Case Study: Nimmo Bay’s Success: Attracting and Keeping Great Staff

When Fraser Murray, general manager of Nimmo Bay Luxury Resort, says the secret to keeping and attracting great staff is treating them with respect, he really means it. Nimmo Bay, an isolated inlet off the coast of BC, is 200 miles northwest of Vancouver and a 25 minute flight from Port Hardy — the closest large town. In other words, Nimmo Bay is off the beaten track. If he didn’t treat employees with respect, he might not have employees. This, of course, means not having a business at all.

“The people who work for us are the front lines,” says Fraser. “Without them, we have nothing.” According to Fraser, Nimmo Bay Luxury Resort caters to people who want to absorb themselves in life. “We have people who tell us they want to experience life in four days. When they leave, they have tears in their eyes.” Up to 75% of the resort’s guests are repeat customers. Sure, they love the fishing, hiking, caving, and other outdoor adventure activities in the 30,000 square mile wilderness playground surrounding the resort. But the guests also love the people that work there. “We’re a big family,” says Fraser. “And we have the same staff year after year.”

During a time in British Columbia when many tourism and hospitality companies are struggling with high turnover rates and skilled labour shortages, Nimmo Bay Resort seems unaffected by these industry trends. Maybe it has to do with their isolation or their unique market niche (outdoor adventure tourism catering to Americans, CEOs and celebrities). But it probably has more to do with their solid human resource practices.

Compensation looms large in any discussion about attracting and retaining workers. How much should you pay? “From what I know about other resorts, it looks like we pay 20% to 30% higher wages,” said Fraser. They pay higher wages for a couple different reasons. For one, they only operate four months of the year — from July to October. Secondly, they value quality and realize that the success of their business depends on a happy and motivated staff.

Ultimately, Fraser thinks the higher wages helps his employees live more balanced lives. “Our goal is to promote a type of lifestyle different than anyone else’s. We want our people to spend only four months of the year working and the rest of the time playing.” It makes sense that a company promoting an outdoor lifestyle would encourage its staff to embrace these ideals in their own lives. At the start of every season Fraser is treated to a refreshed, happy and energetic staff.

Working and living onsite has its own perks. Besides working in the midst of some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world, employees benefit from first-class cooking. “We feed our staff better than any other resorts on the West Coast,” says Fraser proudly. The small, community-like atmosphere of the resort creates a camaraderie much more intimate than a typical corporate hotel. And the one to one ratio of guests and staff makes it easy and natural for personal and authentic relationships to develop, year after year. A typical employee stays at Nimmo Bay for five years — plenty of time to build and cultivate relationships with other staff and guests.

Attracting and keeping good employees also means hiring the right people. Fraser doesn’t seem to have a problem with this. “We’re pretty small so we don’t need many staff. We mostly find people by word-of-mouth and many of the staff recommend their friends and family when positions open up.” Everyone knows each other and this intimacy translates to better service and better experiences for guests.

Twenty-six years ago, Fraser’s father, the original founder of the resort, hammered out his personal philosophy about hospitality: “Expectations exceeded equals memories created.” The employees’ creed, listed on the website, sprouts nuggets of wisdom like “Resolve to be brutally optimistic”, “Don’t be so busy trying to make a living, you forget to make a life” and “Develop your passion, your spirit, your art”. These are the people Fraser wants working for him, and for the most part, these are the people he gets.

That’s not to say Fraser takes a laissez-faire, anything goes attitude toward human resources. He conducts evaluations and quality checks, and encourages employee input. The difference is that Fraser takes a more informal approach, keeping consistent with his resort’s philosophy of delivering genuine, real world experiences. “I often do employee evaluations informally on the spot, at the time that’s appropriate. We want to keep it honest and build an open and realistic dialogue. An evaluation on a piece of paper doesn’t work as well for us.”

Again, it comes back to respect. “We’re not a cold corporation,” says Fraser. “We’re a family.” People do their best work when they’re happy. People are happy when they’re around others they like. Treat people with respect, and they in turn will treat others the same way. For Nimmo Bay Resort, it’s a win-win situation.