years old and I am having the opportunity to do this,” said Emily, who along with other students met then Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other political figures on the day.
“My connection at The Connaught was also through the college. If I hadn’t gone to WestKing I wouldn’t be where I am now, because if The Connaught wasn’t on my CV I wouldn’t have got the opportunity at Pan Pacific.
“I’m working at a five-star hotel, which wouldn’t have happened if I had just walked out of school with A Levels and then decided I wanted to work in hospitality. WestKing gave me my first real stepping stone on my hospitality journey. I wouldn’t change it.”
Emily learnt she was among the finalists in October following an interview with AICR UK committee members after she was nominated by Nicole Cechmann, Front of House Manager at Pan Pacific.
“The team I work alongside at Pan Pacific is one of the best teams I’ve ever worked in,” said Emily.
“For a business to be successful you need to work as a team, and when you get on with the team you work with, it makes it so much easier.
“It’s also nice when guests are checking in and excited about their stay, and when they leave and they tell you their experience has lived up to or gone beyond their expectations. That is probably one of the most rewarding things. It’s the reason we work in the industry.”
The AICR (Amicale Internationale des Sous Directeurs et Chefs de Réception des Grand Hôtel) was founded by the receptionists of several hotels on the Côte d’Azur in France in 1964.
AICR UK was formed when the Association of Front Office Management (UK) joined the AICR in 1989, three years after the association was established in 1986.
Liane Bhalla, Lecturer in Hospitality, Food and Beverage and Supervision, said: “We are all super proud that Emily has finished as the first runner-up in the AICR Best Receptionist UK 2022.
“At college she showed huge potential. She was always bubbly and enthusiastic, going above and beyond what was required of her in her assignment and practical sessions in the training restaurants and happy to volunteer to take part in other events. She was clearly destined for a fantastic career in hospitality.”