Why is this interesting? - The Hospitality Empowerment Edition

On training, new careers, and community diplomacy

Colin here. One of the most interesting hospitality startup companies is Saira. Founded by Harsha L’Acqua (formerly Chanrai), the company operates on a pop-up school model. She comes into a market, partners with a hotel that is about to open, and trains up the staff. Their first major, well-publicized project was with Liz Lambert’s San Cristobal hotel in Todos Santos, Baja California, just north of Cabo. Lambert realized that for the hotel to be symbiotic to the locale, it needed to recruit from the local area. She wanted to have a different type of hospitality from the highly touristy Cabo San Lucas. The hotel opened and, according to Bunkhouse (the operating company of the hotel), it “hired 25 local employees, native to the exact area and had experienced zero staff turnover to-date.”

As I covered the program when it was first launched:

The school also allowed for a more personal type of approach than some of the other hospitality available further away in Cabo San Lucas and students included everything from a former mechanic, now working as a houseman, former local entrepreneurs, a furniture maker and a former employee of the telecoms firm Tel Cel that wanted a change of pace and the new challenge.

The team is now in Namibia training up staff for a new project, Habitas, and is applying the same approach: Finding people with the spark and the proactive, hospitality mindset, and training them for a career in the sector. 

According to Saira, the curriculum spans anywhere from six to 10 weeks, timed as close to the hotel opening or reopening as possible. Students dedicate four hours a day to the program, about four to five days a week. They go through a crawl, walk, run approach: First, they learn the basics—an introduction to the world of hospitality. Then they get immersed into the sponsoring hotel brand, their ethos, and guest expectations. The next module focuses on urgency, attention to detail, initiative, and the so-called “hospitality gene of service.” In this phase, the chaos and long hours of opening a hotel are examined in detail, alongside techniques to manage the stress.

Why is this interesting?

There’s a lot to like about this approach. First,  it is providing jobs, often in remote locations, where there aren’t a ton of other options available. Second, there’s a sense of community diplomacy. Developments aren’t always looked on super kindly by their surrounding communities, but when the energy is additive and there’s thought to the approach, it serves as a kind of olive branch. 

Perhaps most importantly, there’s also a very practical business case to be made for the program. Turnover is one of the biggest challenges that modern hospitality brands face, with an estimated 70 percent turnover rate in 2017. Relocating trained staff costs money, and poaching creates a negative cycle of sorts, according to Saira, creating free agents with little or no brand loyalty. The theory is investment in local staff, nurturing, and making an employee feel like something from the ground up can engender loyalty and lower these rates.

In my Skift column, I canvas a lot of approaches to creativity in hospitality. But I keep going back to Saira as something that touches upon so many business problems while unlocking economic opportunity. (CJN)

Keyboard of the Day:

Thanks to friend of WITI Keith, I have now learned about the world of custom mechanical keyboards. This beauty is an homage to NASA. (NRB)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)


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