What a difference a year makes. At this time last year the hotel industry was sailing through a summer full of optimism. Sales were strong, people were travelling and economic indicators were good. Then a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to posting another solid year — September hit, the economy began to tumble, and the tide turned for the worst. The last quarter proved to be dismal, and what should have been a vintage year became mediocre at best.


Almost a year later the hotel industry is still navigating through choppy waters. According to recent data released by Statistics Canada, inbound U.S. traffic is down significantly. In fact, since 2001, day trips to Canada by Americans have fallen a whopping 70 per cent. And with the Canadian dollar and gas prices rising, and new passport regulations a reality as of June 1, the situation appears to be getting more tenuous. This summer, many travellers are also waiting until the last minute to book trips, which is increasing pressure on hoteliers to fill rooms.


Nevertheless, in spite of the gloom and doom — and compared to the situation in the U.S. — there are positives for Canadian hoteliers to take solace in, and much of it is evident in this year’s Top 50 Report. Many companies managed to post solid growth in 2008 and expand their portfolios. This month’s cover story, Sequel Hotels & Resorts, grew its business by serving up a unique brand of hospitality.


As Canada readies to welcome the world for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the hotel industry is also poised for its next evolution. It’s estimated the Olympics could generate as much as $10.7 billion for the Canadian economy, with more than 350,000 people expected to attend and millions more watching from around the world. According to a recent VISA International tourism study, one in four respondents said they are likely to attend the Games, and the majority of those visitors plan to visit other parts of the country as well.


And with the announcement that Canada has moved from ninth position to fifth as a global travel destination, the future looks bright. In fact, the Canadian Tourism Commission’s ‘Keep Exploring’ brand continues to work its magic. The recently released Anholt GFK Roper Nations Brand Index ranks Canada first out of 50 countries in terms of the nation people would visit if money were no object. What’s more gratifying is Canada beat out stiff competition; the rest of the top five countries are Italy, Australia, Switzerland and France.


Certainly the coming years will demand bold new ideas and approaches in all segments of the hospitality industry. Whether it’s strategies to drive new growth, radical ideas that will shape new business or product innovations that will wow today’s fickle consumer, the possibilities are limitless. All we have to do is ride out the current storm.


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