By Rune Nørgaard, Communication Director, IFU
Entering the lobby at Park Inn in Cape Town, South Africa, gives you the first visual impression of a hotel, which differs from most other hotels you have visited. And it is not the new Carlson Rezidor concept Park Inn that strikes you first. No, it is the security guards, greeting you with a pleasant smile and a visual badge on their shirts with a heart and the text “I am deaf” that is different.
At first you may wonder if anybody can hear you, but approaching the reception you are met by a very smiling and enthusiastic receptionist. Having confirmed your booking and settled the details, the receptionist informs you that the hotel employs deaf staff and that they are ready to serve you. Helping you along the key card cover contains some simple sign language signs like for example hello, please, thank you, etc. Then you are ready to leave for your room with a little challenging task of learning a new language.
One third is deaf
Carlson Rezidor has for several years been engaged in Africa, and today the group operates hotels in 24 countries across the continent. The hotels have different brands, and the Park Inn concept is a colourful and dynamic mid-scale hotel brand.
The Park Inn in Cape Town is located on the site of a former community centre below the Table Mountain and is owned by the Deaf Federation of South Africa (DeafSA). The hotel has been developed by Meridian Property and financing for the hotel has been provided from IDC and Afrinord, the latter being a fund set up by Rezidor and several Nordic DFIs, including IFU.
– We are very proud of the hotel and the concept of bringing deaf people on board, said Brendon Hart, Director of Sales & Marketing
It is the Carlson Rezidor Group that holds the management contract on the hotel, and it has been agreed with DeafSA that the hotel should employ deaf people as part of the staff. This has never been tried before and is therefore a learning experience for all.
The intention was that 40 per cent of the staff should be deaf; until now we have only reached around one third. But we are still working on developing the staff and work functions, so more of these can be carried out by deaf people, said Renaldo Pretorius, Marketing Manager.
– The guests have in general been very appreciating of the concept of employing deaf people. There have been a lot of positive comments and evaluations on Trip Advisor. We have had no complaints, and only a few of our guest have been a little impatient if things have taken longer than necessary. But told about the concept they have been very understanding and accepted that things here are done differently, said Renaldo Pretorius
Not only back office
From day one it has been the strategy that deaf staff should not only be employed in back office functions. Therefore the deaf staffs are working in all functions at the hotel, including security, housekeeping, kitchen, restaurant, reservation and conference arrangements.
The Rezidor Carlson Group has handled the recruitment process, and around 150 people have been interviewed. None of the employed staff with hearing impairment had previous experience with working in the hotel sector and have therefore received intensive training. Also hearing staff has received training in working together with deaf people.
– Yes, it has been more costly employing deaf staff, but the benefits outweigh the cost, said Brendon Hart
I am proud
Dale Holmes, one of the deaf staff, who is working as a meeting and events manager, likes his job at Park Inn:
– Ten years ago I looked for a job in the hotel sector, but it was impossible to find one. Now I have worked here since the beginning, and it has been a very good experience. I am very proud of myself, and I have not met any negative reactions from our guests. But some can be ignorant about deaf people until they meet us.
The project of hiring deaf people to do normal jobs at Park Inn is a great eye opener for many, said Jabaar Cassiem Mohamed, who is Province Director at DeafSA, Western Cape:
– In South Africa around 70-80 per cent of deaf people are unemployed and therefore only have a small state benefit to live on. At Park Inn they get a salary that is minimum three times as high, which give them a boost in self-confidence as well as much better living conditions. Furthermore, this project has led to other hotels copying the concept.
Award winning hotel
On your way out you pass a small statuette telling you that Park Inn, Cape Town, was selected as the winner of the Guardian Sustainable Business Award 2015. Reassured that it is possible to do a difference in life, I am entering the taxi with a smile.