By Amy Bostock

TORONTO — The Greater Toronto Hotel Association (GTHA) held its second-annual Hotel Summit and Annual General Meeting last week at the Sheraton Centre Toronto. Under the guidance of Master of Ceremonies Catherine Velie, general manager W Toronto, the event brought together more than 250 industry decision makers and partners for a full day of panel discussions and presentations on relevant industry topics to help inform, educate and motivate.
Also in attendance was Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Neil Lumsden. “Our government knows the importance of hotels to the tourism sector and the province’s economic success,” said Lumsden. “Hotels are the first to welcome, host and care for Ontario’s guests and we are working together to grow Ontario’s hospitality industry, our tourism sector and the Ontario economy.”

“Our panels and speaker sessions will focus on keeping our guests and staff safe in hotels; managing your hotel’s online reputation; retaining talent and building leaders; and the state of the visitor economy and its future,” said Sara Anghel president & CEO Greater Toronto Hotel Association to kick off the program.

Following the opening keynote by Dr. Ivan Joseph, award-winning performance coach, leadership and cultural-transformation expert, the first panel took to the stage to discuss the issue of physical safety in hotels. The session, titled Safety & Security: Keeping Hotel Guests and Staff Safe, was moderated by Tim Reardon, general manager, Sheraton Centre Toronto. Panellists included Mike Josifovic. director of Safety & Security, Toronto Downtown West BIA; Anthony Lamanna, crime prevention officer, Toronto Police Service; and Liam O’Brien, director, Security and Emergency Management, Fairmont Royal York. The panel discussed the ongoing challenges associated with keeping the areas in and around hotels safe for guests and staff alike and delved into some of the societal issues that need to be addressed when looking at this challenge.

“I’m not sure what’s happened, but there’s something strange in the air,” said Lamanna. “People are angry or frustrated. Across our city [we’re experiencing more] disorderly conduct, we’re having issues with our street-involved people — the people that have mental-health issues, addiction — and society does not really know how to deal with it.”

“Working in the downtown core, in the GTA in general, we’ve always had to deal with [people with mental health and addiction] issues,” said Josifovic. “What’s unique to today is the increased frequency of the interactions that our staff, whether security or your frontline staff, are now exposed to. So, it’s something we’ve dealt with in the past, it’s just at a much higher level than expected.”

O’Brien added there’s no single solution to how to deal with a problem that’s economical, social, and physical, so hotel departments have to work together to face the challenges. “It’s important to recognize and to promote the idea that everyone is on the same team. I always say that the rest of the departments are the eyes and ears for security to you ­— they’re the ones that are out there on the floors, on the front doors, that are going to be able to communicate to the security team or whoever’s in charge of responding to these individuals in a timely manner. So, the first thing is making that expectation clear that you really do need these individuals to recognize what they’re looking for.”

The panel agreed that all hotel staff needs to be trained on what suspicious looks like. “If a housekeeper up on the floor [hasn’t been] trained on what suspicious looks like, it’s not their fault if they don’t understand what they need to do,” said Josifovic. “The security leaders need to express what the expectations are very clearly, and what [staff] need to do in those situations.”

The second panel of the day, Workforce: Retaining Talent & Building Leaders, was moderated by Rosanna Caira editor & publisher, Hotelier magazine, and featured Liana Carniello, director, Human Resources, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel; Bai Bunpanya, general manager, King Blue Hotel Toronto; and Donna M. D’Andrea, management labour relations and employment lawyer, Hicks Morley’s Toronto.

“Everybody in the room agrees that [recruitment and retention] is probably the biggest subject that we can be discussing the industry today,” said Caira by way of introduction. “We’re coming out of a very turbulent three years and there’s been a lot of changes in the marketplace.”

Carniello agreed the biggest focus for her HR team is retention of the hotel’s workforce. “How do we retain employees and how do we engage all of these new leaders and team members to our organizations, many who have never worked in hospitality before?”

“The pandemic was a big re-set button that we needed to push,” said Bunpanya. “But I don’t know if, as leaders, we were able to pivot fast enough to meet the demands of the marketplace today in terms of employment. I think the focus today needs to be on us as leaders and how we can shift the way we manage [staff] so that we can change the perception of our industry.”

From a legal perspective, D’Andrea said the biggest issue post-pandemic is human-rights related. “And in particular, managing a number of different human rights-related matters, such as accommodation for mental health-related issues. But I would say, probably one of the employer’s biggest challenges is dealing with competing interests, both with respect to recruitment, retention, mental health, various accommodations, with respect to hybrid work and others. So, I think you’re likely to see an uptick in requests over accommodation, and potentially even formal human-rights complaints.”

During the panel titled State of the Visitor Economy & the Future a DMO & MLSE Perspective, Edwin Frizzell Regional VP, Central Canada for Accor & general manager, Fairmont Royal York, welcomed Scott Beck, president & CEO, Destination Toronto; Matthew Valentine, senior director, Strategy and Business Operations, MLSE; and Victoria Clarkem CEO, Tourism Mississauga top the stage to discuss the state of tourism in the GTA.

Beck recalled discussions from last year’s GTHA Hotel Summit and pointed out that the industry is in a very different position now than it was in 2022. “Where we are now is a very different environment, and it is this way in large measure because of the lack of government regulation [related to COVID restrictions]. But it’s also this way because perceptions about travelling and about how important it is have changed and we’re getting back to [travelling]. So, I’m feeling very bullish about the economy.”

The day wrapped up with the GTHA’s AGM, where the slate of candidates for the 2023/24 GTHA Board of Directors were announced.
“I am thrilled to welcome our new Board of Directors to the GTHA,” said Anghel, “Their diverse expertise and unique perspectives will be invaluable in advancing the interests of our members. I am also thankful to the returning Board members for their continued enthusiasm and commitment to the GTHA.”

Newly elected board members include:

  • Jennifer Worden, Toronto Marriott Markham
  • Peter Gillis, Westin Harbour Castle
  • Ajay Harjani, Hilton Garden Inn Toronto/Vaughan & Homewood Suites Vaughan

Returningboard members include:

  • Alexi Hakim, InterContinental Toronto Centre
  • Andy Loges, Hilton Toronto
  • Ashok Baghel, Hyatt Regency Toronto
  • Bonnie Strome, Park Hyatt Toronto
  • Catherine Velie, W Hotel Toronto
  • David Kelley, SoHo Hotel & Residences
  • Edwin Frizzell, The Fairmont Royal York
  • Ellen Hryhor, Residence Inn by Marriott Toronto Downtown
  • Frank Russo, Four Points by Sheraton Toronto Airport
  • Hiren Prabhakar, The St. Regis
  • Patrick Cappa, Omni King Edward Hotel
  • Paul De La Durantaye, Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square
  • Peter Kingsbury, Courtyard by Marriott Toronto Airport
  • Robert Housez, Chelsea Hotel, Toronto
  • Sara Anghel, Greater Toronto Hotel Association (non voting)
  • Tim Reardon, Sheraton Centre Toronto
  • Toni Frankfurter, The Waterside Inn
  • Yari Khan, Delta Hotels by Marriott Toronto Mississauga
  • Umesh Srivastava, Doubletree by Hilton Toronto Downtown
  • Zorica Drapic, Embassy Suites by Hilton Toronto Airport


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