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Cape Town Radisson hotel leads the way in accessible employment

Inge Huijbrechts and colleagues at Park Inn by Radisson receive their Guardian Sustainable Business Award [1]

Inge Huijbrechts and colleagues at Park Inn by Radisson receive their Guardian Sustainable Business Award

The Park Inn by Radisson Cape Town Newlands is leading the way when it comes to employing people with hearing disabilities.

Recognised this year by the Guardian Responsible Business Awards [2]in the Inclusion and Diversity category, the hotel triumphed for employing around 30% deaf and hearing impaired colleagues across all departments.

When they won the award, of 93 employees, 28 were deaf and none had previous experience of working in a hotel. The group trained them and is teaching hearing employees sign language to ensure full inclusion between staff members.

The 122 room Carlson Rezidor [3]property opened towards the end of 2014 on the former site of the Deaf South Africa [4](DeafSA) offices and is partially owned by them.

Working closely with DeafSA while the hotel was being developed, managers recognised a unique opportunity to welcome deaf staff into the hotel, making it a first in the company, and a first in the hospitality industry in South Africa to employ deaf staff on this scale.

There are 1.6 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in South Africa, representing 3% of the 53 million population; and 70% are unemployed. Deaf staff at the Park Inn [5]work in all departments from transport to maintenance, housekeeping, security and reservations. Unlike many hotels in the industry where hearing impaired colleagues are often employed in the back of house, the hotel is working hard to break potential handicap barriers. Elzabe van der Walt, creditor clerk, said, “It’s very difficult to find a job when you are deaf. I feel I’ve been given a chance here.”

The hotel introduced special measures to employ the deaf colleagues, appointing an interpreter, and guests are informed at check-in about the disability of some members of staff. Guests enjoy the interaction with deaf colleagues and all employees are getting used to using sign language.

In an interview with SABC TV, Dale Holmes, Supervisor Food & Drink and one of the deaf colleagues, says communication is vital so he asks guests until he is sure he is clear on what they are saying.

He said, “It is very difficult without hearing aids so we try to do written communication, but for me I have a hearing aid and I train myself to try and speak clearly to greet them, and when guests see my ‘I am deaf’ badge they are very accommodating and their attitudes gradually change.”

He added, “We lost our voices. We don’t even know what we sound like. We feel lost in the hearing world, so we really want to teach our hearing colleagues a bit of sign language. We will catch up with each other.”

Although there have been additional training costs, there have been other benefits. The hotel goes beyond standard sustainability practice as a result of its partnership with DeafSA. While it was aimed at generating revenue for deaf people to reduce dependence on government funds, the property took diversity and accessibility further than the legal requirement of catering for wheelchair-bound guests, and provides five specially adapted rooms. This has seen them host a higher number of disabled travellers choosing them above other hotels in Cape Town.

Marketing Manager Renaldo Pretorius told Green Hotelier, “As the competition for talent heats up in our industry we are focused on finding and growing talent from within, and in our local markets. We found that our employees with disabilities are hardworking dependable employees, they are less absent, the retention rate is higher and their productivity and efficiency are comparable to non-disabled employees. Furthermore, we find that our employees with disabilities contribute positively to the overall diversity, creativity and workplace morale and enhance the hotel’s image among its staff and costumers.”

Rezidor says its values of diversity, individuality and passion are central to the group’s success. The new employee value proposition [6]- Our Promise - articulates this and signals Rezidor’s dedication to being the employer of choice in the hospitality industry. They say, “Our Promise has been created by our people for our people and is the glue that binds the group.”

Our Promise is their commitment to everyone who works for Rezidor. It features six pillars:

The Guardian Sustainable Business award was received by Dale Holmes and Unathi Kave, Assistant Manager Human Resources, a sign language interpreter from the hotel. The award ceremony took place at The Crystal in London. Pretorius says, “When we heard about the award our staff were extremely excited and proud. They are happy to be recognised by this prestigious international award.

The success of Park Inn by Radisson Cape Town Newlands is now set to be replicated at Radisson Blu Le Vendome, another Rezidor property in Cape Town which will also employ a higher percentage of staff with hearing impairments.

Wolfgang M. Neumann, President and CEO of The Rezidor Hotel Group said, “Embracing diversity and inclusion is an important pillar of Our Promise, our company’s employee value proposition. The team at Park Inn Cape Town has proven that the true strength of a business and community lies in differences, not in similarities. I am exceptionally proud to see our colleagues win this great recognition from The Guardian.”

Pretorius says, “We embrace and celebrate our individuality and diversity. We encourage our teams to be unique, to be collaborative and to have fun.”

Sign language is not just about using hands, but also facial and body language to get the message across. Dale Holmes and Patrick De Louw, Concierge and Hotel Driver, say they use signs that are easy for hearing people to grasp. “I sign using body language to help guests understand and feel welcome,” says Patrick. Lip-reading and eye contact are very important for them to understand hearing staff and guests.

But the importance of facial expressions has had another unexpected bonus, leading hearing employees to smile more – improving the way they relate to guests, who are leaving positive comments on travel websites.

This Rezidor video shows how staff at Park Inn by Radisson Newlands Cape Town might welcome guests on arrival.