CASE STUDY: Anantara's new E-learning programme

The rationale behind the firm's new training scheme, and the results

Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort & Spa by Anantara.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort & Spa by Anantara.
Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan.
Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort & Spa by Anantara.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort & Spa by Anantara.

The Asian luxury resort operator has expanded its training options to facilitate the development of high potential team members. Hotelier finds out the rationale for the initiative and gets an insight into how the new scheme works

Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas, part of Bangkok-based Minor International, has recently introduced e-learning as part of its strategic associate development programme. The company has teamed up with three external providers - Skillsoft, Ashridge and E-Cornell — with the aim of increasing and improving opportunities for talent within the group, which now operates 19 properties in Thailand, the Maldives, Bali, Vietnam and UAE and will be entering China in 2012.

E-learning is often mooted as an area of potential development when it comes to hospitality training, being particularly suitable for time-strapped senior managers. But few companies have launched such a strategic approach to it. Here, Tracey Lloyd, group talent director for Anantara, explains why and how the company went in this direction.

The rationale and objectives
As Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas grows and expands beyond Asia, the group needed to ensure a good base for its learning and development internationally and introduce a layered approach to meet the needs across all levels of associates.

Lloyd explains: “It was essential that we provided a blended learning approach at all levels. Due to the current growth of the brand, we needed to ensure a global reach as we continue to expand our geography, plus we needed to send a consistent message across our portfolio.”

She acknowledges that while there are “many generalist” options for senior management and GMs, “we have provided a guided learning approach to suit both the individuals and our business model here at Anantara”.

The concept and investment
Anantara selected three different external training providers for its e-learning programme, “to give us a good breadth of learning covering all layers of the organisation,” says Lloyd. 

“They each have different strengths, which is why we chose them to suit the varied level of associate requirements.

“Skillsoft is a 24/7 offering which allows our associates to learn at their own pace. It also enables downloads of courses when connection is an issue.

“Ashridge is a resource library allowing associates to access different formatted information on key leadership skills like coaching. E-Cornell exposes our senior managers to people outside of their normal working environment, allowing them to learn from peers from other industries.

“We did a lot of preparatory work with each provider to ensure we were meeting the needs of each audience. As an example, we gave the providers our competency sets and they mapped their courses against these to give us a customised catalogue for Anantara,” explains Lloyd.

“To date, a total investment in excess of US $100,000 has been made by the company on the new e-learning programme,” she reveals.

The programme in practice
Crucially, everyone at Anantara is eligible to take part in e-Learning. Plus, e-Learning can be scheduled time within work hours or can be taken in free time and no payment is required from the associates.

As Lloyd explains: “We have three different levels of e-learning available and all Anantara associates have access to at least one of these offerings.

“There is a huge spectrum of courses, from asset management to health and safety. Examples include, Maintaining an Engaging Organisation, The Basics of Delegation and Creating a Business Execution Culture.

Examples of the e-learning courses offered to GMs through E-Cornell include: Managing Strategic Change, Creating Value and Competitive Advantage in the Hospitality Industry; and Creating Service Cultures.

“Skillsoft courses can be as short as one to four hours; Ashridge offers more of a resource library approach, so these courses can take as much time as the associate wishes to invest; E-Cornell is more intense learning over a two-week period,” adds Lloyd.

The results to date
So far, the results of the e-learning initiative have been hugely positive, as the three associates featured below testify. This is just a tiny sample of the participants, however. To date (mid-August), more than 2500 Anantara associates have taken e-learning courses and Lloyd hopes to at least “double the numbers” within 12 months.

“The programme is very new to our associates so we provide an orientation in groups so that they can get used to this new way of learning. We have regular reports on usage and we are working with our providers on the expected outcomes of the learning. At this point it is too soon to measure success in business terms.”

However, she says that e-learning has “become part of most of our existing portfolio — so we hope eventually to have a blended learning approach”.

Lloyd concludes: “Our goal is for e-learning to become the basis of our learning culture within Anantara and provide a platform for continuous self-development for our associates”.

Andre Erasmus,
General manager,
Anantara Xishuangbanna Resort & Spa, Yunnan

Andre Erasmus is from South Africa and previously was GM at Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara in Abu Dhabi. He has recently successfully completed two E-Cornell online courses — Pricing Strategy and Distribution Channels in Hotel Revenue Management and Managing Strategic Change.

“All course material and curricula proved highly relevant with immediate benefits, directly applicable in practice. I found the practical exercises both enjoyable and stimulating. One of the greatest advantages is the continuous interaction with fellow industry professionals from around the world.

The discussion board served as an ideal platform to explore new concepts, revisit existing practices and share opinions and practical experiences. The course instructor provided continuous guidance and support by providing insightful comments, suggestions and questions.

E-Cornell's ‘structured flexibility’ model ensured that I was able to fit my studies into a busy schedule.I highly recommend these courses and mode of study. In fact, I am definitely going to commit to two additional courses later this year.”

Phornseenie Mekrasmeethorn,
Director of spa, Anantara Spa,
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort

Phornseenie Mekrasmeethorn is Thai and has completed the Performance Management course from Skillsoft.

“Skillsoft e-learning has helped me to meet my learning needs and to do my job more effectively and efficiently. I have gone through 12 courses and each time I finish one course I feel more confident when dealing with situations.

The last course I did was Performance Management, just before the performance appraisal process I had to do with my team. Simple techniques I learned really helped me to do performance measurement differently this time.

It increased my confidence while dealing with my team in appraisal sessions and my team seemed more comfortable and engaged compared to their last performance appraisal. I saw my learning in practice.

“The courses are designed in such a way that is interesting, interactive and well updated. One advantage I like in Skillsoft e-learning is the flexibility it offers. I can do my learning any time anywhere. It surely helps me to overcome the limitation of time distance and resources.

Skillsoft e-learning is indeed my buddy of development.”

Mark Eletr,
General manager,
Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan Resort & Spa in Thailand

Australian-born Mark Eletr has taken two E-Cornell courses so far.
“I found the courses I undertook both useful and enjoyable. The flow, the pace, the interaction and the content were all very good and the instructor was great. I usually speed ahead on these things because I hate leaving things to the last minute but I did note that’s not the best approach because you can then miss the interaction on topics.

I liked the way that they presented topics within the context of our industry and so concepts were quite easy to grasp and ultimately to apply. I am looking forward to doing many more and completing the full certificate!”

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