TORONTO — The Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) hosted its annual conference at the Hilton Toronto from Feb. 29 to March 1, hearing from a variety of industry insiders, experts and finally, saying farewell to president Tony Pollard as he gets ready to retire from the Ottawa-based association later this year.
The day began with an industry recap by Philippe Gadbois, SVP of Operations at Atlific Hotels and Chairman of the Board at HAC. “What an unpredictable year it’s been,” he said, addressing the audience of more than 200 attendees. “The Canadian stock market was one of the biggest losers in the developed world; the country’s once-hottest economy, Alberta, became a ‘have-not’ province, and yet, 2015 was generally a good year in the hotel industry in this country.”
During the past year, HAC’s lobbying efforts have helped deliver new funding for international marketing and move forward on a strategy to address human-resource shortages, which was realized in last April’s federal budget, which included $210 million for Canada’s 150th anniversary and $16 million over five years to expand electronic travel authorities. Then in May, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced $15 million in new funding for international marketing. “Connecting America is now being implemented by the new government,” Gadbois said.
Gadbois also reinforced the association’s mandate on the sharing economy model that has been carried out by companies such as Airbnb. “We continue to deal with the so-called ‘shared economy,’” he added. “Our position and message is clear: provincial and municipal governments are leaving a ton of money on the table. Private hotel rooms must be regulated and treated the same way as all of our hotel rooms. Taxes should be paid on the total room, not simply the net. It must be a level playing field.”
That sentiment was debated later on during a panel discussion featuring Airbnb’s country manager of Canada, Aaron Zifkin; Muneeb Mushtaq, co-founder and CEO of AskForTask Inc., an online marketplace that lets users offer services such as cleaning and handiwork; and Tim Wootton, founder of Rover Parking, which allows people to rent out their driveways or parking spots.
“In the past 12 months the interest for the sharing economy is tremendous,” began Mushtaq, adding that Canada is becoming an epicentre of activity. Airbnb’s Zifkin added, “The normalization or legitimization is the most drastic change in the past year.”
But, members of the panel were challenged about how their businesses address insurance and taxation. “It’s tough to understand this thing. These are street-to-street, municipal conversations,” Zifkin said. “The fact of the matter is, insurance is still behind and they’re working hard to come up with a product that makes sense for the product that’s being offered,” Wootton added.
Later, several workshops explored operational tips for success, sales and marketing practices and results from the HAC Travel Intentions Survey. Four industry awards were also presented. Scott Allison, Marriott Hotels of Canada received the Humanitarian Award; Carolyn J. Clark, FRHI Hotels & Resorts, received the Human Resources Award; The International Centre, Toronto, received the Green Key Meeting Award; and Pemberton Valley Lodge received the Green Key Energy & Environment Award.
The day ended with a champagne toast, celebrating Pollard’s 25 years with HAC. “The world has changed so much in the days since I was hired in 1991,” he said, recapping some of his career highlights, including buying the first hotels.ca domain in 1996, and later selling it for $1.2 million.
Pollard also shared how proud he was of the Green Key program and HAC’s government-relations department. “If you look at where we are today with the government, and how they listen to us, for example, we had a tourism budget last year, we now have a federal tourism strategy. All of these things are happening because we have a good government-relations program in Ottawa and as I leave later this year, that’s the thing that I am most proud of.”