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Whales, Weather and the Wickaninnish Inn

Why would anyone enjoy watching fierce winds and ocean storms? Imagine walking on a beach, the tide approaching, the ocean rapidly closing the distance to the shore. Walls of raging water rising, roaring, racing are engulfing the shore, crashing onto the rocky bluffs, bursting in wild clouds of spray. Such powerful storms exist in Tofino on Vancouver Island’s West Coast—the storm-watching capital of Canada.

Arriving in the small town of Tofino, I recognize British Columbia’s peaceful 'West Coast' character. I love the idyllic oceanfront resort, the Wickaninnish Inn, with its coastal architectural style and local, seasonally inspired cuisine.

The Inn has a unique history. The original Wickaninnish Inn operated from 1959 to 1978. It was situated further down the peninsula at a location now within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. In 1996, the McDiarmid Family opened this property in the spirit of the original inn, only now to be found on Chesterman Beach. Each year, the breathtaking beauty of the area draws thousands of domestic and international guests.

I soon meet Melody McLorie, the property’s HR Manager, and learn how much she treasures the local serene coastal setting. “I don’t wonder why people from around the world want to visit Tofino!” She says. “I have lived here for over 20 years, and I am fortunate to be raising my two daughters in such a safe, welcoming community.”

There is a charming story behind McLorie’s decision to build a career in the hospitality industry. “I remember a trip as a child through the interior of British Columbia. On that trip, I accidentally left behind my favorite stuffed dinosaur at a hotel we visited.” McLorie recalls pleading with her parents, begging them to backtrack hundreds of kilometers to bring back her precious Dinosaur.

“We called the hotel, but the dinosaur was nowhere to be found. I remember thinking I was sure I could find it there. I was hoping that they would say ‘Why yes, we have it! We’ll mail it to your next destination.’ I think this moment resonated in my mind. I wanted to be the one to make a difference to travellers; I wanted to find their lost dinosaurs, to bring that joy to someone.”

The Wickaninnish Inn offers a magical experience for guests, because of its remarkable location, the variety of unforgettable adventures, and the amazing guest service of its friendly staff.

On my second day at the Inn, I wake up to a raging storm. Then, a curtain of light pierces through the clouds. The sun casts bright ruddy-golden rays, vibrant and clear against the dark gloomy skies. From the distant mist, almost surreal, a few breaching whales appear from nowhere. Spouting vigorously, powerfully with a sound similar to air escaping from a huge balloon, they slap their tails like some mythical creatures arising from the depths of the sea...

I treat myself to a hot morning latte in a cozy nook at The Pointe Restaurant. My eyes are still on the whales. Boy, they know how to make an entrance! I ask McLorie what defines a hotel’s popularity ranking.

“We see a trend in the industry caused by the great number of social media forums offered to anyone with a computer or smartphone,” she says. “This trend changes everything. We have always trusted and encouraged ‘reader’s choice’ type rankings, where visitors having experienced the property firsthand, can file their ratings. Our reputation is well-earned and consistent, and I take great pride in having contributed to our good name.”

Many entrepreneurs and property managers have visited the Wickaninnish Inn to find answers to the Inn’s competitive advantage and why it cannot be copied. I ask McLorie what the secret is.

“It is our spirit,” McLorie replies earnestly. “You can buy the same furniture, artwork, and order the same fixtures, but you cannot reproduce the spirit that our team members share. Each year, we invest in our property, and invest equally in our people to keep them engaged. We take the guest’s best interest to heart.”

McLorie is often the first person to greet job seekers. With her close connection to the property from opening day, her history is a unique example of an employee’s life in a remote area. I ask McLorie how she ensures consistent quality service day in and day out at the Inn.

“It starts by hiring people with the right attitude,” remarks McLorie. “Skills can be learned, but you cannot train someone to enjoy helping others or to have a natural, warm, welcoming personality. Training is the key for success: defining your expectations of employees in a clear concise manner and then following up with them in a reliable and encouraging way, is what makes the difference.”

“What defines a great HR Manager?” I ask McLorie finally.

“Great HR Managers help people to succeed and become hospitality leaders. They are real, kind, and loyal, not just because they are paid to be such, but because they genuinely care.”

Original Article by Lora Waugh for Hospitality Careers

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