Think you know what Delta Hotels and Resorts is all about? Think again.The nearly 53-year-old Canadian hotel brand has been undergoing an overhaul during the past couple of years — a transformation epitomized by the stylish, locally inspired, upscale new Toronto Delta property, which opened in November. “It’s very rare in the history of corporate developments where you can really reset the dial on a brand,” says Charles McKee, Delta’s VP of Marketing. “But we would humbly suggest that the work that’s been done over the last two years has indeed done that
While Delta has long had a solid reputation for value and service, the brand and its properties were admittedly getting stale in recent years. “Through sound research and soul-searching, we found out a few years ago that the brand was seen as being great value but not particularly engaging; and, indeed, because of the way Delta had developed over the years and the timing of renovation and product development initiatives, we had a somewhat inconsistent product line,” says McKee.
In 2007, the Toronto-based Delta brand was acquired from Fairmont Hotels & Resorts by the Victoria-based British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC). “The new leadership team for Delta has brought a commitment to not only renovating the properties but also reintroducing Delta and acting like a brand. We’ve always been known to be a great management company, but we haven’t always acted and thought like a brand,” explains Ken Greene, president and CEO of Delta since 2012. “We have so much to offer. We’re Canadian founded, Canadian owned, we’re only in Canada, there are more than 6,500 employees throughout the country — we’re a part of the Canadian landscape. So with the commitment of our owner to start renovating the company-owned assets, and the commitment of third-party owners to renovate their existing assets and build and develop new properties in new locations, it made our job a little easier to tell the brand story and start to talk about the terrific things the brand has to offer.”
But what, exactly, is this new Delta all about? With the tagline “Expect Even More,” McKee explains, Delta is now about four-star properties that embody four fundamental brand pillars: “being genuine, being local, being personalized and being elevated — offering that elevated experience for the guest.” The “genuine” pillar comes through in various ways, but it’s especially important to the brand’s new service standards. Through an employee training program called Connex, Delta staff is now being taught to truly connect with the guests. “It’s not scripted programs; it’s allowing people to focus on the individual guests and their needs,” says David Bird, Delta’s SVP of Operations.
Bird offers an example of a situation that occurred at the Delta Bow Valley in Calgary. “One of our lounge servers, at the end of her shift, noticed a group of approximately 40 hockey players in the lobby, waiting around at a pretty late hour. The coach was pacing back and forth, looking at his watch and then looking outside,” says Bird. Instead of just heading home, because it was the end of her shift, the server asked the coach if something was wrong. It turns out the hockey team had arrived back at the hotel after a game, starving, and the pizzas they had ordered had not come. “So the server took it upon herself, even though the kitchen was closed, to go up and make nachos for them. Rather than walking past a group of young men in a lobby and a coach who’s looking distressed, and thinking, ‘I’m done my shift, it’s not my issue’ — she engaged with the guest and saw an opportunity to help. And they were so pleased; in between bites of nachos they thanked her profusely.” By making this genuine connection and seeing where she could help, she elevated the guest experience.
The “local” pillar is woven through the new Delta brand in numerous ways as well — anywhere from the materials used for the furniture, to the art on the walls, to the food served. And, in general, location itself is viewed as a key factor in the new brand essence. “It’s that visual experience that a guest has when they look out from the windows at our properties,” says Greene. When deciding where a new Delta property is going to be built, for instance, the view must be spectacular and the neighbourhood must be vibrant. The new Delta Toronto personifies this. Located in Toronto’s up-and-coming South Core (also known as SoCo) community, it’s positioned near the city’s bustling financial district as well as major tourist attractions such as Ripley’s Aquarium, the CN Tower, the Air Canada Centre, the Rogers Centre and more.
While there have been a few recent renovations and new builds that conform to the revitalized Delta brand identity — the Delta Ottawa City Centre was revitalized in 2012, for instance — the new Toronto hotel is being presented as the flagship property of the elevated Delta essence. Decked out in Canadian white oak, and adorned with local works of art, the property is 46 floors and houses 567 guestrooms. It’s purportedly the first new purpose-built, four-star full-service hotel constructed in two decades in Toronto that isn’t mixed-use; it also connects to the city’s underground PATH system, which means that when the much-anticipated UP Express train between downtown and Pearson International Airport starts running this year, guests won’t have to step foot outside to get to and from the airport.
All guestrooms at the Delta Toronto are based on a sleek, tech-enabled “ModeRoom” design, appealing to today’s typical consumer, who is travelling with three or four devices. “There’s nothing worse than walking into a guestroom and having to search for power sources, and having to move chairs and couches and pull out the cords from lamps to find plugs. So we’ve created a room that allows our guests to plug and play within minutes of walking into the room,” says Greene, who notes that many of the Delta hotels across the country now feature the ModeRoom, and the rest will be updating to it in their next renovation cycle.
