How Ryann Hanna Opened a Hotel During a Pandemic

Ignite Expert

Ignite Expert

The hospitality industry took a significant hit in 2020 when COVID-19 made its way to the United States. For Ryann Hanna, the pandemic coincided with her biggest project to date: Opening the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront and Tulu Seaside Bar and Grill. 

Under normal conditions, Virginia Beach is a major hospitality hub, relying on the summer season for most of its business. With plenty of opportunities, the hiring market is highly competitive. However, when you’re amid a global pandemic, many new challenges arise. 

As the task-force resort director of human resources, Ryann’s position required her to fill open jobs, train staff, and open the hotel to the public in May 2020. Although she faced hurdles in this role, her experience as an industrial-organizational psychologist, holistic life and executive coach, and human resource expert in the hospitality industry perfectly positioned her to tackle this tough job. In fact, within just weeks, Tulu Seaside Bar and Grill ranked as the #1 must-visit restaurant on the beach. 

The challenge: Persevere during unprecedented times

Maintaining an upbeat outlook while meeting a strict deadline was essential for Ryann. Not only did she need to find top talent in a competitive environment, but she needed to train and retrain professionals who were undergoing personal challenges of their own. As Ryann says, “We were faced with state-wide closures, health concerns, and a fast-approaching summer season.” It was clear the solution required a personal touch reflecting the unusual circumstances. 

The solution: Deliver connection and comfort

Ryann worked with others to develop a strategic approach to hiring and training in uncertain times. She says, “We accomplished this major endeavor through two effective strategies: Connection and comfort. 

1. Connection

Today’s employees crave transparent communications and personalized experiences. Moreover, they want to feel a connection to their workplace and co-workers. According to Ryann, “It was a key initiative in the recruitment and retention plan to have well-crafted, well-timed, and highly personalized communication to create a strong connection with our talent pool. This essential strategy closed the deal on top talent and formed bonds of commitment that translated to retention as well as performance.”

2. Comfort

As life flipped upside down, Ryann knew employee comfort was vital to hiring and retaining team members. She says, “During a health pandemic, every new face in the building wanted the comfort and security that they would have a safe place to work and a consistent income. We created this through a pre-opening payroll plan and highly structured health and safety procedures that we followed visibly and consistently every day.”

The results: Success during the turmoil

With a thoughtful approach, Ryann met the opening deadline and developed a successful hiring and retention strategy, resulting in rave reviews and a thriving hospitality operation during some of the hardest times the industry has ever faced.

Improve outcomes with strategic planning

Hospitality operations took a hit during COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean that success isn’t possible. Get support from industry leaders, like Ryann, to manage your performance, train teams, and improve outcomes. Move forward with your plans by scheduling a call with Ryann



VP of Food & Beverage: “We would not have been able to open without Ryann on the team.”


Ryann Hanna is an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist and Human Resources expert in the hospitality industry and a Holistic Life and Executive Coach.

After spending time in foodservice distribution and logistics, she started her portfolio with select and full-service Hilton branded hotels and seven food and beverage outlets. These included Lagerheads, Catch 31, Salacia, Skybar, Ultra Lounge, Tortugas, and Mahi’s (formerly Mahi Mahs) at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. During this time, she also became a certified brand trainer with Hilton Hotels.

Next, she grew her career by transitioning to task force openings, including opening three international branded hotels. She assisted with the food and beverage outlets Varia, Grain, Saltine, Becca, The Raleigh Room, Tulu, and the Cavalier Resort Beach Grill.

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