The Winding Road to Happy Hospitality

For Omni Hotels & Resorts’ Joy Rothschild, loving both her day-to-day work and her employer is better the second time around

The path that led to Joy Rothschild’s longstanding career with Omni Hotels & Resorts resembles the winding plot of a romantic comedy, if the relationship were between Rothschild and her job instead of between, say, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, especially when considering the story’s highlights.

As an enthusiastic college graduate and newcomer to the hospitality industry, Rothschild was flattered to be chosen as the first female maître d’ for a posh New Orleans restaurant. She was, however, quickly dismayed by the hazing she had to endure from her male counterparts. At a pay phone a few weeks later, following a particularly grueling evening involving a dead rat in the restaurant fountain, Rothschild desperately checked on other employment opportunities. She secured a job with Dunfey Hotel (now Omni) and worked her way up to senior vice president of human resources. Omni was then purchased by TRT Holdings Inc., a privately owned, Texas-based diversified holding company eighteen years later, and TRT representatives immediately started restructuring and laying off dozens of Omni staff, including Rothschild.

Rothschild then did some soul-searching while juggling a new husband and child, and she eventually found a new job with Carnival Hotels & Resorts, an affiliate of Carnival Cruise Lines. Two years later, Omni reached out to Rothschild and confessed the error of its ways in an effort to win her back. Rothschild accepted Omni’s new offer, and she found a company ready to embrace and evolve its culture. The result was a relationship—which Rothschild describes as a love affair—that has endured nearly two decades.

“The most important thing I do every day is champion our culture. We’ve created something very special here.”

This true-life tale was fueled, in its formative days, not by Rothschild’s previous experience, but by her commitment and dedication. “It was because of my attitude that I moved up quickly wherever I worked,” she says. “I’ve embraced that philosophy now with other people in my career.”

Today, Omni places an emphasis on recruiting, especially people with uplifting attitudes. The company began focusing on customer and employee satisfaction with the TRT Holdings acquisition nearly twenty years ago. Rothschild was in on the ground level of this particular brand of company renaissance, and she has remained steadfastly passionate about its importance. “The most important thing I do every day is champion our culture,” she says. “We’ve created something very special here.”

A centerpiece of that culture is a series of initiatives such as Omni Circle for Associates in Need. Launched in 2005 as a way to help Omni’s New Orleans employees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Omni Circle allocates grant money to associates enduring major hardships. From assistance after a house fire to airfare for an employee’s child living overseas, the program supports Omni team members in a multitude of ways. “It’s our owner’s favorite cultural initiative we have,” Rothschild says. “It allows us to reach out and help out people who really need it.”

Meanwhile, on the national level, Omni has had great success with its Say Goodnight to Hunger program. By booking a room directly on OmniHotels.com, rather than through a travel website, Omni provides a family of four with dinner for a week. As of December 2016, Omni has donated nearly five million dinners, with the organization planning for a total of 18.2 million annually. To meet that goal, the company decided to expand its efforts. Now, more than 3,700 associates have volunteered almost 5,000 hours of their own time to the hunger cause.

“We made it a company cause,” Rothschild says. “We challenged our hotels to support their local food banks, pantries, and markets, and they’ve really embraced this feel-good issue. There’s nothing else we do that’s the magnitude of Say Goodnight to Hunger. It’s been a great community partnership. We’ve teamed up with schools and done all sorts of projects, but this is our biggest initiative as a company that touches all the prongs.”

Initiatives happen on the local level as well. One spearheaded by Rothschild’s team was aimed at helping food insecure children from Dallas, where Omni is based. Backpacks for Kids is an initiative whereby underprivileged school children bring a backpack to their school office on a Friday and take it home filled with nutritious food for the weekend. Each bag costs $5 to fill, so the Omni corporate office offered its staff the opportunity to wear jeans to work—as long as they made $5 donations.

“We raised $6,000, enough to fill 1,200 backpacks,” Rothschild says. “I was stunned at the way people rallied around this program.”

The associates reap benefits from Omni’s efforts, too. In addition to the aforementioned Omni Circle, the organization commemorated their twentieth anniversary by recognizing people with tenure of five years or more with loyalty bonuses. Rothschild coordinated efforts to make this happen, including calling all the heads of the various unions involved with their employees. Omni also has a longstanding policy of helping with funeral expenses and other details when an associate passes away.

“It’s a simple way to put your arms around people that doesn’t cost a lot of money,” she says. “These people are a part of our family, and it’s not just at work. We’re taking care of eighteen thousand individuals’ livelihoods, and we need to take that very seriously.”