Raising Stars: GF Hotels & Resorts Retains Employees by Investing in Their Professional Development


Leisure demand has made a strong comeback in 2022, and a recent analysis by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and Kalibri Labs expects it to end the year 14 percent higher than in 2019. Unfortunately, the rise in demand comes at a time when labor shortages continue to affect the industry. This challenge has led many hoteliers to implement programs that keep employees engaged both professionally and personally. Quality training programs improve employee performance and provide attractive opportunities that minimize turnover, both of which help hotels meet the rising leisure demand.

GF Hotels & Resorts began investing in its staff prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, building “a strong team of leaders,” said President and Chief Commercial Officer John Rubino in a recent conversation with LODGING. “We were ready and took on new contracts for our growth. So, we put all these great people in place, and then the pandemic hit. But our philosophy was, we’re still going to grow. We did not lay off those team members.” Instead, GF used its training programs to keep team members employed and engaged in their work during COVID, and the company continues to reap benefits from those programs today.

Training Sessions and Mentorships

GF University and the company’s Career Advancement Program (CAP) are both designed to train and elevate employees in their fields; however, the programs are structured differently. GF University is a platform that hosts training sessions about specific topics, taking place eight or nine times per year, according to Rubino; two to three of the sessions are held in person while the rest are virtual. CAP is an individualized, year-long program that employees can graduate from.

“One thing that was really important when I joined the company was developing a mentorship program because we wanted to be able to help team members grow to the next level,” Rubino explained. CAP was designed to meet that objective. “We wanted a front desk worker to become an office manager, or a sales coordinator to become a director of sales. But we also want our general managers to become area general managers or vice presidents. … We wanted to create leaders of the future in our company.”


An example of growing internal leaders is the promotion Ryan Alpert to executive vice president, sales and commercial strategy. And, more recently, GF promoted Lynsey Kreitzer to senior vice president of sales and commercial strategy, filling in Alpert’s previous role. Alpert said that through the trust and mentorship GF’s leaders provide, the company allows its employees to “fail safely and be able to do things differently.” Due to the exploration the company encourages, he added, “we’ve been able to test things out and value-add to create better programs. It’s been game changing.”

Retention in an Era of Labor Shortage

According to “Overcoming the Talent Shortage in the U.S. Hotel Industry,” a recent whitepaper from the NYU School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality and Boston Consulting Group, job seekers look for opportunities to engage, grow, and stay with a company, in addition to considerations like pay, flexibility, and a sense of belonging. Thus, the kind of professional development opportunities GF provides facilitate both attraction and retention. “We rolled out CAP where we have team members that are training for advancement, and it has helped us with retention,” Rubino confirmed.

But there is always the possibility that employees will use the training from their present company toward a new job. After all, a member survey recently conducted by AHLA found that 87 percent of respondents are experiencing the effects of the ongoing labor shortage, and that means hotel employees in general have more opportunities to “jump ship” and find jobs with other companies.

GF Hotels understands that despite its retention efforts, team members could consider other avenues of employment. Rubino noted, “We realize that team members may want to take opportunities outside of the company, but that’s the risk we’re going to take. We want to be able to make a difference in their lives so they can provide better for their families and have career advancement.”

As the industry continues seeing high points and low points, it’s important for GF and all hotel companies to ensure as many team members as possible have access to resources to build their careers. In doing so, each associate’s performance and engagement is optimized, which paves the way for the company itself to succeed.

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Robin McLaughlin is digital editor of LODGING.