My question is regarding a case study for Canadian Human Resource
Management course. We are supposed to answer these questions:
BANFF ASPEN LODGE: STAFFING FOR SUCCESS
Chris Barr, general manager of the Banff Aspen Lodge (the Aspen), digested the latest news from his management team's daily stand-up meeting and thumbed through a stack of applications. It was July of 2018, and the managers had reported on the staff vacancies, especially at the Front Desk. The hotel regularly lost staff because of the transient nature of employment in the accommodation industry. Consequently, the Aspen faced the never-ending cycle of recruiting and hiring individuals who would place as much emphasis on excellent customer service as did the management team.
It would be imperative to have the vacancies filled with the right candidates before the ski season began in November—especially given the tight labour market. The question now before Barr was which candidates should be interviewed within the following week to fill two vacancies at the Front Desk.
Barr was confident that the Aspen had many good human resource management practices. However, he also wondered whether a more systematic long-term approach to human resource planning, recruitment, and selection would be possible in such a transient labour market. Therefore, Barr thought it was time to also review the Aspen's overall approach to human resource management.
STAFFING THE ACCOMMODATION INDUSTRY The Canadian Environment
The Canadian accommodation industry had grown moderately since 2010, with increases in revenue ranging from 7.8 per cent in 2010 to 4.2 per cent in 2017.1 In 2017, Canadian hotels reached 65.9 per cent occupancy, the highest occupancy rates since 1999.2 At the same time as demand was increasing in the industry, the unemployment rates in Canada had dropped from a high of 8.1 per cent in 2010 to 6.3 per cent in 2017.3 Canada's overall job vacancy rate (i.e., the number of vacant positions as a percentage of total labour demand based on three-month moving averages) increased from 2.7 per cent in 2015 (when the average hourly wage was $19.154) to 2.9 per cent in 2017 (when the average hourly wage was $20.10).5 With the unemployment rate declining and the job vacancy rate rising, the labour market became tighter.
Young Canadians who wanted to travel and see Canada, but who could not afford to do so without working along the way, were often able to find jobs in the accommodation and food-service industries. Yet most organizations in the industry were unable to fill all the job vacancies through this method.
Key success factors for the accommodation industry included having access to a multi-skilled and flexible workforce, being part of a franchised chain, and word-of-mouth recommendations.6 It was important to monitor online travel sites such as TripAdvisor, Kayak, and Trivago, and to move quickly to respond to negative feedback because customers were likely to read the comments posted by other users. It was even more important to ensure that staff provided a high level of customer service to minimize complaints in the first place.
The Alberta Environment
Alberta's tourism industry benefited most from US visitors. However, in 2015, in addition to Americans, Alberta had visitors from the United Kingdom (151,600), Germany (117,100), Australia (92,300), China (85,300), Japan (60,100), the Netherlands (44,500), and other Asian (53,400) and European (53,300) countries.7 The fact that visitors came from such a variety of countries highlighted the need for a multi- skilled, flexible, and multilingual workforce.
The Alberta hospitality sector faced significant growth from tourism. In 2017-18, visitors to Banff National Park and Jasper National Park grew by 3.0 per cent over the previous year.8 Employment in the accommodation and food sectors increased by 2.6 per cent, from 144,400 in 2016 to 148,100 in 2017.9 Over the same time period, Alberta's average resort occupancy rate grew by 0.2 per cent to 63.9 per cent.10
Alberta's job vacancy rate in October 2017 was 2.0 per cent, which accounted for 12.6 per cent of all job vacancies in Canada. The accommodation and food service sector in the national park regions had vacancy rates higher than the provincial average, at 3.7 per cent. The province's October 2017 unemployment-to- job-vacancies ratio was 4.8 unemployed individuals for every job vacancy, the fourth highest in Canada.11
The October 2017 job vacancy rate in Alberta's Banff-Jasper-Rocky Mountain House region matched that of the accommodation and food-service sector, at 3.7 per cent. In that same month, Alberta's average offered hourly wage was $22.75. By January 2018, the job vacancy rate had increased to 3.8 per cent but the average offered hourly wage dropped to $21.85.12
The Banff Aspen Lodge
The Banff Aspen Lodge was a three-storey, 89-unit hotel, one of 17 hotels located along a five-block section of Banff Avenue, the main street of the town of Banff. The Canadian Hotel Guide ranked the Aspen sixth in Banff, with an average guest rating of 8.2 out of 10.13 In an era of consolidation within the hospitality industry, the Aspen was one of the few remaining privately owned properties in Banff.
