Taboo Resort, Golf & Spa: Connecting Foreign Workers with Seasonal Opportunities

taboo temporary foreign workers hrtimes feb09Taboo Resort, Golf & Spa, in Ontario’s Muskoka region, is one of Canada's premiere year-round Resort and Conference centres. As a seasonal operation, its peak season runs from late spring to early November. Given its unique location, and with most of its staff employed exclusively during the summer, it has proven very difficult to attract workers who are able to work seasonally.

To address its need for seasonal employees, hiring temporary foreign workers has become an important element of Taboo’s HR strategy. Out of Taboo’s 350 staff, around 100 are foreign workers: 60% women, 40% men, and most of them in their 30s and 40s.

With an HR Department consisting of three staff, Taboo has successfully been using a two-pronged approach to tap into foreign-trained workers. While one group of employees mainly comes from Barbados and St. Vincent in the Caribbean, the second group hails from European countries such as Switzerland, the U.K., and Germany. Barbadians and Vincentians are helping Taboo fill seasonal jobs in food and beverage, housekeeping, and golf, and European workers fill many of its culinary positions.

“Although it’s certainly more cost-effective to hire in your own backyard, the need for foreign workers goes beyond that,” says Randy Heyd, Vice President/General Manager at Taboo. “Employees from the Caribbean find that their seasonal earnings at Taboo are three times higher than their income in their home countries; the money they make here can make it easier for them to purchase a computer or save money for their families.”

Taboo has a strong overall retention rate of 68% when it comes to workers from the Caribbean. This is testament that the arrangement works well for both Taboo, with the seasonality of its operations, and for the workers, whose “strong ties to their families in their home countries create a need for them to return home,” says Mr. Heyd.

In contrast, there is a 24% retention rate for European employees, who are generally younger and more mobile, given the nature of their open work permits and their desire to explore Canada. In Mr. Heyd’s words, “our European foreign workers are big into travelling, so they come to us for one season, and then go elsewhere.”

Taboo has chosen to recruit from Barbados and St. Vincent because of their mature tourism industries and their peak season being opposite to Canada’s. Taboo works closely with the Ministry of Labour in Barbados and the Ministry of Tourism in St. Vincent to recruit workers under the Temporary Foreign Worker Low Skill Pilot Project. After assessing its need for staff and foreign workers, Taboo submits the recruitment requirements to the two Ministries, submits its Labour Market Opinion (LMO) applications, which take Service Canada about one month to process, and undertakes a recruitment drive in the two islands in December of every year.

In the meantime, the two Ministries are responsible for advertising Taboo’s job opportunities (including through public radio in Barbados), pre-screening qualified candidates, and submitting candidates’ work permit applications to the designated Canadian Consulate overseas. The Ministries do not charge the workers or Taboo for their services; the work permit application only costs the worker the usual $150.

“When submitting requirements to the governments, we generally look for candidates with 2-3 years of work experience at a high-end hotel, as well as for individuals with some hospitality training and a positive and extremely guest-friendly attitude,” explains John Bellamy, Director Human Resources at Taboo. Based on Taboo’s estimates, it costs the resort around $1,800 to recruit a worker from the Caribbean, which when amortized over a whole year turns out to be around $1.20 per hour.

This recruitment strategy contrasts sharply with Taboo’s approach to hiring workers from Europe. To find employees for its culinary positions, Taboo posts jobs overseas and engages in recruitment drives in global cities like London and Zurich. Given that most European candidates are eligible to work in Canada under various international youth schemes (i.e. Working Holidays, SWAP), recruiting European workers tends to be less costly for Taboo. Most of the workers, if not all, are responsible for paying for their own airfare and insurance.

Upon arrival to Canada, Taboo meets the new employees at the airport and transfers them to the resort. In the case of employees arriving from Barbados, representatives from the Toronto-based Barbados Liaison Service also meet the workers at the airport and act as a liaison between the group and immigration officers. “This form of travel assistance is designed to facilitate the group’s smooth entry into Canada. The Ministry of Labour also sends the list of workers to the Liaison Service who forwards the list to Canada Immigration in advance,” states Shirley Wall-Mayers, Assistant Liaison Officer at the Barbados Liaison Service.

When asked for some tips to help the workers succeed, Mr. Heyd highlighted that “employers need to be prepared to spend time helping the workers with housing and things like Social Insurance Numbers and health coverage.” Also, to help workers feel welcome, the Barbados Liaison Service visits the workers on-site. Shirley Wall-Mayers explained that “the purpose of the on-site visits is to see how the workers are getting along and to address any concerns that the employees and the employer may have, and see how we can help in the process.”

Once the peak season is over, most of the employees from the Caribbean return to their home countries. In the case of some employees, however, Taboo has been working in close partnership with Blue Mountain Ski Resort, a four-season recreational resort on Georgian Bay, Ontario, to have a group of 8-10 workers take up jobs at the resort during the winter season. This arrangement has been very successful, due in part to Service Canada’s responsiveness and willingness to issue new LMOs in a timely manner.

By expanding its pool of potential hires beyond Canada’s borders, Taboo has been able to successfully navigate the seasonal nature of its operation and offer seasonal employment opportunities to foreign-trained employees. For information and tools to assist with tapping into foreign workers, please visit

Would you like to share your successful experience with hiring and retaining foreign workers? The CTHRC would like to hear from you and feature your story in upcoming issues of our HR Times Tourism Newsletter. Please let the CTHRC know by joining and posting a brief message on the Employer Good Practices: Attracting and Retaining Foreign-trained Workers project on the CTHRC website – access the site now!