Cheeky carpenter carves an unexpected career in customer service
Funny, chatty and cheeky, James Barber is the kind of co-worker who makes Monday mornings a whole lot brighter.
James started out as a Bellman at Inns of Banff in summer 2014. Today, he’s a Front Desk Supervisor at the 244-room hotel, overseeing a team of six to ensure a great guest experience.
“A bit of banter brightens people’s days,” James says. “If your team is happy with who they’re working with, it makes the whole environment that much better.”
A carpenter by trade, James traded wood carving for snow carving in 2012, when he moved to Canada from Essex, UK, in search of adventure in the mountains. Previously working in retail, construction and labour roles back home, James never expected to work in customer service.
But not only has he risen to the challenge, he’s kept his whole team smiling along the way.
“I’m probably the joker of the team. That’s interesting when you’re the Supervisor,” he laughs.
When asked how his co-workers would describe him, it’s easy to see he brings personality to his role – with a good dose of comic relief and lighthearted fun.
“I’d hope they’d say funny – and I’m sure they’d say chatty, and a bit cheeky. When it’s quiet, I’ll play little pranks on the team. It’s about finding the boundary between being friends and working together, while keeping things fun.”
For James, working at Inns of Banff has been a great opportunity to gain new skills in a different industry, to experience life in a celebrated travel destination, and to get to know the hotel and the town itself on a deep level.
So how did a carpenter make that transition to hotel customer service?
“I had worked a lot of nights in other roles before, like taking deliveries for retail jobs, and had done lifting type work with labouring. And I love a good chat, of course, so it’s quite a good fit.”
“Then it was a good transition from bellman to front desk, because I knew the whole property inside out. I’d walked the corridors so many times, done extra maintenance work around the buildings, and been into rooms to deliver and collect guests’ bags so often,” James says.
There’s also been a lot to learn – and he takes it in his stride with characteristic good humour.
“I like to be moving around in my work, so at first I thought it might be challenging to be behind the desk. But there’s always something to keep you busy. On one recent Friday night, we had as many as 140 check-ins, so you’re always thinking and moving.”
And the best part of the job? It’s the people, of course!
“If you ask anyone on the desk, one of the best things about coming to work is the team that we have. We’re very close, and we all socialise outside of work – that’s something I’ve always liked to do,” James says.
“I met one of my best friends here – he’s from Essex as well. When I started as a Bellman, he started on Front Desk, and he ended up training me on Front Desk too. So we’ve been on a similar kind of path. We lived in staff accom for a few weeks together, we’d come here for a ski season, we fell in love with the place and now we’re both hoping to stay long-term.”
James also loves the opportunities to catch up with returning guests, particularly from home.
“It’s great to see people come back, year after year. There is a particular couple who stay here every season, and it was a cool moment when we worked out that they live two streets from where I grew up,” James says.
“I also met a family who are neighbours of a friend from home, and they’ve visited every March since I’ve worked here. Each time they visit Banff, we go out for dinner or bowling. It’s a lot of fun to meet people here that you’d never expect.”
When he’s not working, James loves playing football (soccer), hiking, snowboarding and discovering new places – and hanging out with the team, of course.
Like many young travellers, James intended to visit Canada just for one ski season. Six years later, he has applied for Permanent Residency – and there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.
So, does he see himself trading carpentry for hospitality, long-term?
“I’d like to think so. My managers advised that the next step for me is management. I’m starting to work towards a Front Office Manager position, doing little bits of work in the back office and seeing other sides of things,” James says.
“It’s nice to know I have their backing, that they think I’m ready for it. I think they would still agree that I’m the joker of the team,” he grins.
Wherever the future takes James, we know his teams will be lucky to have him – and they’ll always know where to go for a good laugh and a chat!
Want to join colleagues like James as part of our friendly team? Find out more about career opportunities with Banff Lodging Co. properties, such as Inns of Banff, on our careers page.