The Three “P’s”: The secret to attracting and retaining top resort talent

Praise, gratitude, recognition, respect, thanks

Resorts are a “high-touch” industry, where service is equally if not more important than the amenities and location. Guests pay to be treated with respect and care, and expect that employees from the head chef to the housekeepers will work diligently and cheerfully to give them the best experience possible.

The easiest way to ensure superior service is to incorporate the principle that happy employees = happy guests. Which is why hiring and retaining good employees should be just as important to a resort as guest satisfaction. Sterling employees can set a timeshare resort apart from the competition and ensure a constant stream of those all-important five-star reviews. An engaged, happy and motivated workforce is far more likely to go the extra mile for guests than one that is treated as an afterthought.

Attracting and keeping good staff is both an art and a science, and not all resorts get it right. At its simplest, it can be boiled down to three core concepts which are inextricably intertwined:

  1. Pay employees well
  2. Praise them emphatically and often
  3. Promote them personally and professionally

However, in today’s hiring and retention environment, these tenets are inextricably woven into the culture of the business itself. In fact, one-third of job seekers would pass up the perfect job if the corporate culture was a bad fit.
It all starts with the hiring process. To attract the best candidates a vacation ownership resort should first and foremost look at its benefits package. Keep in mind that 7% of the world’s 3.3 billion adults who are working or looking for work have a great job.

How competitive is it with other resorts’, or with other big employers in the area? With the possible exception of non-profit organizations, people don’t work for altruistic reasons. They work to feed their families, pay their mortgages, and put gas in their cars.

Pay is the linchpin of the equation. If it’s industry-leading and incorporates regular raises, more and better candidates will apply. Adding a sign-on bonus can also create an atmosphere of competitiveness and further incentivize the cream of the crop to apply.

Non-wage compensation elements are crucial as well. New hire referral bonuses, team financial incentives (when certain targets are met), lodging discounts for employees and their families, paid time off, and flexible work schedules increase the overall attractiveness of the package and help attract a larger pool of high-quality applicants. “Non-wage” also pertains to business culture: 42% of employees say learning and 48% say development is the most important benefit when deciding where to work followed by health insurance (Udemy).

The interview process is an important next step. Outdated or cookie-cutter approaches will not reveal the true strengths and talents (or weaknesses) of candidates, which is why creativity and innovation is key. Instead of consecutive one-on-one interviews using standard questions, perhaps utilize a panel approach, or try group interviews where candidates are challenged to solve a sample problem collaboratively or competitively. Giving candidates a spontaneous trade-related test task during the interview is a good way to discover which ones have the solid industry knowledge and can think on their feet.

Once the best candidates have been locked in and hired, retention is the next challenge. Businesses with a strong learning culture enjoy employee engagement and retention rates around 30-50% higher than those that don’t. In addition to “pay,” two other “Ps” are instrumental in keeping employees on board and happy.

First, ongoing praise is essential. Why? Because employees are motivated to work better and harder if they know that their work is valued and appreciated. In fact, 19% leave their jobs because they do not feel appreciated for the work they do. I believe in recognizing good work often and rewarding spontaneously in a million little ways because the fact is that 6 out of 10 employees are currently (and quietly) seeking new employment opportunities. Some ideas and tactics include:

  • Personally thanking individuals for going above and beyond (using personalized handwritten thank you notes)
  • Doing something special for them that they do for others
  • Recognizing birthdays and work achievements in creative ways during employee meetings or parties
  • Holding quarterly luncheons, holiday parties and seasonal departmental outings
  • Sending holiday cards and offering holiday gifts

A corollary to praise is making sure employees feel heard and valuing their input. For example, having a suggestion box (and actually monitoring it regularly) and an open-door management policy lets staff know that they have a voice in how things are done (or could be improved) at the timeshare resort. If email is your resort’s primary mode of communication, be creative in how you engage and inform staff who might not have a company email account (such as housekeeping or parking attendants). This could be a simple as a digital bulletin board in a staff break room, or as high-tech as a smartphone app. In addition, translating messages from English into languages most commonly spoken by staff can go a long way towards making them feel valued and respected.

Second, promotion from within demonstrates to employees that they can have a future with the company. This gives them a sense of security and promotes loyalty – among both staff and guests. Cultivating longevity fosters a culture where the staff is proud to say they work for your resort, and guests plan return visits in anticipation of seeing familiar friendly faces. Furthermore, promotion should enable employees to move from the lowest levels all the way to upper management, if they are so inclined – 41% of employees leave because they were not given challenging work or a career path. We’ve all heard stories of staffers who started out as hourly dishwashers or front desk clerks and progressed through the ranks to become the head chefs or reservations managers; this should be the rule, not the exception.

The path to promotion is facilitated by a robust training program, another element of employee engagement. Offering career training and development would keep 86% of millennials from leaving their current position. Teaching best practices on the job and off and offering departmental and cross-departmental training not only gives staff the tools to perform their job well and offer superior guest service but also motivates them to seek promotion. And when merit increases are tied to performance – which I believe makes more sense than offering automatic annual increases – successfully completing training becomes a key motivator to getting a raise.

Paying employees well, praising them often and promoting them personally and professionally is the winning trifecta of staff hiring and retention. If we are employees’ cheerleaders and always look out for their best interests, we can ensure they feel appreciated and empowered. This strategy ultimately pays dividends in loyalty, engagement, and guest satisfaction.

Renee Blood is the General Manager of the RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain, where she is responsible for the operation of the newest grand luxury resort in New England. Renee has been in the hospitality industry for over twenty-five years and has held a variety of management positions for Marriott Hotels International in both corporate and independently owned properties and also ran the third-largest market for Expedia, Inc. while living in Orlando, Fl.