How hotels can attract and retain top talent

By Anton Gillis

Ask the management of almost any sized business in any industry sector about their biggest operational challenge, and most will agree that it’s staffing. Attracting, identifying, and retaining talent within company structures is harder to get right than most people might imagine. A department that used to be known simply as ‘Personnel’ has evolved to Human Resources and now to Human Capital, indicative of the importance that companies are placing on talent acquisition, and rightfully so.

In the tourism sector, where seasonality and transient staff are often synonymous, it is even more important to ensure the correct levels and balance of talent quantity and quality. As the peak summer season for South Africa approaches, hotels and lodges are on a recruitment drive for the best people they can find. Coastal properties and city centre hotels generally have a larger pool from which to recruit; in the bush, attracting and retaining good people can be more challenging.

Says Anton Gillis, CEO of the Kruger Gate Hotel, “Whilst there is always a certain amount of fluctuation in our staff complement, our objective has always been to attract and keep top talent and we are proud to say that we have achieved this with a solid core of dedicated staff through all the departments of the hotel.”

Gillis goes on to point out that spending valuable financial and human resources on training new people for the same job year after year is wasteful expenditure. “We would much rather use our Human Capital budget on training for growth and development of existing staff than on repeating basic skills training at the start of every season for new people,” he says.

Even having a budget to invest in staff sets the Kruger Gate Hotel apart from many other lodges, who neglect the basic job satisfaction-seeking element of their candidates. 

“People are looking for a conducive working environment to gain good quality experience and for career progression opportunities,” says Gillis. “If hotels cannot provide this, they will not find the correct candidates who will remain with the company, providing operations with continuity and creating a family of staff that will be loyal through thick and thin.” 

Many of the job advertisements we see today include the requirement of a number of soft skills as well as the basic ‘hard’ skills required to perform tasks relevant to the advertised role.  Staff must be able to work together, be empathetic, tolerant, and flexible. They must be agile and able to adapt as required by the business, and be prepared, if necessary, to go the extra mile. 

Says Gillis, “We never ask staff to do anything we wouldn’t be prepared to do ourselves. We all pull together when the need arises, and on many occasions, this has been the difference between an average experience for our guests, and an outstanding one.”

When people think of career opportunities in hotels, they think immediately of guest facing roles – in housekeeping, food and beverage operations, reception etc., but a lodge in the bush also offers a myriad of back of house positions. 

“The Kruger Gate Hotel has a massive ongoing maintenance programme that requires electricians, plumbers and other technical trade skills,” says Gillis. “We require a vast range of people to operate the hotel, with opportunities for many different entry levels”. 

Additionally,” notes Gillis, “some of the best hoteliers and hospitality professionals have valuable experience working at a lodge type establishment at some stage in their career. We therefore recognise that the ability to plan ahead is just as important as the ability to think on the spot and be resourceful when needed. These are things not taught in a classroom.”

Gillis also talks about the importance of drawing on local communities as essential in creating a proper work/life balance for staff. Whilst many staff ‘live in’, the hotel is on a drive to find more talent from the immediate area around the hotel. This ensures a greater diversity of staff. “We provide an inclusive environment at the Kruger Gate Hotel, whether we are hiring graduates or artisans from the local village. We have built a work ethic around learning from and having a deep respect for each other, and this is something we are immensely proud of,” adds Gillis. 

The physical environment around the Kruger Gate Hotel is also hard to beat. Pristine bush, clear skies and abundant wildlife are things that guests pay to see, but staff are paid to be surrounded every day by great natural beauty. 

“We offer salaries that are fair and in line with industry standards,’” adds Anton Gillis, “but we offer so much more here at the Kruger Gate Hotel.”

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