Here’s a great example of how to create a relationship with the Aboriginal community at large, help Indigenous students and increase the corporate bottom line - a win-win-win situation. It's an example of best practices for Aboriginal relations for the hospitality industry.
Bonnie Everett, Senior Sales Manager, Holiday Inn & Suites Vancouver Downtown, spoke with workingeffectivelywithaboriginalpeoples.com about the hotel’s inspired Indigenous Scholarship Program.
When was the program launched? The Indigenous Scholarship Program was first launched in the mid to late 1990s; it has undergone several incarnations before it really sprouted wings in 2005.
Why has Holiday Inn created the Indigenous Scholarship Program? It made really good business sense. The Aboriginal market is the fastest growing segment in our economy. We have a lot of First Nations guests who choose to stay with us so we were looking for a way to give back, and this is a perfect fit.
Can you describe how the program works? A portion of every night that an Aboriginal guest stays at the hotel by goes to the Indigenous Scholarship Fund so it really works for our Aboriginal customers as they get a great rate and they are helping Aboriginal students. We have raised over $58,000 this way and have helped 27 students right across the country. The success is due to our great customers.
Why is the Holiday Inn & Suites the hotel of choice for Aboriginal travellers? We have created a very welcoming atmosphere here, some of our staff have been with us for over 20 years and they are very good at remembering the names of our frequent guests, of ensuring that they are comfortable. We are very near St. Paul’s Hospital so many of our guests are in the city to visit family at the hospital. For some of the guests, it is the first time they have been in the city, they are from small rural communities, they are worried about their family, the city is big and strange, we understand how they are feeling and try to make them as comfortable as possible. We are also the host hotel for the annual Talking Stick Festival which brings in people from right across the country.
Do you provide cultural awareness training for your staff? We have offered it off and on in the past but this year we are having Bob give his Working Effectively with Aboriginal Peoples® training session on -site.
Do you have an Aboriginal recruitment program? No, we don’t have a specific program, and we don’t at this point have any Aboriginal employees but I am going to ask Bob to give us some recruitment pointers when he is here giving the workshop.
How do you reach out to the Aboriginal community to let them know of the Scholarship? Every summer I go on an Aboriginal tour and visit communities on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan, and every second summer I go up to northern BC. I visit as many communities as possible, and talk to them about patient travel and the scholarship. This year we have gone one step further and have formed exclusive partnerships with specific communities that have given volume to our hotel - in exchange for them directing guests to our hotel, we will give out a specific scholarship to a student in their community. The Union of BC Indian Chiefs has been very helpful putting out our brochures. I also travel to Ottawa and visit the AFN headquarters.
Is this program part of the Holiday Inn corporate philosophy or is it unique to your hotel? This is unique to our hotel.
What tips can you offer other hotels in regards to creating a welcoming atmosphere for Aboriginal guests and staff?
- We are here to serve our guests so it’s important to understand what their concerns are and what makes them comfortable.
- With First Nation guests it’s all about the relationship so put the time in to build the relationship
- Recognize that each community is unique with its own traditions and requirements
- Treat each person with respect
- Understand that their timeline is not the same as yours
- If there is a concern or a problem, use a joint approach to sorting it out
If you are travelling to Toronto, consider staying at the Chelsea Hotel, as they too have strong Aboriginal relations.
If you are interested in learning some tips on what not to say or do when working with Aboriginal Peoples, download our free ebook.