Back to Basics


The building blocks of successful operations

If you notice an empty soda can or candy-bar wrapper on the floor at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cartersville, GA, the litter might be an inside job.

General Manager Don Griffin said he often drops a piece of trash in the hallway of the 118-room hotel prior to giving new hires a tour of the property. When they see the GM bend down and pick up the trash, it drives home the message the hotel has high standards, and meeting them is everyone’s responsibility, he said.

“I want them to see I care enough to do that, and I want them to do that, because the next person who’s going to see that is the guest,” Griffin said. “It’s about culture and accountability.”

The Courtyard opened with a lean staff in September 2020, during the depths of the pandemic, but now has more than 30 employees, mostly full-timers. Situated along Interstate 75 between Chattanooga, TN, and Atlanta, GA, the hotel has enjoyed relatively low turnover because employees feel valued and don’t dread coming to work, Griffin said.

The hotel routinely celebrates business milestones and employees’ birthdays with cake, parties, and personalized text messages, and now that it’s been open a few years, it’s started to celebrate work anniversaries, he said. The current roster includes four employees who left for greener pastures but exited the right way, giving two weeks’ notice and continuing to work hard. When their new jobs didn’t work out, Griffin welcomed them back.

Griffin said he’s frequently contacted by temp agencies, and he’s registered with some of their platforms and apps, but when they call offering manpower, “I keep saying, ‘Knock on wood, but we’re good.’

“We’ve got the wheel spinning pretty well right now, which is nice,” he added. “I’ve gone into hotels where things weren’t going well, and it usually starts with the culture and the employees. It’s not easy holding people accountable, but once you do that and you gain some consistency, your guests start to see it, and guest scores go up. If people like coming to work, our guests know it, and it brings them back.”

Griffin blocks out three hours on his schedule to onboard and train new hires, and he has them fill out a questionnaire to learn more about them. When he shows he’s taken the time to read their answers, asking about their children by name or their favorite movie, they see him making an effort to connect with them.

“I think it creates cohesiveness,” Griffin said. “I tell them, ‘You don’t work for me; you work with me. I won’t ask you to do anything I won’t do myself, and if you need something, let me know.’”

Boosting morale is a key retention strategy for Providence, RI-based hotelAVE, which manages more than 50 properties across North America, according to Dave Butler, vice president of asset management.

He said some properties have cut back on HR activities such as quarterly luncheons and team-building events because of time or budget constraints, but “it’s critical to bring people together to celebrate success.”

Butler said good managers will have regular coffee or pizza socials with employees, encouraging them to socialize with each other and share suggestions with their boss. When a manager shows up with a notepad and pen, hears employees’ concerns, and takes swift action, that responsiveness resonates with workers and shows them their input is valued, he said.

As an example, Butler pointed to a property where the housekeeping staff felt empowered to ask management for new cleaning equipment. When management quickly delivered, it showed employees were truly being heard.

Butler recommends hotels conduct an employment engagement survey at least annually to assess working conditions and attitudes. He said one key question to ask is whether employees have a friend at work. Employees who say yes are far more likely to stay at their jobs, which is another reason why hotels shouldn’t cut back on HR activities, social gatherings, and employee recognition, he said.

“As much as we’re trying to reduce expenses and improve margins, it’s important for GMs to take the time and devote resources to employee engagement,” Butler said. “Being there to listen to your employees and to get them the things they need heightens that level of engagement.”

Compensation can be an uncomfortable area of conversation, but hoteliers can further boost retention by automatically raising pay rates for employees who are making less than the newest hires, according to Larry Crosby, GM of The Foundry Hotel, part of Hilton’s Curio Collection. The 87-room hotel in Ashville, NC, has about 100 employees.

With the labor shortage driving wages upward, new hires might command higher wages than established employees, and that can kill morale, fueling turnover, Crosby said. Understandably, established workers want to make more than new hires, but they’re still more likely to stay with their employer if they know they aren’t falling behind less-experienced coworkers, he said.

back to basics


“Everyone’s going to get paid at least a minimum base level,” Crosby said. “That’s worked for us, and it’s kept morale high, so we don’t have any issues with people leaving. The strategy is to keep our employees happy, so we’ve benefited from a high referral rate. A lot of our employees are recommending their friends and family members, so we’ve been able to build and maintain a very consistent staff.”

Lightening the workload for guest-room attendants also has helped to reduce turnover, Crosby said. Prior to the pandemic, a GRA may have been responsible for cleaning 18 to 20 rooms, but the need to thoroughly disinfect rooms required the hotel to reduce that quota to about a dozen rooms, he said. Although the pandemic has abated, GRAs haven’t been asked to clean more rooms per shift, leading to higher job satisfaction, Crosby said.

“Here we are in 2024, and we’re still running 10 to 12 rooms for a GRA, and that really has impacted them for the better,” he said.

Leisure travelers have led the hotel industry’s resurgence, but hotelAVE’s Butler said that with corporate and group travel picking up, hoteliers should ensure they have the manpower to respond to leads immediately. They also need event organizers to plan functions for local business leaders, showcasing the property and its amenities and fostering business relationships, he said.

“It sounds obvious, but the sales teams that answer the phone first and respond to that lead first typically get the booking, so that’s something that companies are really focusing on,” Butler said. “They’re re-emphasizing the direct-sales effort and creating relationships with local businesses and groups. You must have resources dedicated toward going after your direct relationship-driven accounts.”

Another basic principle to emphasize: Focus on growing loyalty clubs, Butler said. Bookings through sites obviously are the most lucrative for hotels, and they also give hoteliers more flexibility in managing inventory, he said.

For example, upgrading loyalty-club members to suites builds brand loyalty and creates more standard-room inventory for last-minute bookings. Hoteliers can adjust those rates upward or downward according to demand, maximizing revenue, Butler said.

“Continuing to work on enrollment is critically important,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re taking that extra step to recognize loyalty members. Maybe it’s just a handwritten note, a bottle of water, or their favorite snack, which you know about because of your customer-relationship management system, but some sort of acknowledgment for loyalty members goes a long way.”


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