NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Work hard for four days straight without pay and you might land a job at the end of it. That's the offer on the table from Atlanta-based NYLO Hotels, an 18-month-old boutique chain that caters to the hip and modern, yet budget-conscious business traveler. CEO John Russell was so inspired by the Donald Trump reality show "The Apprentice" that he decided to host his own version at NYLO Providence/Warwick in Warwick, R.I.
While there may not be $250,000 salaries in the offing in this week's inaugural NYLO Sales Apprenticeship Contest, the eight finalists certainly are competing for either a 12-month paid apprenticeship or a three-month paid internship at NYLO's Rhode Island location, a sleek 163-room hotel designed by Stephane Dupoux (of New York's Buddha Bar and Miami's Nikki Beach fame). And the consolation prizes aren't bad, either. All the finalists will receive a two-night, three-day getaway at NYLO Providence/Warwick (where rooms run from $129 to $209 per night). The contest deviates from "The Apprentice" in another way as well: No one gets fired.
Mr. Russell, former chairman of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said the benefits of NYLO's creative hiring process will extend far beyond finding people to work at the hotel, particularly in a down economy.
"It's kind of a promotion/awareness program for hospitality, and also provides networking to all of these candidates," Mr. Russell said. Rhode Island has been "hit hard" by the recession, he said. Rhode Island's 11.1% unemployment rate is the fourth-highest in the nation, according to April data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So in addition to drumming up publicity for the Providence/Warwick area, the contest will culminate in a fundraising event for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, which the finalists will promote throughout the competition.
Business travel down
Mark Brodeur, director of tourism at the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp., who was asked to judge today's activities, said 26% of all state revenue from tourism in 2007 came from business travel -- an estimated $1.25 billion. And while final numbers for 2008 won't be available until August, he said, the most negatively affected area in Rhode Island tourism has been business travel. "We saw a fairly good year up until August, but in September things started to fall," he said. "Certainly a property that relies on business travel needs to stand out, and I think NYLO is doing that perfectly."
The eight finalists stood out among 45 candidates based on their resumes and interviewing skills. (Originally 10 finalists were chosen, but two had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts.) They range in age from early 20s to early 30s. Four will vie for the job, while the other four will vie for the internship, said Christine Nevers, general manager at NYLO Providence/Warwick. One of the finalists is 27-year-old Josh Roth, who is pursuing an M.B.A. degree from Johnson & Wales University in Providence. Mr. Roth has his eye on the 12-month job, and called the contest a "tremendous opportunity that will open doors not just in Rhode Island but throughout the country."
The finalists have camped out at the hotel since May 30, learning about the NYLO brand, its Rhode Island location and the contest, which officially began June 1 and will wrap up tomorrow evening at the fundraiser, where the winners will be announced. The eight aspiring NYLO employees have been competing in teams of two on various sales and marketing assignments: getting bookings for the hotel, using discounted rates, spreading the word about the fundraiser. They are judged at the end of each day by Mr. Brodeur; the mayor of Warwick; and the president-CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality & Tourism Association, Mr. Russell said.
"We get out of it a very confident, very aggressive, tested salesperson to come work for us," Mr. Russell said. "And the intern we bring onboard, who's to say they won't come to work for us?"
Some brand building too
The Providence/Warwick hotel opened in September 2008, so getting the word out about the brand is vital. "Instead of running an ad someplace that gets you nothing, I'd rather run something that's fun and creative," Mr. Russell said. He declined to share the size of the investment, saying only, "It's not over the top, but it's not under the stone, either." NYLO has worked with public-relations agency Ypartnership, Orlando, Fla., and local firm Regan Communications Group, Boston and Providence, to spread the word.
Mr. Russell said he doesn't feel like he is taking advantage of the finalists. "Well, it's not free labor, because we're paying for them to stay at the hotel and eat," he said. "It's a contest! And it's a contest for a reward at the end."
Plus, Ms. Nevers said, the event revolves around the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. She said she expects 300 people tomorrow evening, including Rhode Island politicians and business leaders. There will be a silent auction with all proceeds going to the charity, and the hotel will donate one hour of beverage sales and a percentage of hotel bookings for that evening. "Yes, we want to get the word out about the brand, but we also want to give back to the community," she said.