Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Gaylord Hotel pulls out all the stops

Thousands flock to National Harbor for jobs at convention center

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
Emily Ellis, vice president of Star Culture for Gaylord Entertainment Co., makes her pitch to job-seekers at the National Harbor hotel’s hiring fair last week.
On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department unexpectedly announced a drop of 17,000 nonfarm jobs across the United States, another signal of the nation’s mounting economic woes. But that same day, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center was in the midst of its four-day hiring fair in Prince George’s, dangling 1,600 open positions at the National Harbor hotel to thousands of eager job-seekers.

Anthony Jordan’s eyes and smile shone brightly as he walked away from last week’s fair, having landed a job at its Java Coast café. The 19-year-old Suitland man, who hopes to become a chef and own a restaurant one day, hailed this new opportunity as the start of his career.

He was now a star — which is what Gaylord calls its employees, and how it treated them during the hiring spree, which ended Saturday. Job applicants received a red-carpet welcome, complete with applause from fair workers who lined the path toward the registration desk. Everyone but Ryan Seacrest and a flock of paparazzi seemed to be on hand for the festivities.

When applicants got off the shuttle buses taking them to the fair, ‘‘it was like a celebration,” Jordan said. ‘‘I felt like I was in Hollywood.”

Those who got jobs were then able to wind down in a festive room with music, colorful lights, food and, sometimes, another round of applause.

But with 1,600 positions open when the fair started Jan. 30, and 17,000 people registered, most hopefuls went home empty-handed. The 2,000-room convention resort filled positions from mid-level managers to frontline operations roles including food and beverage staff, security, housekeeping and convention services.

‘‘That is the biggest turnout that a Gaylord hotel has ever had from one of our hiring events,” said spokeswoman Amie Gorrell on the first day of hiring.

Gaylord, with headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., drew more than 14,000 job-seekers to the hiring fair for its Florida resort and convention center, with 18,000 applications submitted. More than 13,000 showed up for jobs at its Texas location, with 22,000 applications submitted.

When Gaylord opens its doors in April, it will rank 12th among Prince George’s County’s top employers, according to data from the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

‘‘We are looking for people who are what we call ‘10s,’” Gorrell said. ‘‘If a person is a right fit, we don’t hesitate ... we will go ahead and we will hire them on the spot.”

Applicants should not be discouraged if they don’t get a job with Gaylord because there are plenty of other opportunities coming at other hotels, restaurants, retail shops and entertainment venues at National Harbor, she said. ‘‘They have not even started their hiring process.”

Nationally, the hospitality industry is growing. According to a report by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the industry generated $133.4 billion in sales in 2006, up 9 percent from $122.7 billion the prior year. The average occupancy rate was 63 percent. The lodging industry generated $26.6 billion in pretax profits, according to information cited from Smith Travel Research.

National Harbor plans to open its Job Opportunities Center on March 17 in the 6700 block of Oxon Hill Road. People will be able to register for opportunities available with different retailers and hotels at the site, said Bridget Graves, a National Harbor spokeswoman.

Job-seekers won’t apply for specific jobs there. Rather, their information will be entered into a database that employers will recruit from, she said. Updated information about the center’s location and hours are to be posted at www.nationalharbor.com.

A showcase forthe company culture

Gaylord’s welcome last week gave applicants a taste of the work environment it promotes.

Jonita Leonard of Upper Marlboro said she was impressed by Calvin Banks’ upbeat presentation of the company culture. Banks, the senior training manager, was also a crowd motivator who drew cheers as he revved up candidates for their interviews.

‘‘It gives you more enthusiasm to want to actually work here,” said Leonard, who was interested in accounting positions.

For an event with thousands of people, ‘‘it’s actually very organized, which is really, really good,” said Chaneka Snyder of Capitol Heights, who applied for a bartending job.

‘‘Everyplace you went ... everyone was just like ‘hoorah,’” said Renne Gray of Upper Marlboro, who was able to rise above the competition and land a job in the security department.

Research shows that culture is important for company results because it can affect how employees approach their work, said Paul Tesluk, a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park. ‘‘It influences their behavior on the job,” he said.

In a service industry such as hospitality, the customer’s interaction with the company is largely through front desk clerks, wait staff and housekeepers. If those employees are engaged and committed, they’re going to be more likely to take the initiative when presented with a customer problem and create a better impression, Tesluk said.

A hierarchical, commanding, controlling environment that doesn’t treat employees with dignity and respect will not produce such a friendly, courteous workforce, he said.

Top employersin Prince George’s

Andrews Air Force Base 15,000

UMD College Park 12,454

Giant Food 5,394

United Parcel Service 4,220

U.S. Census Bureau 4,158

U.S. InternalRevenue Service 3,840

NASA GoddardSpace Flight Center 3,083

Verizon 2,738

University of Maryland University College 2,618

Dimensions Healthcare System 2,500

Safeway 2,400

*Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center 2,000

Shoppers Food Warehouse 1,975

*expected by April

SOURCE: Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development