As the hospitality and tourism industry gears up to welcome guests into the new normal after 16 months of navigating operational and financial uncertainties, many tourism-related businesses, including Choice Hotels Canada, are officially hitting the re-set button and rolling out confidence- building measures for both its employees and visitors.
Founded in 1993, Choice Hotels Canada currently operates more than 325 hotels across the country under its brands, posting recorded gross sales of $348.9 million in 2020. Globally, Choice Hotels operates 7,000 properties in more than 40 countries and territories.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the company has been working diligently to understand and respond to consumers’ changing behaviours. With stay-at-home orders, closed borders and cancellations of flights, events and hotel reservations, there’s pent-up demand for people to pack their bags and leave their homes. To that end, Choice is re-structuring hotel services to make them more appealing to consumers in a post-pandemic era while building confidence and trust.
“We expect a robust recovery in the early stages and think our hotels are positioned very strongly to outperform the overall industry through the recovery. Depending on how you define the recovery, we believe it’s already started and will continue to improve as the months and years progress,” says Brian Leon, president of Choice Hotels Canada.
Despite a slew of challenges brought on by the pandemic, Choice Hotels Canada was able to offer support to its hotels, guests and communities while remaining profitable. In fact, Choice Hotels Canada exceeded overall industry performance on a variety of fronts. Many Choice-branded hotels participated in the hotel quarantine program to help stop the spread of new, more transmissible COVID-19 variants and provided special rates to healthcare workers, police officers, food and agricultural workers, mass-transit employees and others working on the front lines.
“As every Canadian knows, this situation has been dynamic and unpredictable. Like many in the industry, we pay close attention to the forecasting done by the leading hotel-consulting firms. They’re generally predicting a return to 2019 industry RevPAR levels by around 2025,” says Leon. “Our expectations for Choice Canada is that we’ll get there sooner, based on the nature of our hotels and markets, and the fact that our hotels have outperformed the overall industry through COVID-19.”
Many franchisors and its hotels are in different phases of recovery, depending on geography and sector, but Choice Hotels Canada moved swiftly early on to capture opportunities and fend off major losses. Simply maintaining open lines of communication is something Leon says translated directly into profits.
“We spent a great deal of time researching and communicating government-relief programs to make sure our franchisees were taking advantage of every program available to them. We conducted a deep dive into revenue and sales and shared strategies with our franchisees on how to remain profitable, even though things looked very different,” says Leon.
Although economic well-being is important, the chain’s first priority is safeguarding workers and guests, ensuring their immediate health and safety.
In partnership with Ecolab, Choice Hotels Canada launched its Commitment-to-Clean program for all of its hotels across the country. The program focuses on enhanced cleaning practices and workplace-safety procedures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some of the enhanced protocols include increased cleaning and frequency of high-touch surfaces, re-configuring public spaces, installing partitions, distributing more personal protective equipment for hotel staff and ramping up on-site communications. Moreover, Choice Hotels Canada modified its housekeeping program to limit interruptions and provide more options to guests. For shorter stays, housekeepers provide service upon request, and for longer stays, housekeepers provide service every third night. Guests can also call the front desk to request additional towels, toiletries and linens when needed without having a housekeeper enter the room.
“In terms of cost savings, we believe that offering opt-in housekeeping for multi-night guests offers a certain level of safety, while also decreasing costs,” says Leon. “We expect this to remain even when the pandemic is over.”
Choice Hotels Canada is also planning to implement various technologies, including mobile check-in and keyless entry to further facilitate the contactless experience and make guests feel more comfortable. Looking into the future, there could be more developments on the horizon, according to Leon.
“The pandemic has and will continue to influence guest behaviour, and additional flexibility and design changes to hotels may follow. For example, for years we’ve seen hotels designed with smaller guestrooms and larger public spaces. We may well see a reversal in this trend. Things like kitchenettes, direct access to guestrooms and outdoor spaces may become more desirable. The design of breakfast rooms may change, as well as fitness facilities. We might see more fitness spaces in the guestrooms themselves, like Pelotons or yoga stretching areas,” says Leon. “We’ve already witnessed this in the new Rise & Shine prototype for the Comfort brand, which focuses on an optimized footprint to support both work and play, including inviting outdoor patios. We also believe we will continue to see on-demand housekeeping in the future.
In terms of recruitment and retention, returning staff and new hires alike will be put through an extensive training program in order to fully understand the proper cleaning and workplace procedures and perform efficiently once travel resumes. However, Leon believes it’s only a short-term concern.
Leon says Choice Hotels Canada sees the pandemic as an opportunity to move forward and create an even better societal and economic impact instead of settling into the same pre-COVID patterns.
“The more we talk and collaborate with each other, the better it makes us all. It’s an important point. One of our franchisees and the former head of our CCFAB, Judy Sparkes-Giannou, quoted her father at one of our CCFAB meetings by saying, ‘A problem shared is a problem halved.’ We’ve all lived by that this past year. And it’s worth noting that would not have been possible if not for a Canadian-based team talking to Canadian franchisees. We were all in it together, says Leon. “It was amazing to see the positive attitudes of our franchisees through this, their resilience and their positive spirit and confidence in the future. The obvious lessons we all learned is that we can do things a different way. We’ve all adapted, whether it be by using new technologies or other efficiencies; we’ve all figured it out and will continue to figure it out. We’ve been made stronger and more agile, and we have great optimism for what the future will bring.”
Written by Nicole Di Tomasso