Opportunities in operations: building your career by working at a resort property

“When you have work experience at a property like Grand Hotel, it just opens doors for your career.” 

After a storied career in hotel operations leadership that started at the front desk and involved leadership at companies such as Omni Hotels, Aimbridge Hospitality and now Davidson Hospitality Group, David Jurcak took the role of President of Operations at Grand Hotel in Michigan last year. I wanted to hear his story – and his perspective on what working at a property like Grand Hotel can do for someone’s career in hotel operations. 

“Having experience at a resort like Grand Hotel is a game-changer,” he said. By all accounts, David has made it to the top of operational leadership, and he wants to use his experience to share the opportunity he sees for others developing their careers. “I don’t know if I’ve ever spoken with somebody who found out about my career and how I progressed into resorts, that didn’t say, ‘I have always wanted to work at a resort.’ I hear that all the time. Grand Hotel is not only a resort on a beautiful island, but it is iconic in the industry. It opens doors for your career.” 

As someone who grew up in Michigan 30 miles from Grand Hotel, speaking with David was a fascinating look into what’s involved in operating a property like this. Let’s dive into why David believes working at a resort is the best thing someone can do to build their career in hotel operations. 

A rare opportunity

While there are thousands of hotels around the world, very few are large, historic resorts like Grand Hotel.

“I have had the incredible opportunity to work in or have experience with virtually every vertical in this industry,” David shared. “To me, resorts stand out and there are only a handful of properties like Grand Hotel. I think resorts like this provide a great opportunity for aspiring hoteliers.”

The opportunity of having multiple outlets on property 

Unique to a property like Grand Hotel is the number of outlets and activities and business units on site. Grand Hotel, for example, has 18 restaurants and bars, horse stables, a spa, 11 retail outlets, and multiple recreational activities including the historic Esther Williams Pool.

“Those additional business units create additional complexity to our operation. A day at Grand Hotel may include over 1,200 guests and hundreds of visitors dining in our 18 restaurants and bars and shopping in our outlets.  Our hotel offers someone working here a volume of business and guest engagements you cannot get at a standard urban business hotel.” 

With so many outlets, the number of opportunities for interaction with your customer increases exponentially, providing so many more learning opportunities.  

A different type of guest interaction

Guest interaction and engagement at a large destination resort is personable and intimate. “At Grand Hotel we want to create summertime memories for our guests.  In order to accomplish this, we need to engage with our guests longer at every point of service.”  

David pointed out that a guest at a resort has a different service expectation. “They are there to relax and enjoy the total experience. A guest at a business hotel wants to avoid lines, move through check-in quickly and get in and out with little to no hassle.  When I worked in that environment my day was full of quick, meaningful service engagements with our guests. In fact, I remember a goal we worked on was the speed of check-in.”   

At a resort, it’s the complete opposite. “With some arrivals, we will spend as long as a guest likes talking at the front desk. It may be a first-time visitor and they want to know details about the resort, and the front desk is their first interaction. ‘Where should I go to dinner? How do I get a reservation? What’s the best time to go to the pool? What activities are you doing? What’s the meal in the main dining room tonight?’ It is an opportunity to start the guests’ stay off properly and make them feel more at ease with all the services.”

A more relaxed pace of engagement with guests should be a priority at a resort property, David says. “No one should feel rushed.” Talking with your guests, asking them about their stay, offering suggestions and creating casual conversation should be at the core of every guest-team member experience.

“A service delivery as simple as providing a cup of coffee should not be transactional.  Handing a guest a cup of coffee with a smile alone is transactional. Engaging the guest in line, speaking to them during the service process, asking about their plans for the day, and pointing out a few great spots on the island changes the experience from what anyone does to what Grand Hotel uniquely delivers.”

David and his leadership team coach their staff on what they call “transformational service.”  “We ask they find ways to give the additional effort to make each engagement memorable. What we want from a service standpoint is adding that additional step – being your truly authentic, genuine self and taking the extra time to care about the person you are serving.”

“Our hotel is America’s Summer Place.  Summer is all about fun and relaxing.  It is our hope that every interaction is fun, engaging, and ultimately memorable.”

The type of person that succeeds in this environment

“You’ve got to love people and love to serve to succeed in this environment,” David says. “You need to be able to lead with your heart.” This means being not only willing but excited to serve other people. 

“Great hospitality providers enjoy making impacts in people’s lives – and that’s even more true at a resort. Here, there’s a lot more feeling and a lot more authenticity and less stuffiness, less formality. It’s key to delivering on our goal of providing guests with transformative experiences.” 

One of David’s mentor’s once told him that he had the ability to impact people’s lives every day.  “He told me he was jealous of the opportunities our team had to serve our guests. I try to share that comment and tell every team member that they can make an impact on someone’s day and possibly make a lasting memory.  You just have to have the will to do it.”

Lots of work, but a big learning opportunity 

Part of working at an iconic summer resort like Grand Hotel is that you may be working all over the property taking care of our guests. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding. 

“We work when other people play. In this industry, we work on all holidays when everybody else is vacationing and having time off, it’s our time to work.” That may not seem glamorous, but the payoff is in what you learn. 

“The skills that you develop, and the number of opportunities to serve that you have at a resort are boundless and far more than you’ll ever receive at virtually any other hotel in the country or even in the world. Resorts offer that greater opportunity to you.” 

Experience at a resort: a career door opener 

Because of the range and complexity of skills required to succeed in resort operations, it’s a great addition to any resume. 

“People talk about resume builders, jobs that get you other jobs.  When people have an experience like working at Grand Hotel on their resume, it stands out. There are a lot of people that know Grand Hotel that just might call you and say, ‘I saw your resume, and my family used to vacation at Grand Hotel,’ or ‘I’ve known about Grand Hotel all my life.’ It’s not just one of the best resume builders, it may open the door for you in many ways.”

David’s closing advice (and invitation)

Any good hospitality leader would take the opportunity to invite people to join his team, which is just what David did. 

“The one piece of advice I would offer is don’t shy away from a challenge. Don’t shy away from an opportunity. Don’t take the easy route. Reach out. I’ll answer and do everything I can to offer advice or find you a job at Grand Hotel this season or next.”

Connect with David here on LinkedIn 

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