High-end amenities abound at the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which earlier this year completed a $50 million renovation. Players in the National Football League Pro Bowl were among the first guests following the renovation.
For meeting professionals, the resort increased indoor meeting space to 48,000 square feet, doubled the size of the fitness center, and offers more than 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, some overlooking its private beach.
But these luxuries and big spaces were far from the minds of the hotel’s executives when six of them plus two Haitian employees traveled to Haiti this past August to help the Haitian people recover from the recent devastating earthquake.
We caught up with Director of Sales and Marketing Jay Marsella and asked him about the trip.
What prompted you to go to Haiti?
We employ over 250 Haitian associates, and all were affected by the tragedy. Some lost entire families to the earthquake. It is part of Marriott’s culture to take care of our associates, and as a team, we felt this was an investment more important than any teambuilding we could do. We wanted to make a difference in some way, and decided what better way than to open up our hearts to a place that not only needed it, but is connected to us personally through our associates.
Who went along on the trip?
Six of us, including our General Manager. We also took two Haitian hourly associates from human resources and our laundry department. Our human resources associate, who is 30 years old, was reunited with his mother after more than 20 years. A truly special moment.
What did you do there?
We went on a trip to support the Great Commission Alliance www.gcanet.org whose work there focuses on the people that need it most. The focus was on education and supporting orphanages. Basically, the future of Haiti lies with the youth there and they need support to feed and educate them. We assisted in the distribution of food and clothing to many families and orphans, assisted building a home of a widowed mother of two girls, donated classroom-style chairs, built a canopy school, and anything else we could do.
How did the trip help your executive team in addition to the help you provided to the people of Haiti?
It was the ultimate teambuilding event for us. It was an emotional trip and each of us were very much touched by the experience. We saw personal sides of each other that you would never see at a typical “retreat.” We were housed in small rooms with bunk beds for six people and shared a bathroom with an additional six people. Far from staying at our luxury brands! There was no housekeeping, air conditioning was hit or miss, we were always on guard to avoid any type of sickness, and food was prepared in conditions that were far from the comforts of home. We learned about the people of Haiti and a great deal about ourselves and each other. It was one of the most rewarding trips we have ever made.
What was the most challenging part of the trip and the work you did?
Two things come to mind. First, trying to stay somewhat emotionally unattached when you are helping kids who are hungry and sick – some are visibly malnourished. It is definitely sad to see what we saw. Second was the heat – we worked all day and even though we are from south Florida, it was pretty hot and humid.
What surprised you the most about Haiti?
The spirit of the people. After all the devastation, they were happy, friendly, faithful, and welcoming.