James island resident Rachel Renney, a visitor planner at the Charleston Visitor Center. | Credit: Ruta Smith, Charleston City Paper

 Longtime James Island resident Rachel Renney likes talking with people.  In fact, she likes talking with people who visit the Charleston area so much that she jumped out of retirement to greet visitors at Explore Charleston’s downtown welcome center.

“There are no set patterns of questions that we get,” she said recently. “They’re not all interested in the same things.”

  • Can I drive to Fort Sumter?  (No, you have to take a boat.)  Even better:  Is there parking at Fort Sumter?  (Yes, but for the big tour boat.)
  • Tell me what to do.  (Well, that depends on what you want to experience.)
  • Where can I eat?  (We have lots of restaurants; what do you like?)
  • Tell me about the Dash shuttle? (It’s free and goes all over downtown.)
  • What is your favorite attraction? (Depends on whether you want to see nature or history or both).

Renney, who was the longtime national sales manager at The Mills House before retiring a couple of years ago, said where the fun starts for her is when she engages with guests and starts asking questions. At that point, her role as a Charleston greeter becomes more of a guide.  On any given half-day shift, she’ll talk with up to 50 people.

And what makes all of it fun is she’s able to provide visitors with what she’s learned over the years about the area she has called home since 1967.

A key to people’s hearts

Renney | Credit: Ruta Smith, Charleston City Paper

Renney’s early exposure to the hospitality industry showed it to be a good fit for her personality. Interacting with guests at a local seafood restaurant while she was a student provided a solid foundation.

“That’s where my passion for hospitality started,” she recalls.  After a few years, she started working full-time at a bank, but missed the energy in the hospitality industry. She remembers wanting to get back into selling food somehow. Eventually, she landed at one hotel and then went to another for several years where she got into group sales.

“You have to sell the food and beverage package with the rooms,” she said. “The way to people’s hearts is food and beverage. That’s how you make them happy.”

By the mid-1990s, she took a catering job at The Mills House, moved to group sales and eventually became the hotel’s national sales manager. In that role, she worked with groups that picked Charleston for meetings, big and small. She’d also help them organize meals, outings, parties and more. And that was exciting because it exposed her to the hotel’s full operations.  

One of her most memorable events was organizing the 2010 Medal of Honor Society convention for which more than 50 of the nation’s 84 living Medal of Honor recipients attended, she said.

Working in hospitality is incredibly rewarding, Renney said, adding that it is a perfect career for anyone in the Lowcountry who wants to engage with visitors and be challenged in a workplace.

“If you’re interested in the hospitality business and all that it offers, learn it from the ground up,” Renney advised. “Learn what makes it click.  And that’s good service.”

She said anyone interested in the food side of the industry might want to think about working in an organization’s banquet section because she thought the opportunities for advancement — as well as the money — were enticing.

“You get promotion opportunities.  Look for opportunities for advancement. You also get formal training  Room for advancement is priceless. But that doesn’t mean it is easy.”

Rewarding career

Renney said the hospitality industry provides incredible rewards for those who put their hearts into the job.  It provided her with a long, gratifying career as well as a more recent post-retirement opportunity that provides engagement with people and some extra pocket money.

“The money is incredible if you do it right, if you put your nose to the grindstone,” she said.  “Invest your time in your job. Learn all you can.”

Other benefits include meeting interesting people, including celebrities, she said.  

“I don’t regret the decision to go back to work. I look forward to working. I was missing colleagues. I was missing talking with visitors. Meeting new people and engaging with them – that’s what it’s about. That’s what keeps me going.”

SPONSORED CONTENT:  This story is made possible thanks to the support of Explore Charleston. To learn more about hospitality opportunities in the Charleston area, click here.

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