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Sandpearl Resort's casual luxury starts with happy hotel staff

LaTesha Crawford cheerfully holds the door open for guests at the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach. “Do you see my beautiful view?” she says. “Who wouldn’t want my view? Who could be unhappy with that view?”

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

LaTesha Crawford cheerfully holds the door open for guests at the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach. “Do you see my beautiful view?” she says. “Who wouldn’t want my view? Who could be unhappy with that view?”

CLEARWATER BEACH — The Sandpearl Resort was built in 2007 to replace the historic Clearwater Beach Hotel — but not to replace what the historic hotel stood for.

The new hotel was built by developer Mike Cheezem and the Hunter family, who owned the old hotel. They wanted to maintain the spirit of relaxed luxury of the resort's historic predecessor.

The new resort had to look great but feel casual. But to do that, it also had to maintain the family-like work atmosphere for the staff.

"It was very important to Mr. Cheezem that we carry on that tradition of not being stuffy," said Sandpearl general manager Eric Waltz, 42, "that our associates feel like they're a part of the family and that we care for them."

That family of associates, in turn, create the easygoing atmosphere for the guests. That's why the Sandpearl Resort earned AAA's prestigious Four-Diamond award. That's also why it's among the five hotels on the Tampa Bay Times' list of Top Workplaces.

The old Clearwater Beach Hotel had 150 rooms. The Sandpearl's 224,000-square-foot beachfront building dwarfs that. It's eight floors has 253 rooms, two restaurants, a lagoon-style pool and a spa along the beach.

When it was finished in 2007 the total cost was $100 million. It was also the first Silver LEED-certified resort built in Florida.

The hotel's commitment to service was spelled out in nine values — they literally spell the word Sandpearl — to respect each other and to be warm, attentive and helpful to the guests.

As at many other businesses, Sandpearl employees are expected to keep a card containing those values with them at all times. Last year employees who could recite them all from memory won $100.

Management said it has maintained those values under the new majority owner, Ocean Properties Ltd., which runs more than 130 high-end hotels. Cheezem and the Hunter family are now minority owners of the Sandpearl, but their vision lives on.

"They wanted the Sandpearl to compete with the Ritz Carltons and Waldorf Astorias," Waltz said. "They want a guest to be comfortable walking through the lobby in their swimsuit, but their surroundings to compete with the best hotels in the world.

"From an associate's standpoint, we want our guests to feel like they're returning home."

It helps if the staff feels like they're at home, too.

There are perks to working at the Sandpearl besides being at the beach. There are awards, annual company events like picnics, a free pair of new safety shoes once a year and, most important, free beach parking. The hotel rented off-site lots for employees and gave out free bus passes.

There are also free meals for the afternoon and evening shifts, prepared by the staff's own chef.

"This is the 12th hotel where I've worked and this hotel by far, more than the others, really does have a feel of family," Waltz said. "If something bad happens to one of our associates, all the other associates feel it. It really is a very close knit group of people."

The resort also maintains an emergency fund to help staffers out in a time of need. Recently, that meant buying last-minute plane tickets for a staffer who had a family emergency.

"We want to make sure people enjoy working here and working with each other," said Human Resources director Gail Hasan, 40. "You see that when people have family emergencies. When you go to a funeral and half the staff is standing there, supporting someone."

LaTesha Crawford, 31, who works in the front lobby, likes the way management helps her do her job. That wasn't the case at the last resort she worked at in Virginia.

"The management style, it's not like any other place where I've worked," she said. "Management wasn't hands on when you really needed them.

"When they see you need help here, they jump in right away. I like that."

She also likes meeting new people and interacting with them everyday. And she especially likes her surroundings: from her post greeting guests at the main door, she can see the sand and surf of Clearwater Beach across the hotel lobby.

"Do you see my beautiful view?" she said. "Who wouldn't want my view? Who could be unhappy with that view?"

Jamal Thalji can be reached at (813) 226-3404, thalji@tampabay.com or @jthalji on Twitter.

HOTELS IN THE TOP 100

Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa

No. 3, midsize | Built along the beach in 2010, the 250-room hotel employs about 160 people and their credo is: "Little Hotel, Big Heart."

Hyatt Hotels and Resorts - Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay

No. 5, midsize | The 442-room hotel was built on 35 waterfront acres in 1986. It has about 300 employees who have a 401K plan and discount stock options.

Renaissance Tampa Hotel at International Plaza

No. 12, midsize | Built in 2004, the 287-room hotel employs about 160 and does charity work with Metropolitan Ministries, the American Cancer Society and the United Way Suncoast.

Sandpearl Resort

No. 16, midsize | The 2007 replacement for the historic Clearwater Beach Hotel is an eight-floor, 253-room resort that employs 354.

La Quinta Inns & Suites

No. 30, midsize | The national chain has 12 hotels in the Tampa Bay area and employs about 260 people. Its programs for hiring veterans and working with military members and their spouses have earned recognition for two straight years.

Joe Miller

Title: Executive Stewarding

Age: 53

Tenure with Sandpearl: Started in 2007.

"I like working with the employees. It's a nice environment, a nice place to work for ... I'm in charge of dishwashing and cleaning the kitchen. We do a lot of off-site events and I like to go help with that ... I like going around the hotel, meeting new guests ... The employees make the place. We want to satisfy the customers, to keep them coming back."

Nicholas Penzato

Title: Activities, Pool & Beach

Age: 18

Tenure: The Sickles High School grad was hired in February.

"It's a great place to work. The employees are so respectful. All of them have a really good work ethic, and the managers are great overall. They can work with you on any schedule. I live in Tampa so I have to drive over 45 minutes to work everyday. My manager is careful not to schedule me from closing shift to open shift so I can get some sleep. You're working in paradise everyday."

THE SANDPEARL RESORT'S EMPLOYEE VALUES:

Smile: always be pleasant to the guests.

Acknowledge: always say hello and goodbye.

Name recognition: guests like it when you use their names.

Details: always be ready to answer guests' questions.

Professional: proper attire, crisp uniforms and name tags.

Empowerment: staff should take charge of every guest interaction.

Anticipate: if guests don't know what they need, the staff should.

Respect: that goes for guests as well as fellow staffers.

Lateral service: teamwork is everyone's responsibility.



Sandpearl Resort's casual luxury starts with happy hotel staff 04/11/14 [Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2014 10:59am]
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