Case Study: Mountain Retreat Hotel – A Squamish Role Model

We all know that it is cheaper to keep a current guest than to acquire a new one and that same premise applies to employees.

Studies have shown that it can cost up to 18 months salary to lose and replace a manager or professional and up to six months salary to lose and replace an hourly worker. With the accommodation industry having one of the highest turnover rates in Canada, it makes good business sense to explore what can be done to keep valued employees.

Wendy Magee is the former General Manager of the 31-employee Mountain Retreat Hotel and Suites in Squamish. When asked what people management practices she uses to retain her good staff, the examples just keep on flowing.

Firstly, promoting from within and providing opportunity for training to enable success in the new role are key. Magee believes that if you have a trustworthy employee with a good attitude, then it makes sense to keep them in the organization. She cites the example of Elaine Reed who started as housekeeper, then became room-checker and executive housekeeper. When an administrative position dealing with accounting and purchasing became available, Reed was given on the job and external training in the systems and processes required and another staff member was promoted to executive housekeeper.

The total investment required to train Reed for the new role was close to $2,000 but Magee considers this a pittance when compared to the cost and risk associated with hiring a new and unknown employee who would also have required training.

Recognition is also an important part of the culture at Mountain Retreat. When the housekeeping and maintenance departments recently received an Award of Excellence at the annual BCYHA Housekeeping Awards, Magee presented the department employees with unique fleece vests featuring both the Award of Excellence and Mountain Retreat logos. She reports that they wear them with pride.

When the hotel celebrated its 5-year anniversary, all 5 employees with 5 years of service were presented with a custom-made gold ring stamped with the Mountain Retreat logo. The next year, another 6 employees will be eligible. The plan is to add a diamond to the ring at each 5-year service interval. While a recognition program like this costs in the thousands, Magee believes that it more than pays for itself in motivating and retaining key staff.

One important note is that it is often most effective to ask employees how they would like to be recognized. When Mountain Retreat runs sales contests for the highest number of room nights sold, the sales staff decide on the prize. The most recent was two nights at Harrison Hot Springs and $150 in cash. Nobody has ever suggested something that was unreasonable.

When asked why he enjoys working at Mountain Retreat, 22-year-old front desk agent Trevor Peulen says that it is a “family oriented hotel.” The camaraderie of the workplace exhibits itself in the birthday gifts staff get each year (flowers, coffee travel mugs) and the annual BBQ and pool party.

This team atmosphere seems to pervade Magee’s management style. She spends the first portion of her morning walking around and talking to all the staff and relies on her managers and their bi-weekly staff meetings to keep on top of things. In what seems to be typical of her style, she concludes, “I’m just one fish in the sea here. Everybody plays an important role.”