Barr, general manager of the hotel, aimed to position the property as Banff's number-one mid-scale property. The Aspen's primary target markets included the United States, Calgary, and Edmonton. It attracted many repeat customers because of the relationships the staff had built with guests. Barr focused on an exceptional guest experience as being the key to success. He created a culture of friendly and innovative customer service by empowering staff to create that experience. For example, when repeat guests checked into the hotel, they would find a personalized note in their rooms welcoming them back to the Aspen. If they had requested an extra blanket on a previous stay, the blanket would be already waiting on the bed when they arrived. If a guest had mentioned to housekeeping staff that they preferred dark roast coffee, the dark coffee pods were ready and waiting by the coffee maker.
The Front Desk staff were the first point of contact for guests arriving from a variety of domestic and international locations. Their job was to make guests feel welcome and to attend to their needs—no matter the hour and regardless of whether guests were travelling alone, in families, or as part of a tour group.
Both check-in and check-out were handled quickly and courteously. Check-out began as early as 5:00 or
6:00 a.m., peaking between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m., after guests had enjoyed one last breakfast buffet. Check- in began mid-afternoon and ran through the late evening. Both processes involved assisting guests with payments by accepting multiple forms of payment and ensuring accurate completion of the task. At the Aspen, check-in also required handing out the appropriate number of breakfast vouchers.
The Front Desk might receive calls at any hour of the day or night, with guests requesting extra blankets or encountering trouble with the operation of appliances. Wherever possible, Front Desk staff tried to ensure that repeat guests could stay in their favourite rooms. If that was not possible upon arrival, they arranged for the guests to be relocated the next day. They provided directions and helpful suggestions about activities in the area. If guests were late returning from a long day of sightseeing, only a phone call was needed for the garage to be left open past 11:00 p.m., when the underground parking garage was normally locked. The Front Desk staff also performed general office duties and worked to facilitate interdepartmental communication and co-operation in the interest of better guest satisfaction.
The Front Desk agents were the first point of contact for prospective patrons, providing courteous and efficient telephone service, including answering inquiries regarding rates, special packages, and general information accurately and in a timely manner. They created reservations via telephone, written correspondence, and in person.
It was also the responsibility of Front Desk staff to ensure the safety and well-being of guests and co- workers by being knowledgeable about crisis and emergency procedures. Should there be any kind of emergency in the property, the Front Desk was the first place that guests and staff alike would call.
The Aspen's Human Resource Management Philosophy
Barr's unswerving focus on achieving the hotel's mission (to provide every guest with an exceptional experience) and vision (being a leader in the hospitality industry) shaped his perspective on managing the people in his organization. Barr believed that hiring the right people, coaching and mentoring for success, and letting employees do their jobs resulted in both the excellent corporate culture for which the hotel was known and strong word-of-mouth marketing to the family and friends of the hotel's guests. He had built on the good culture that already existed when he arrived. He worked to bring people out of their comfort zones so they would feel more confident making decisions that would provide the exceptional service to enhance their guests' stay. He had an open-door policy and fully supported management and staff decisions with coaching as needed.
Barr found it gratifying to know that the staff loved working at the Aspen. Some of the breakfast room employees had been with the Aspen for years and spoke a variety of languages, including Japanese and Korean. While their staff turnover rate was below industry standards, turnover nevertheless existed because of the transient nature of the industry. In fact, Barr identified attracting and retaining staff as being one of the Aspen's key challenges.
The Aspen's Recruiting Process
Each morning at 10:30, Barr held a stand-up meeting with his department managers. As needed, that meeting dealt with talent management. The hotel was small enough for the managers to know the staff in their departments, and to be aware of when contracts and work visas for foreign nationals were coming to an end and therefore when it would be necessary to recruit new staff.
The 2016 census indicated that the population of the Town of Banff was only 7,851,14 so employers had a very small talent pool available locally. As well, the residents of Banff were well educated. In 2016, 73 per cent of the 4,125 adults between the ages of 25 and 64 in Banff had completed some form of post-secondary education, compared with 64 per cent at the provincial level.15 Because of the small population of the town, the Aspen, similar to most Banff hotels, relied heavily on recruiting employees from beyond the town and the province.
The Aspen recruited through a variety of channels including word of mouth via existing employees, the hotel's website, and the Canadian government's Job Bank.
Full-time employees often recommended prospective employees. For example, Sam Hong, manager of the breakfast room, was aware of students who were visiting Canada and who attended his church while visiting Banff; if they were able to acquire the appropriate visas, they were encouraged to apply. Other employees had friends and neighbours working at various resorts in the town. Because of its reputation as an employer of choice, the Aspen's employees sometimes referred these individuals to Barr and to the other managers, including Anthony Formela, the Front Desk manager.
