Joela Calhoun, Director of Fun Hilton Grand Vacations Club at MarBrisa Grand Pacific Resorts
Joela Calhoun was recently named the top Activities Program Manager in ARDA’s annual awards competition in the Activities Program Manager category. Joela is the Director of Fun for the 284-unit Hilton Grand Vacations Club at MarBrisa in Carlsbad, California. Managed by Grand Pacific Resorts, the resort has about 7,000 owners.
She has been in her position since November 2016 and with GPR since August 2015 when she was hired as an activities attendant. Although she says she has no special training in her position, this super caring lady has a BA in Sociology from California State University San Marcos and an MA in Human Services from National University. She previously worked as a social worker with emotionally and behaviorally challenged teens in a residential setting and also with developmental and physically challenged adults.
This super energetic Pied Piper has personally created and single-handedly directs over 32 activities every week. Many of the activities are complimentary; some have a nominal fee. Her daily duties involve ordering and organizing needed materials, setting up for each event as well as personally conducting every activity. Sometimes she even rolls up her sleeves and helps youngsters and seniors as they work on special crafts, ensuring true participant satisfaction.
According to Megan Conner, General Manager of the MarBrisa Resort, “Joela.is a true asset to the activities department. She is consistently mentioned on Trip Advisor for outstanding performance and has a special ability to connect with her guests to create memorable experiences that last a lifetime.”
Guests and owners learn about the activities by a weekly calendar, which is handed out to everyone upon check in and displayed on the front desk, in the lobby, at each activity and at other locations around the resort. There are usually 25-30 owners and guests in attendance for each event, depending on season, but generally, there is something going on every single day. Just a small selection includes Birdhouse Painting, Loom Bracelet Making, Discover Hike, Root Beer Floats, Cotton Ball Relay, and Candy Sushi.
When a corporate “secret shopper” recently attended an activity, it resulted in superb ratings. Our Director of Fun and her activity programs were mentioned with high praise at least 60 times this past year, a dozen times in November alone, establishing a record for any resort staff member.
Ensuring guest satisfaction is a breeze for this delightful lady. If it happens that someone misses a scheduled activity, she takes the time to customize their vacation and finds time to set up a private session so they are not disappointed. To ensure time for this, she has wisely left an hour between activities. From seniors to toddlers, our Pied Piper loves the interactive role she plays. When someone says they are not creative, she simply sits down and works right alongside the guest as they complete the craft, saying she enjoys helping them be creative. She gets a real thrill when families return and remember her from past vacations.
Joela and husband Bret have two daughters and three grandchildren. When not helping resort crafters, she enjoys family time and taking long walks on the beach with her doggies or hiking trails.
It’s no surprise that customer service scores have improved by 10 points in the past year, clearly reflecting her involvement. From making candy sushi with kiddies to helping guests create “succulent boxes” with live plants or paint personalized wine glasses, Joela Calhoun guides each craft, while also adding a bit of sunshine to everyone’s day.
Commented one guest on Trip Advisor, “Joela represents the very core of good customer service, projecting more of a welcoming personable experience instead of the cold, disconnected and hurried service usually found in most hospitality establishments.”
Daina Catanzaro Senior Director of Strategic Program Management Orange Lake Resorts
As the vacation ownership industry continues to consolidate on a frequent basis, mergers and acquisitions are considered normal practices. But when this happens, the challenges for the staffs involved with both companies are understandably complex and endless. Imagine doubling the size of your own household overnight!
When Orange Lake Resorts acquired Silverleaf Resorts in May 2015 – with its 13 resorts and more than 3,000 employees – the acquisition doubled the size of Orange Lake Resorts to 26 resorts, 320,000 owners, and over $700 million in revenues. This made Orange Lake the second largest mortgage portfolio in the industry at $1.3 billion.
Just for starters, the integration involved rebranding Silverleaf resorts to Holiday Inn Club Vacations, renovations and improvements to sales centers, creating the offering to Silverleaf owners, and the conversion of technology, accounting and communication systems. The goal for completing the transition work was about 18 months later, in December of 2016.
To accomplish this monumental task, Daina Catanzaro, was nominated to lead the project management of this team to ensure not only that the deadline was met, but that the fundamental strategic decisions made along the way were not diluted or changed as items were executed. At the time, Daina was a Director in Financial Services and widely respected for her superior project manager skills and deep technology platform knowledge.
