MONTREAL — The hotel industry gathered in Montreal recently for the three-day Hotel Association of Canada National Conference held at Le Westin Montreal.

Following an opening reception and tradeshow on Wednesday evening, the event programming kicked off Thursday morning with outgoing HAC president & CEO Susie Grynol and HAC Chair Tony Cohen emphasizing the importance of collective action and sharing knowledge and highlighted HAC’s work over the last seven years to maximize the domestic workforce, attract and retain talent, and preserve the industry. Grynol also talked about HAC’s ongoing efforts to advocate for regulating short-term rentals in Canada and emphasized the importance of enforcing rules and regulations to limit the number of short-term rentals and protect the industry.

The first session of the day, Speed Stats, featured five hotel industry experts who discussed the data behind key components of the industry. Speakers included Marsha Walden, president and CEO, Destination Canada; Monique Rosszell, senior managing partner, HVS Montreal and Toronto; Nicole Nguyen, SVP, Canadian practice lead, Hotels Valuation & Research, CBRE Hotels; Emile Gourieux, regional manager, STR; and JoAnna Abrams, CEO, Mindclick. The five 15-minute sessions covered topics such as the potential growth of Canada’s tourism industry, regional disparities in hotel supply and demand, and industry risks. Data points highlighted the industry’s growth potential, while regional disparities and COVID-19’s impact were also discussed. Other topics included ADR growth, along with the need for adjustment; recovery in major cities; and potential for growth in domestic business travel and overseas demand. Additionally, the growing demand for sustainability in the hospitality industry was highlighted, with examples of successful sustainability projects and the cost-effectiveness of this approach.

The conference keynote speaker, Leonard Brody, multi-exit entrepreneur and business and technology visionary, took attendees on a journey back in time to understand how history has shown that we can only accurately predict two years ahead and delivered a clear, narrow-focused exploration of the forces shaping our near future and how leaders and organizations can better prepare for it.

He discussed historical patterns of cyclical re-sets in various aspects of society, including housing, technology, and human behaviour. He argued that understanding these patterns is crucial for managing against them, particularly in the world of work. Brody also explored the repetitive nature of historical cycles and their impact on economic growth, and discussed the potential of AI to drive growth while raising ethical concerns about data production. Additionally, he highlighted the bifurcation of human identity in the digital age and the need for hotels to adapt by understanding guests’ digital and physical identities, prioritizing the basics, and leveraging data analysis to optimize hospitality experiences.

“You are two people,” Brody explained. “You are your physical identity, the person that you walk into this room and sit down in a chair where you interact face to face with others. And you are a digital identity, the person that you are when you are working behind the screen. It matters because your values, your norms, your trust levels are totally different.”

He cautioned that the vast majority of hotel guests are interacting with you at first point in their digital identities and “it’s critical to understand how they think, how they behave, how they operate and what they value in that digital ID, which is different when it crosses the physical ID.”

He said most people under the age of 35 will identify as digital first and physical second and “this is not the same human being that walked into your hotels 15 or 20 years ago.” For hoteliers, he said, this means when it comes to the experience between a guest’s physical and digital identity when they arrive in one of your properties, it’s important that every touchpoint is handled well.

During the breakout session, Emerging Trends in Green, sustainability experts explored how hospitality is affected by recent trends, such as the circular economy, carbon neutrality and sustainability certification, and how you can leverage these to make sustainability achievable for your property. 

Moderated by Rebecca Bartlett Jones, director of Business Development at Green Key Global, the panel included Amy Hulbert, VP Boutique and Upscale Brands for BWH Hotels; Jill Doucette, founder and CEO of Synergy Enterprises; and JoAnna Abrams, CEO of Mindclick. The group discussed the importance of effective communication in conveying sustainability initiatives to guests in the hospitality industry and emphasized the need to communicate the true story of how carbon offsets are being used. All three agreed that hoteliers have to involve guests in solutions, and leverage marketing and social-media teams to resonate with guests. Carbon neutrality and supply-chain emissions reduction were also discussed, with speakers highlighting the benefits of carbon neutrality and the need for data to measure and reduce supply-chain emissions. Examples of successful sustainability initiatives were shared, including a mobile-marketing campaign that increased guest satisfaction.

On the final day of the conference, the Honourable Minister of Tourism Soraya Martinez Ferrada addressed attendees and highlighted that Canada’s tourism industry is poised for growth, with a focus on Indigenous tourism, data collection and analysis, and enhancing the tourist experience through infrastructure development and partnerships with municipalities. She said the government is committed to supporting the industry, and that collaboration and innovation are key to leveraging data to drive competitiveness and destination development.

She added that “it is important for us now not only to recover, but to grow a sector,” pointing to the $108-million growth strategy the Canadian government introduced last year, as well as the $50-million international convention attraction fund.

“Tourism touches everything,” she said. “So, we’re taking a whole government approach to supporting the industry.”

“We can’t welcome people without people,” she added. “Tourism is about people. Expedia can never replace a friendly face you meet at the front desk. I’m so privileged to be a champion [for the tourism industry] and I need you to make sure that everybody understands that the tourism industry is one of the biggest economic drivers in the country.”


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