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Recruiting and Retaining Resort Employees: The RiverWalk Resort Way

In 2017, the United States travel and tourism industry generated over $1.6 trillion and supported over 78 million jobs across the country. The Department of Commerce predicts that over 95.5 million international visitors will visit the U.S. annually by 2023, which is nearly twice the number of visitors in 2000. Of the $1.7 trillion spent on travel in the U.S. in 2017, approximately $300 billion was spent on accommodations. With the increase in international travel to the United States, there will be more jobs available in the hospitality and tourism industry, especially in the resort industry.

The resort industry is 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.

best nh resort to work at

The RiverWalk Resort prides itself of being the newest grand luxury resort in New England. With its beautiful and sustainable design, exceptional hospitality experience, and friendly customer service staff, the RiverWalk Resort has won many industry awards, including the prestigious Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award at the ARDA World Conference in 2017, Eileen Rice Outstanding Business Leader of the Year Award, and more.

Renee Blood, General Manager, RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain

Part of the RiverWalk Resort’s success from the very beginning has been its dedication to staff training and development. Guided by the simple principle of happy employees equals happy guests, the RiverWalk Resort has recruited and retained some of the best talented hospitality staff in New England. Renee Blood, the General Manager of the RiverWalk Resort, was recently interviewed and provided some excellent insight on how the RiverWalk Resort attracts and retains its incredible staff from the housekeepers to the Executive Management team.

Q: Renee, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Prior to my joining the Riverwalk team in early 2017, my hotel management experience began seven years earlier when my husband and two children relocated back home to New Hampshire from Orlando, Florida and I accepted the position as General Manager of Woodwards Resort & Suites, a 142 unit property on the north end of Lincoln. Prior to making the move back up north, I held the position as Orlando Market Manager for Expedia, Inc. for three years. During this time I worked with 225+ hotel partners overseeing room allocations, inventory levels, rates and air vacation packages on Expedia.com and affiliate sites. I spent the earlier part of my career working with Marriott International for 14 years in a variety of revenue management, sales and event management roles in the Orlando, Florida area. Outside of work, I love spending time with my family skiing in the winter and boating in the summer. It is also not unusual to see me running “the loop” around Lincoln and North Woodstock as I am also passionate about getting outside and logging some miles!  The Lincoln area is truly an incredible place to live and work.

Q: You’ve been a resort General Manager for many years now. What’s the secret to attracting and keeping good staff?

I live by the simple principle – happy employees = happy guests. We care deeply about our owners and guest satisfaction at the RiverWalk Resort but hiring and retaining good employees is just as important to us. Our employees at the RiverWalk are one of the main things that set us apart from all the other resorts and accommodations in Lincoln. We find 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.

As far as the secret, I don’t think there are real secrets. It’s just knowing how to treat your employees well. 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

team building

Q: Why do you sum it up to three core concepts? Why are they important?

The workforce is changing. We’re seeing more and more job seekers choosing jobs based on workplace environment and culture than money and vacation time. In fact, one-third of job seekers would pass up the perfect job if the corporate culture was a bad fit. Of course, pay is still important. We all need to eat and live somewhere, but it’s also important to recognize people who work hard in their job. If they succeed, you succeed.

Q: How should resorts hire employees?

It all starts with the hiring process. To attract the best candidates, a resort should first and most importantly look at its benefits package. How competitive is it with other resorts’, or with other big employers in the area? While we would all love to work at a job we absolutely love and would do for free, we have bills to pay. Most people work to feed their families, pay their mortgages, and put gas in their cars.

Good pay is important. 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 best candidates to apply.

You should also consider non-wage compensation benefits, like new hire referral bonuses, team financial incentives, lodging discounts for employees and their families, paid time off, and flexible work schedules. The extra benefits will increase the overall attractiveness of the package and help attract a larger pool of high-quality applicants.

employee training

The next important step is the interview process. It’s tempting to use what you’ve used in the past but outdated or cookie-cutter approaches will not reveal the true strengths, talents, and weaknesses of candidates. Instead of consecutive one-on-one interviews using standard questions, I recommend using a panel approach or a group interview where candidates are challenged to solve a sample problem collaboratively or competitively. Giving candidates a spontaneous real-life test task during the interview is a good way to discover which ones have solid industry knowledge and can think on their feet.

Once you have identified the top candidates, it’s time to hire them!

Q: Okay, so now you’ve hired the best people for the job. What next?

You need to keep them! Retention is also a challenge as your competitors might try to poach your best employees and offer them a better package. But, we’ve found that resorts with with a strong learning culture enjoy employee engagement and retention rates around 30-50% higher than those that don’t. And, as I mentioned in one of the first questions, the three “P’s” matter.

Pay matters. One of the reasons good employees leave over time is that they find another job that pays more. Money matters, but so does other things. Ongoing praise is essential. Why? Because employees are motivated to work better and harder if they know that their work is valued and appreciated. About 19% of people leave their jobs because they do not feel appreciated for the work they do. Here at the RiverWalk, we believe in recognizing good work often and rewarding spontaneously in a million little ways.

Somethings that we like to do at the RiverWalk Resort include:

  • Personally thanking individuals for going above and beyond with a personalized handwritten thank you notes
  • Doing something special for them that they do for others
  • Recognizing birthdays, work anniversaries and work achievements in creative ways during monthly employee connection meetings or parties
  • Holding quarterly luncheons, holiday parties and seasonal departmental outings
  • Creating guest satisfaction survey incentives and delighting staff unexpectedly with a gift card or small token of appreciation for going above and beyond for an owner, guest or fellow employee

customer service

We also utilize an open-door management policy by allowing staff to come to talk with the management if they have ideas on how we can do better. We also have a suggestion box for those who might not be comfortable coming to us directly with suggestions or issues.

Many resorts use email to communicate with their staff, but not all staff, like housekeeping and public area cleaners, have company email accounts. Be creative and figure out the best way to communicate with all your staff members. 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.

Promotion from within demonstrates to employees that they can have a future with the company. Before posting a job opening externally, let your staff members know about it first. Internally promoting staff gives them a sense of security and promotes loyalty – among both staff and guests. Cultivating longevity fosters a culture where staff is proud to say they work for your resort, and guests plan return visits in anticipation of seeing familiar friendly faces.

Q: What else creates “happy employees” at the RiverWalk Resort?

Training! We have developed a robust training program to include a resort orientation, individualized departmental training and quarterly all employee and one on one management training meetings with an outside consultant trainer. These are all elements of employee engagement and help molds employees for future promotions within the resort. A recent study found that career training and development would keep 86% of millennials from leaving their current position. Since millennials will make up the majority of the workforce in the coming years, it’s something we’ve embraced heavily at the resort.

We like to teach best practices on the job and off and offer departmental and cross-departmental training, which helps give our staff the tools to perform their job well and offer superior guest service. I also believe in merit increases tied to performance instead of automatic annual increases as successfully completing training becomes a key motivator to getting a raise.

At the end of the day, paying employees well, praising them often, and promoting them personally and professionally is the winning trifecta of staff hiring and retention. Employers, like the RiverWalk Resort, should act as cheerleaders for our employees and always look out for their best interests. As I’ve said several times already, happy employees equal happy guests!

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