Trading places: Tim Williams, Grace Hotels

Tim Williams, group HR director of Grace Hotels, tells BHN about the company’s Strategic Labour Partnership will allows staff from its Greek island hotels to work at partner properties during their home properties’ close season.

• How did the idea for the SLP come about and what were the steps needed to turn the idea into a reality?
“Around 100 people are employed at Grace Santorini and Grace Mykonos on a seasonal contract from April to the end of October. We became aware that these colleagues were very keen to find opportunities to continue working through the winter season before returning to our hotels in April. However, as a small group, it was difficult for us to transfer them to sister properties, mainly due to visa restrictions. It’s incredibly important for us to listen to our colleagues and provide opportunities for them to grow, and in turn, maintain and increase their motivation and enjoyment of being part of Grace Hotels. We therefore set about establishing an external programme to fulfil this objective.”

“Through our network of contacts, we were able to form an agreement with Soneva as a primary partner, and from there the programme grew. Soneva offered 10 roles within F&B and front office at multiple resorts in the Maldives and Thailand. All interested candidates participated in an interview process and were selected on their suitability for the various positions. Our HR team then maintained close contact with each colleague throughout their four-month placement, providing support where needed, until their return to Grace Mykonos and Grace Santorini.”

• What was the reasoning behind choosing Soneva as your first partner?
“It was absolutely key for us to choose a partner with a shared philosophy around human capital – living clearly defined core values and operating with a positive and connected culture. We all need to recognise that business success comes from a highly engaged workforce, built through trust between team members and management. It was also important to work with partner hotels which operate at a similar level of luxury, providing guests with truly memorable experiences. Soneva had also highlighted a need for a temporary increase in colleagues at a number of their properties from November to March, including the busy Christmas and New Year period, which perfectly corresponded to the time when our Greek hotels are closed.”

• Are you looking for more partner hotel companies, and if so, what criteria should they meet to be considered?
“We would be keen to expand the programme and work with more hotel companies, as we had more applicants for the scheme than there were work placements available. The partner hotels would obviously have reverse seasonality to our own summer focus, and would ideally be in countries with few restrictions on employment for foreign workers. We would also look for partners who are aligned with us in the luxury sphere, so that there is a match in terms of expectations of colleagues and guests alike.”

• Apart from the extended employment period, what have you noticed are the main benefits of the scheme for the employees who take part?
“Every colleague who took part in the programme has gained international experience and has been exposed to different people and cultures, different languages and alternative work methods and processes. We received extremely positive feedback from their experiences, which gave them the opportunity to enrich their career and expand their skill set. Their engagement levels have increased and we have already received requests from them and from new candidates for participation in the programme next winter.”

• What other initiatives does Grace have to boost employee welfare and engagement?
“We are constantly creating new ways to engage with our colleagues – these include the Grace Ideas Challenge, to encourage innovative thinking across the group, employee recognition programmes, anniversary awards, a refer a friend scheme with monetary incentive, seasonal parties and local social events within the community.”

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