Within 18 months, Daina amazingly led her team to successfully complete their assigned tasks. Her natural curiosity, drive to continuously improve the business and focus on team attitude led her to the expanded role of facilitator between multiple business areas. She also took on new challenges as coach, solution seeker and the single facilitator who could smoothly maneuver from each segment of the business during the integration process, helping to ensure that everyone understood the strategy and how to accomplish it. When serious challenges surfaced between business partners, Daina would determine the best way to resolve them and reach a smooth consensus.
According to Sonya Dixon, SVP and Chief Financial Officer, “I watched her grow from a project manager to a trusted advisor that each area of the business would call for advice or brainstorming on execution. Throughout the entire process, there was no one helping guide her through the maize of different business segments she was interacting with. She jumped in feet first, without a life jacket. Fortunately, Daina’s deep technology and communication skills enabled her to make recommendations that ultimately resulted in ensuring that the strategic direction set by the CEO and President were smoothly executed.”
Reflects Daina on the integration project, “It was an amazing experience and gave me the opportunity to work with our outstanding team of leaders and staff members. Their knowledge, passion, drive, ingenuity and deep industry commitment are unparalleled from past assignments and teach me even more as our company continues to evolve.”
Today, our Wizard Facilitator has deep knowledge of legal, sales, operations, mortgage servicing, HR and branding … all specialties far beyond her earlier financial skills. Her 18 years of industry experience includes many finance roles – Resort Operations, HOA and Property Management, Club Operations, Rental Operations and Inventory Management – which provided a foundation for her to quickly learn each area of the business and their unique challenges to the a smooth integration. Prior to joining Orange Lake Resorts ten years ago, she spent five years with Westgate Resorts and another year with Celebrity Resorts. Originally from Gloucester, New Jersey, Daina attended Florida Southern College, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting. She and husband Brian Catanzaro enjoy the discovery of traveling to new places, such as South Africa, set for June 2017.
Tisha Purnell, General Manager, Club Ocean Villas II TSOA Defender Resorts
Tisha Purnell has worked for Defender Resorts for the past 12 years. After initially impressing the then General Manager with her “professional, personable customer service skills” while working at a local bank, she was offered the Guest Service Representative position at Club Ocean Villas II TSOA in Ocean City, Maryland, which she accepted with alacrity in 2005. She was promoted to Assistant General Manager and then General Manager within two years.
“Being of Good Service has always been my motto,” shares Tisha, “regardless of the position, title, responsibilities or duties. I pride myself in providing this service, and I constantly perform reverse role-play scenarios in my thought process. As my family and I traveled considerably over the years, we came in regular contact with various people working in the hospitality industry. These past experiences played a great role in how I currently perform my job at our resort.”
Whether assisting in cost-saving strategies or innovative ideas for the company, accommodating owners with diverse challenges or just simply supplying an extra pillow to a guest, Tisha says, “joy comes over my heart knowing that I made someone’s journey a little more congenial.”
For the past eight years she has held the position of General Manager of Club Ocean Villas II TSOA, where she guides eleven full time staff members and several contractual workers. The timeshare resort features 68 two-bedroom units and is well known for being one of the only resorts in which each unit has its own hot tub located outside on a deck.
Soon after she was hired in 2005, there was a major fire at the resort, which required about two years to finally resolve all related issues. One of the most challenging was to relocate the owners and guests who understandably had become used to having their own personal hot tub. Renovations every 3-5 years can also create some booking issues, but Tisha takes it all in stride as she helps ensure that every guest is happy in their surroundings.
While it may be considered a “summer seasonal” vacation town, Ocean City offers many special events to extend their season and continuously attract visitors, which translates to Tisha’s resort being almost fully occupied year round. Because the city itself is not highly populated with year-round people, there is often a challenge in finding full-time hospitality professionals. This single mom with four grown children loves spending family time by walking the famous Ocean City beaches and enjoying outdoor activities.
Throughout her managerial tenure, Tisha has learned that teaching personality is close to impossible but demonstrating how to be of “Good Service” is effortless and goes a long way. The level of service she continues to provide has produced RCI Distinguished Awards, high Excel Trip Advisor ratings and gratifying reports and evaluations from owners and guests.
The absolute most favorite part of her work? The people. “I truly enjoy serving our owners and guests and helping to ensure that they have a wonderful vacation. This really gives me joy,” she says. Tisha also believes in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who said, “Not everyone can be famous but everybody can be great and your greatness is determined by your SERVICE!”