Alfa Leisureplex Group – Our EO Story: EO culture integral to our ‘phenomenal bounce back’

At Alfa Leisureplex Group, culture is the key to delivering our mission – which is to provide memorable holiday experiences to our customers.

Our inclusive and diverse culture allows each and every one of our employee owners to make a real difference, to develop and to find enjoyment in coming to work, which in turn delivers our financial targets in which all employee owners benefit from.

Outstanding EO Culture

We believe that EO is what underpins everything we do within our business. We are now seven years into our EO journey and continue to develop and promote our culture. In 2018, we were awarded the Rising Star award at the EOA Annual Conference and this is something all of our employee owners were immensely proud of and that has inspired us to build on ever since.

It’s often difficult to demonstrate a culture in words, you really need to feel it! If you ever visit you will get that sense of our warm, friendly culture as you visit our hotels, interact with our coach drivers or call to book a holiday.

We describe it as the ALG difference, that smiling friendly employee who has worked a long shift but goes the extra mile to give the customer a great service. Our employee owners do it because they care and you will often hear the phrase ‘ALG family’ amongst our teams as we foster a real sense of team spirit and support.

Below are the most recent examples of how our culture has shone through and got us through the most precarious of circumstances to bouncing back stronger than ever.

We survived the pandemic!

Clearly we are not the only business severely impacted by the pandemic, but being in hospitality and overnight having to close our operations for such a long period of time was the most challenging of situation the business has faced in its existence.

Had it not been for our EO focus and determination for doing the right things we would not have bounced back the way we have. Whilst many other tour operators and competitors made large scale cutbacks and redundancies, and some sadly closed their doors, we utilised the furlough scheme to retain our workforce, with over 95% of over 750 employee owners being furloughed at various times.

Keeping our teams on board was essential for us to bounce back when restrictions were lifted and allowed us to support our employees and deliver an outstanding performance once we reopened.

Communication was vital throughout the pandemic to keep our teams who were furloughed up to date and involved. We initiated a framework to incorporate regular wellbeing checks and pulse surveys for our employees, plus updates on the business and the pandemic in general. This was highly valued by our owners at a time when they needed that extra assurance.

We also wanted to look after our customers, many of whom are older and socially isolated, particularly in light of the restrictions. We set up a community Facebook group, sent cards, small gifts and many of our amazing employees volunteered to call customers who had had their holidays cancelled over Christmas to check up on them and wish them well, which was gratefully received and truly heartwarming.

Post-pandemic recovery

We emerged fully from the restrictions in May 2021 ready and raring to go and facing huge pent-up demand for UK holidays, but with major challenges particularly with recruitment, supply chain issues and Covid measures in place.

Our-long standing employee owners and core teams went above and beyond to keep the operation running successfully and our guests safe.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve seen our MD, directors, trustees, drivers, accountants, IT technicians, reservations and people services teams all volunteering to work in the hotels to put in a restaurant, kitchen or reception shift, some for several weeks at a time and all whilst doing their day jobs in between.

Without this culture and comradery to support each other we would have had no other choice than to close hotels.

Despite these challenges, we improved our customer service scores in 2021 vs 2019 by 1% to 85% positive overall, an outstanding result in the face of ongoing Covid restrictions and as a direct result of the strong EO team culture we have built.

It is only when the chips are down you truly get to see what a good culture can harness and what real engagement looks like and we have certainly seen the very best of this in the last 12 months.

Engagement and employee voice has always been an integral part of our EO journey and in the face of adversity, and when our colleagues were regularly working long hours, it was therefore even more pleasing to have achieved our record engagement score, achieving an overall score of 82% in  October 2021.

During the height of the pandemic we also launched our first employee mobile app, the ALG hub; allowing employees to reconnect and the business to share important information quickly with our teams.

We are continuing to develop the app and adapt our approach, utilising our employee voice groups to improve our offering and encourage participation.

Financial performance

Our financial and business performance is underpinned by the talents of employee owners who deliver a service that our customers return for, and therefore an outstanding culture is required to achieve success in any EO business.

After the worst year in the group’s history in 2020, as a result of the national lockdowns, there was a quite remarkable turnaround in 2021. The group booked its most profitable year in its history, with EBITDA £4million higher than any previous year. This enabled payment of our highest ever employee dividend of £950 per employee.

In July 2021, we rewarded the hard work of our colleagues across the group with an unexpected pay rise and in April 2022 employees across the group received a minimum further 5% increase; a record pay award.

Employee ownership activity

Despite being in survival mode, not only did we retain our culture, we also invested in it. Once our employees were back at work we continued our business improvement initiative to establish a new employee council structure, which is now much more collaborative and project focused.

The ECM’s are currently working on a number of initiatives within their local areas that will feed into the business strategy including an environmental and sustainability improvement project, which is a huge focus for us moving forward.

Summary

After the worst two years of our company’s 30-year history, we have achieved a phenomenal bounce back. In 2021, we recorded our highest ever employee engagement, a record financial year and with our culture stronger than ever.

Our EO culture was integral to this success and we are delighted that contrary to industry trends we have been able to survive, deliver a record financial performance and invest in our employees to see EO at the forefront of our business as we build back stronger than ever post pandemic.

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