The "Careers" page of the Aspen's website listed reasons why people would want to work at the Aspen. The Aspen had won the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association's "Employer of Choice" award four years in a row.16 It also offered competitive wages, employee housing, opportunities for further advancement and education, a winter incentive, a summer canoe pass, and a loyalty bonus after one year. The Aspen's location close to all Banff's amenities was also a draw. The Amazing Race for the Banff Aspen Lodge was a favourite event that helped to create lifelong friendships among co-workers. Monthly staff events and lunch-and-learn programs helped employees who were new to the country adjust to the culture and supported young adults who were on their own for the first time. The events included such popular activities as hikes to the Tea House at Lake Louise, paintball, and curling. On a rotating basis, the various departments hosted Lunch/Learn/Live events that covered such topics as cooking for yourself, what to do if confronted by a bear, and where the locals shopped (which was cheaper than the tourist-oriented stores). For some of the younger staff who had never been away from home before, speakers from Banff Life offered discussions on such issues as sexually transmitted infections, harassment, and abuse.
Recruitment through the Canadian government's job bank came from three primary sources. Canadians (particularly young people) from Eastern and Central Canada who were eager to move to Western Canada, and, in particular, to the Canadian Rockies, regularly sought employment in the hospitality sector. Canada had exchange programs with several countries, including Korea, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom; individuals who wanted to visit Canada for an extended period of time would often apply for positions through these exchange programs. The Working Holiday program was one of three International Experience Canada (IEC) programs.17 Its applicants, who were between 18 and 35 years old, came from more than 30 different countries. As such, they had different academic, cultural, and industry backgrounds with varying levels of experience. Some were fresh out of post-secondary education and desired to travel before settling into careers. Others had already capitalized on the program to visit several provinces and they applied to the Aspen with some experience in the hospitality sector.
The Aspen's Hiring Process
The department managers reviewed the job applications and completed the preliminary interviews. The most important quality that the Aspen looked for in prospective employees was attitude.
Barr would often sit in on the second interview to assess how comfortable the applicants were in the interview and to assess their fit with the Aspen's culture of providing exceptional customer service. He said the applicant's cultural fit became apparent during the first 10 minutes of an interview. He used a structured interview approach that included presenting realistic job scenarios. Questions included how applicants would handle difficult situations such as the following: having to plunge a clogged toilet, dealing with guests who complained about air quality and called in the health department, and responding to guests who were asking for a refund because they were dissatisfied with the room. Barr looked for creativity in handling such situations, especially when no manager was available to whom the situation could be escalated.
Onboarding and Training at the Aspen
To further ensure that guests were provided with an exceptional experience through outstanding service, the Aspen devoted significant time to onboarding—having new employees shadow veterans for several days before working on their own. Training began with Barr conducting a staff orientation. New employees learned about the general history of the hotel, its mission and vision, its organizational structure, the hotel's expectations of employees, and what the employees could expect in return from the hotel.
Each department also had its own training with checklists of topics to be covered. Department managers wanted to ensure that their staff were well trained and loved working at the Aspen. The result was employees who cared deeply about providing each guest with an exceptional experience.
Compensation at the Aspen
The Aspen's compensation plan was above the industry average in Banff, which was a significant attractor to prospective employees. Employees also received a $1,800 bonus after one year's employment, in an effort to retain employees longer than the term for employees hired under the Working Holiday program. In addition to attractive rates and bonuses, the Aspen offered the best employee accommodation in Banff: four townhouse condos had recently been built across the main street from the hotel property. Two employees shared each bedroom in the townhouse.
Barr looked at his desk and the pile of applications that Formela had given to him at that morning's management team meeting (see Exhibit 1). He needed to decide which applicants to interview in the following week and what questions to ask at the interview. Barr's goal was to extend job offers to the successful applicants in plenty of time for them to make the necessary arrangements to relocate (including obtaining visas, where appropriate) before the ski season began in just a few months.
Given that Barr viewed recruiting and retaining staff as one of the Aspen's key challenges, he was also eager to identify strengths and areas for improvement in the Aspen's current approach to human resource management.
1. What are the key success factors for the Aspen?
2. What are the requirements for the Front Desk staff?
3. Develop hiring criteria based on these requirements, and apply them to the applications Barr is
reviewing. Whom would you interview?
4. What questions would you ask at the interview?
5. Analyze strengths and weaknesses in the Aspen's HRM process. Provide recommendations for
improving the human resource planning, recruitment, selection, and onboarding/training processes.