The Delta Toronto is also capitalizing on a new partnership and introducing the Samsung Lynk Sinc system. “All the rooms have a high-definition TV, and the guests can connect to that TV with their devices. It allows us to do things like a personalized welcome when they arrive, for instance, because our PMS system links with Samsung’s system. It also has the ability to digitally display hotel information — so things like guest directories, local attraction information, emergency information, room-service menus — all of that can be put on the screen in a very easy format to follow,” explains Bird, who notes that this will become the new brand standard over time.
The opening of the Toronto flagship in November also coincided with the launch of a new Delta mobile app available across the brand. Developed specifically for Delta, in conjunction with Florida-based technology partner Intelity, the app acts as a virtual concierge. “You can use your mobile app to coordinate your pre-arrival needs, if you want to order extra pillows while you’re at the airport, for instance, or if you want to order dinner from the pool or request additional concierge service…. You can order it when you want, wherever you are, and it’s very simple and easy to do,” says Liana Guiry, director of Corporate Marketing for Delta.
While Delta execs would not disclose how much the new Toronto Delta construction cost, the investment was referred to as “significant.” The flagship Toronto property also features a fitness facility with a gym, whirlpool and indoor pool. There is approximately 17,000 sq. ft. of tech-enabled meeting and conference space, including a 6,000-sq.-ft. ballroom and 4,000-sq.-ft. terrace for outdoor events. The hotel houses a new 150-seat restaurant called SOCO Kitchen + Bar, which features a large, vibrant mural at its entrance called Brise Soleil. Created by Toronto artist Aleksandra Rdest, the mural consists of stylized illustrations of nearby Toronto landmarks such as the CN Tower and the Air Canada Centre and is part of the hotel’s commitment to showcasing local artists.
F&B Reflects the Pillars
Overall, Delta aims to have its food-and-beverage programs reflect all four pillars of the brand essence: genuine, local, personalized and elevated. The “local” pillar is especially important here; the idea is the food should be inspired by the unique location of each of the more than 40 properties across the country. “When people travel, they want their overall dining experience, including meals and decor, to reflect a genuine sense of place and taste,” explains Bird.
At Delta Toronto’s SOCO Kitchen + Bar, for instance, mains such as Ontario Pickerel ($26) and starters such as Hand-Cut Bison Tartar ($16) showcase the best of what Canada (and specifically Ontario) have to offer. And, in the lobby at the Toronto property, a stylish whisky bar called Char No. 5 “celebrates the best of Canada through Canadian whiskies,” boasts McKee.
At the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in B.C., the hotel’s Lure Restaurant & Bar was redesigned to fit with the new brand ethos, reopening in May 2014. The menu focuses on showcasing the fresh local fare of Victoria, while the decor aims to celebrate the island’s history and its natural beauty. “Our new menu showcases the unique culinary diversity that we source from Vancouver Island’s growers, artisanal food and beverage producers and local waters,” says Dan Bain, Lure’s chef. “We have mussels from Salt Spring Island, steelhead trout from Lois Lake, honey from Babe’s Honey Farm, organic cheese from Moonstruck Organic Cheese and craft beer from Phillips Brewing Company.” Meanwhile, the interior design uses nautical accents to pay tribute to Victoria’s seafaring settlers, while walnut tables, hickory floors, an oak bar and leather seats showcase local materials.
Spreading the Word
Marketing campaigns are a crucial part of any brand renewal, and Delta approached this aspect with gusto. “It was a massive year for us in 2014 in terms of marketing,” says McKee, explaining that the chain used a very integrated approach. Focusing efforts on national broadcast commercials created by Canadian advertising agency, Olson Canada, alongside digital advertising and social-media campaigns, the “expect- even-more” message was enthusiastically spread throughout the country in 2014.
“We focused on this notion of the ‘omni channel’ — each channel shouldn’t act independently of each other,” explains Guiry. “We knew we had to be in every device as much as possible just to become top of mind,” she says. Olson created TV broadcast ads that interwove the stories of different types of guests — a wedding couple, a business traveller, a family — and then those stories were singled out in online “vignettes” to shine the spotlight more specifically on particular aspects of how guests could “expect even more” from the new Delta.
One day in November, approximately a week before the Toronto Delta opened, Delta also embarked on a 24-hour-long high-impact YouTube campaign, showcasing its vignettes and promoting Delta on YouTube Canada’s homepage. Around the same time, the team launched a week-long #HelloSoCo campaign across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get people chatting about a different Toronto neighbourhood for each day of the week. They ended the week with SoCo, which then led the social-media discussion back to the new Delta.
“To change existing perceptions, we really wanted to show our story, not just tell it, but really show it in video and put it out there in a targeted manner,” says Guiry. And, according to early metrics, the marketing strategies have been working. “When you do marketing online, it’s so quantifiable and measurable, and we’re seeing a big shift in sentiment about Delta as a brand from neutral to very positive,” she says. “Guests are talking about their great experiences.”