As one of the first major hotels to open in Canada, the Westin Nova Scotian is steeped in history. Opened in 1930 as one of the original railway hotels, its location near Pier 21 on the Halifax harbourfront, and next to the VIA rail station, means it’s not only an iconic destination for the city, but also the first hotel that many of the one million immigrants who arrived in Canada via Pier 21 associate with this country.
John Wilson has his own deep-rooted history at the hotel, having worked there for more than two decades, starting as assistant controller. In fact, he has the distinction of being the first associate hired at the hotel when New Castle Hotels & Resorts purchased the historic property, thereby saving it from the wrecking ball, and reopened it as the first Westin franchise hotel in Canada.
The Fredericton, New Brunswick native oversees a team of 250 associates who ensure the 310-room hotel hums at all times. Wilson enjoys engaging his team and keeping guests happy. “The guest comes first and the answer is always yes.
We will always be faced with challenges, but with good listening skills and empathy you can make a difference.”
Since moving to operations, Wilson prides himself on a new-found respect for empathy and he enjoys “getting my hands dirty.”
With so many lodging options for consumers to choose from, Wilson understands the importance of standing out. “Everyone is fighting for the same customer,” he says. “You need to always be listening to the voice of the customer to ensure you’re on top of your game or they’ll find other options. In today’s social-media world, it takes only minutes for the world to know what’s happening at your property.
“It’s all about the people,” says the father of two. “We need to ensure we hire good people with the right attitude. We cannot manage in a vacuum and must build a team with the same goals in mind.”
Later this year, the hotel will undergo a massive renovation of its guestrooms and hallways, followed by the meeting rooms and lobby next year.
To kick start the project, the hotel recently upgraded all elevator mechanicals for faster operations, upgraded guest internet and introduced new RFID locks on all guestrooms. Additionally, “We are attempting to do a better job of educating our guests and passersby of our history,” says Wilson.
With 23,000 sq. ft. of event space, the hotel attracts a large group component. “Our customers are both leisure and group — people of all ages and demographics: mom, dad and the kids, business professionals, government, small and large businesses and plenty of social business as well.”