With vaccines delayed, with provinces having various levels of control over the COVID-19 spread and with continued flying restrictions, leisurely interprovincial travel – not to mention international travel – still feels a world away.
To cope with a crisis that has cut across the entire tourism sector, hotels have been getting creative in an effort to lure in locals.
This past week, Fairmont Banff Springs debuted its new all-season outdoor-dome dining experience to entice patrons. Leading up to Valentine’s Day, its sister property, Fairmont Palliser, garnered sizable buzz with its luxury $6,000 room special.
Whether you can afford a luxe outdoor dinner encased in a heated, see-through dome or splurge on a high-end in-room chef’s tasting menu plus accommodation, these measures get people talking. They serve as a reminder that hotels are local businesses in need of support, too.
Calgary’s Hotel Arts Group has become particularly imaginative. It has, of course, offered an array of takeout and special-occasion meal kits through its main restaurant Yellow Door Bistro since last spring, but the hotel has also launched things such as “all-inclusive” packages (reminiscent of a trip down south), in-room dinner and movie nights and, most recently, a new set of virtual golf suites.
“Although we may have reduced some amount of offerings, we have remained committed to making sure that we are [still living up to its reputation],” Hotel Arts Group’s executive chef Quinn Staple says. “We haven’t been able to bring back all our staff members, but we have been striving to make sure their absences are not felt or noticed by our guests.”
Mr. Staple says that as soon as restrictions relax and entertainment is permitted, the hotel will be launching a wide variety of recurring events from acoustic live music to drag performances and more.
“Having to open and close a few times has been rough on our staff, which is tough to watch, but I am really glad that we were able to reopen last week and have an extremely busy and positive Valentine’s weekend,” he says.
Joel Waterman is the general manager of the much-celebrated Inn at the Forks in the heart of Winnipeg. As a destination property that includes a popular eatery on-site, Smith Restaurant, Mr. Waterman says that 2020 was particularly difficult with the hotel seeing a 70-per-cent drop in food and beverage revenue.
“A hotel is a meeting place and vital to any strong community,“ Mr. Waterman says. “Being able to host association and corporate meetings in banquet spaces or private dining areas is really important in keeping your networks connected.
“Having innovation in your restaurant offerings, marketing to a large demographic of customers ... these are all huge components of our business and are cause for excitement and economic growth for all kinds of related entities.”
He goes on to say that destination-marketing organizations, such as Travel Manitoba and Tourism Winnipeg, have done their best to adjust and support local operations such as Inn at the Forks, but the property has also had to create enticing packages for locals. They have found success by working with local partners to offer things such as a “Culture Package,” which includes museum passes and a gift card for Smith Restaurant. As well, their new winter collaboration with Kendrick’s Outdoor Adventures will encourage Winnipeggers to stay and partake in snowshoeing or fat-tire cycling.
“Most hotels will have a cash-flow crunch if we don’t start to see some sense of normalcy [this year]. Many of our employees that have been laid off will have moved on to other jobs, other industries,” Mr. Waterman says. “Some hotels that are owned locally may be sold to outside investors. ... It’s going to be a long road back.”
As an outsider looking in, one of the provinces that has felt the most “normal” throughout the pandemic is British Columbia. Still, as the Magnolia Hotel’s general manager Bill Lewis explains, it has not been easy in a city like Victoria, either.
“At the beginning of the lockdown, there were two of us in the building at a time, 24/7, with anywhere from no guests to a small handful every night,” Mr. Lewis says. “I can recall working some night shifts with one of my chefs, who would meet with each of the few arrivals to see what he could make them for dinner and then take it to their rooms.”
Clearly things have changed dramatically since last spring, but they are far from normal.
Like nearly all hotels, Mr. Lewis says their staff numbers are significantly less than before the pandemic, about 60 per cent less, and the hotel has had to reduce some offerings. Its award-winning restaurant, the Courtney Room, is regarded as one of the best dining options on Vancouver Island and still operates successfully for breakfast as well as dinner with reduced capacities.
“We have made every effort not to reduce or streamline services. However, the hotel and restaurant staffing is scaled to the business levels we have requiring less people. We believe that maintaining service levels at our existing standards is the right thing for our property,” Mr. Lewis says.
He adds that the hotel has had a lot of local interest in overnights while offering a dining credit of $75 with bookings.
“We hope to see recovery happen within 2021, at least on a domestic scale. Should this not occur, we feel that we can pivot and continue to operate on a modified basis as we are now until recovery comes around.”
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