Since opening their first hotel in 1988, Christiane and Jean-Yves Germain have established themselves as innovators and leaders within the Canadian boutique-hotel landscape. From a single independent, family-run hotel in Quebec City to a burgeoning company with three brands and 16 properties in six provinces, Group Germain Hotels’ strong values and focus on superior service have helped shape its success and establish a loyal following.
The company, which the sibling duo co-founded and share presidency of, takes a guest-centric approach to its hotels, offering unique perks such as no fixed check-out times across its portfolio and a unique flat-rate pricing strategy on its Alt brand. In Jean-Yves’ eyes, it’s “the attention we are providing our guests and the personality of our service staff” that sets Group Germain’s hotels apart from the competition. Staff are given “the latitude to make decisions to make the guest more comfortable,” he explains. “We [also] try to have [our staff] serve starting with a ‘yes.’ When the guest is [requesting] something, we like to say ‘yes, we will try’ or ‘yes, it’s possible.’”
The company also leverages social media to enhance the guest experience — using it as a customer-service tool to respond to the needs of potential, current and past guests, as well as an opportunity to interact with guests and enhance their stay.
Beyond service, the company’s distinctly Canadian-first approach has undoubtedly helped it put down deep roots in the communities it enters. “We are a truly Canadian brand, not only because we have our name on the building, but because we [feature] completely Canadian content,” says Christiane.
Group Germain uses Canadian architects and designers, sources its uniforms from Canadian designers/brands and its properties offer locally sourced amenities, such as Ruby Brown and Bella Pella bath products. The company’s local-procurement policy also extends to its art programming, which showcases original works by local artists in guestrooms and public spaces, including works by Julie Couture, Jason Cantoro, James Lahey and Matthew Plexman.
“If we want to be part of the community, we have to work with it — it’s a no-brainer,” says Jean-Yves. “At the end of the day, Christiane and myself are hoteliers and the real focus is on our guests, our product, our staff, our [partners] and, on that side, we are really different.”
Within the last year, the company has made significant strides toward its goal of having 20 hotels across the country by 2020, with the opening of three hotels in 2018, including Le Germain Hotel Ottawa — the company’s first new Le Germain hotel in almost eight years — an Alt Hotel in Calgary and the launch of the new Alt+ brand at Quartier DIX30 in Brossard, Que. With three more properties in various stages of development, the team is currently only one project shy of reaching its goal.
When originally conceived, Alt+ Quartier DIX30 was set to be a one-off hotel designed to take advantage of an opportunity brought forward by the project’s developers. As Quartier DIX30 is already home to the company’s original Alt hotel, the Group Germain team came up with a concept that complemented the site, offering a four-star product that reflected the spirit of the Alt brand, but with elevated amenities and larger rooms designed for slightly longer stays.
“The Alt we have there is doing very well and the developers wanted to have another property — more of a four-star type of property — so we elevated the Alt [concept] and brought it to another level,” Christiane explains. “After opening the hotel, we came to the conclusion that there are other opportunities in Canada for Alt+.”
And, no time was wasted in seizing such an opportunity. Hot on the heels of the brand’s debut in April, a second Alt+ is already in the works for Edmonton’s Ice District, which will be the company’s first property in the city.
“It could have been an Alt, but we decided to go with an Alt+ because the city can [support] the higher rate,” notes Christiane.
In addition to this and projects underway in Saskatoon and Calgary (slated to open in 2019 and 2020, respectively), the company is also undertaking a major renovation of its Le Germain Hotel Montreal. The transformation will include work to both the exterior of the building and the interior of the hotel. When complete, the hotel will feature an outside marquee, refurbished lobby, restaurant and bar, ’70s-inspired guestroom design and additional meeting rooms.
This summer also marked the launch of a new partnership with Air Canada Vacations. Through the partnership, Group Germain properties are now featured in Air Canada Vacations’ Go Canada Collection as part of “urban-chic getaway” packages bundling airfare and accommodations, designed to encourage travellers to explore Canada.
When asked what has allowed their company to achieve its current level of growth and success, the co-founders immediately cite staff and company culture. “Our employees are absolutely wonderful; they’re very proud to work for us,” Christiane says. “We try to select the people that have [an affinity] for service — the attitude is so important.”
And, in recognition of the pivotal role its staff plays, the company also puts an emphasis on employee engagement and development. This is achieved though weekly employee surveys through Gsoft’s Office Vibe platform, monthly newsletters, a private company Facebook group and an internal leadership-development program.
“When we identify people who are interested in continuing in this industry and want to stay with us, we provide them with training programs so they can learn more and become better,” Christiane explains.
The company’s dedication to its guests and staff has proven effective. All of Group Germain’s eligible properties hold a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence and this year also marked the 13th-consecutive year the company has been recognized in Canadian Business’ Canada’s Best Managed Companies list.
As Christiane notes, being a family business has shaped the company’s approach. “I’m sure Jean-Yves has days where he thinks I’m a pain…but, overall, respect is a very important part of our relationship and adds a colour to [our operations]. It can be felt by the team,” she explains. “Not only are we in the hospitality business, dealing with people, we, as a company, are real people and try to be very close to everyone. At the end of the day, it makes a difference.”
It has also allowed the co-presidents the opportunity to work alongside their children, Jean-Yves adds. “My son and daughter and Christiane’s daughter are working with us and we know we have people that are really dedicated to the group — they have the brand imprinted on their bodies.”
Group Germain is also committed to making a difference beyond the scope of the hospitality industry. Both Christiane and Jean-Yves chair charitable organizations (Musée National des beaux-arts du Québec and L’Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec and Fondation Mérici collégial privé, respectively) and participate in several other initiatives, such as the Fondation CERVO, which focuses on brain-related research. In fact, in 2017, Christiane was named Most Socially Committed CEO by Les Affaires.
“It’s very important for us to be involved — it’s another part of our [community] involvement and values,” explains Christiane.
Group Germain also supports the Grand Defi Pierre Lavoie — a charity race with a mission to encourage young people to adopt healthy life habits. Each year, the company also sponsors a school in a region it operates in, providing funding for sports equipment and facilities to help encourage the development of healthy lifestyles. Since 2012, the company has raised approximately $385,000 for this initiative, which has impacted nearly 10,000 children across the country.
As Group Germain seeks to continue its growth and pursue its vision of becoming a truly nationwide company, Jean-Yves notes the company hopes to expand west to B.C. “Vancouver is a must for Group Germain,” he says. “We are not in Vancouver and that is, for sure, a market where we’d like to be. It’s a market we’ve monitored for the last 15 years.”
And, with its goal of reaching 20 hotels nearly complete, the company contemplates the next chapter of its expansion. “The next goal [may] be we try to double the number [of hotels] by 2025 — we will try to accelerate the speed of development and add new hotels to our portfolio. Exactly how will it work? It could be ownership, it could be development and maybe we will see more management of properties in specific markets,” notes Jean-Yves. “Our brands have much better recognition in the market than, say, 10 years ago.”