Tulalip Resort Casino promotes ‘culture of hospitality’
by Beckye Randall
During a casual conversation with a fellow swimmer at the YMCA, I was struck by her enthusiasm for a job she said she “loved.” With so many people laboring in jobs that are unfulfilling, boring or frighteningly tenuous, encountering that passion about a workplace was refreshing.
So where is this lucky woman employed? At the Tulalip Casino.
Alisa Henning works in the Rewards Club program and, because of the program’s prime location just inside the casino’s front doors, is one of the first people guests meet. A gregarious person, Henning enjoys greeting customers and helping them enjoy their visit to the casino.
But she was even more enthusiastic about the treatment she, as an employee, receives from casino management on a daily basis.
“They make it so much fun to work there,” she said, “and we’re encouraged to do whatever it takes to provide great service for our guests.”
Ken Kettler, president and chief operating officer for the resort property, confirmed Henning’s perception of staff empowerment.
“Developing a positive workplace culture is critical to a company’s success, and we call ours a culture of hospitality. It’s not a program, it’s how we do business,” said Kettler.
Kettler was hired to manage the growing tribal leisure enterprises two years ago. With a 34-year history in the gaming industry, seven years of that in tribal gaming, he was a good fit to head the Tulalip Gaming Organization (TGO), which includes the Tulalip Casino, Quil Ceda Creek Casino and Tulalip Bingo.
In a few months, the opening of the 4-star Tulalip Casino Resort Hotel and Spa will increase TGO’s footprint and Kettler’s oversight duties.
“We have an exceptional bricks-and-mortar product,” said Kettler, “but what sets us apart is our commitment to guest service. To attract tourism and convention business, our competition is not other tribal casinos; it’s the Four Seasons Hotel, the Westin.”
“We try to keep it simple,” said Kettler. “When I came here, the business wasn’t broken but we wanted it to be better, to enhance what was already here.”
Under Kettler’s leadership, the staff developed an internal program to encourage that culture of hospitality. Employees were asked for input, helping to develop a “Stars” recognition program to reward outstanding performance.
These days the 1,800 employees at TGO are trained to honor the Six Commitments, a simple but comprehensive list of behaviors that creates a positive and productive environment for both employees and guests. (See Sidebar below)
“We consider our workplace culture to be a proprietary component of our business,” said Kettler. “It gives us a competitive advantage in hiring and keeping the best.”
Kettler shared the six guidelines and the steps taken to implement them as he explained, “it’s important to walk the talk.” All staffers, from entry-level line employees to top management, are asked to keep the commitments in mind as they perform their jobs because, as Kettler said, “Behavior creates culture.”
“At any one time, there are 1,000 employees on site at the three locations,” said Kettler. “It’s important that each one of them takes personal responsibility for the performance of their job duties.”
An additional challenge for TGO, which will be the county’s second-largest private employer following the Boeing Company once the new hotel is fully staffed, is that there are approximately 20 different business enterprises under one roof.
“Employees in the food services division have different priorities than cashiers or slot machine technicians or housekeeping personnel,” said Kettler. “So the managers of each of those divisions create specialized performance criteria for their employees, reflecting the critical aspects of those different jobs.”
With the luxury hotel set for a “soft” opening in June followed by the official grand opening in August, there are 450 more jobs to fill in the next few months. The Tulalip Tribes follows a strict tribal preference employment process but non-natives are also invited to apply for the positions.
“Our first charter is to create Tulalip jobs,” Kettler explained, “and to support training and educational opportunities for tribal members.”
Brett Magnan, the executive vice-president of the hotel, has formed a partnership with Everett Community College to develop a Tribal Enterprise Management Program. Participants can earn short-term certificates of proficiency in specific areas including event management, hospitality and housing services, or combine the courses for an AA degree.
Currently, said Kettler, the program is only open to existing TGO employees and tribal members interested in pursuing hospitality careers.
Job openings are advertised in 2-week cycles, with some entry-level positions always open for applications. To find out more about job opportunities at the Tulalip Resort Casino and Spa, visit www.tulalipcasino.com/employment.aspx.
The Six Commitments of the TGO: