TORONTO – Last week, members of the hotel industry gathered at the Westin Harbour Castle in Toronto for the Hotel Association of Canada’s (HAC) National Conference – the first time since COVID-19 hit in March 2020 that the event has been held live.

Following opening remarks from the outgoing Chair of the HAC board, Jonathan Lund, the incoming Chair, Sara Glenn – the first female Chair in the association’s 100-year history – took the stage.

“I’m truly honored to work alongside the board for the next two years as we carve out HAC’s next evolution in the development of a new strategic plan that will form the foundation for us in the framework as we move forward, and as we take on the pressing challenges that face our industry,” said Glenn.

The first plenary session of the day, Travel & Hospitality Today – Trends to Look Towards, was moderated by Scott Duff and brought together some of the industry’s top analytical minds, including Nicole Nguyen, director with CBRE Hotels Valuation & Advisory Services; Marc Desormeaux, senior economist at Scotiabank; Andrew Weir, executive VP of Destination Development, Destination Toronto; and Patrick Doyle, VP and general manager at American Express Global Business Travel.

The group discussed the current travel landscape and helped the audience understand where we are in the economic cycle and what we can expect over the next couple of years.

“It’s a story of moderating growth,” said Desormeaux on the topic of the country’s economic forecast. “But growth that is still strong relative to that cruising speed we’re used to in Canada of kind of one-and-a-half to one-and-three-quarters per cent. We’re optimistic about growth continuing over the course of this year.”

According to Doyle, a re-bound in business travel is also on the horizon. “We’re seeing business travel happening again, mostly in the last six to eight weeks in Canada. [It’s happening] because we’re tired of sitting in front of screens [after] two years of being in front of Zoom and trying to build relationships and close deals. It just doesn’t happen that way. So, companies have realized organizations have changed, your customer profile has changed, and you need to get out and build relationships.”

Following a networking lunch and tradeshow, the program switched gears to look at equity and inclusion in the hotel industry. The session, Culture Check: Are We Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Enough? examined why hotels of tomorrow will need to lead and embody these principles through discussions about women in leadership, engaging generation Y, embracing diversity and developing a pipeline for our future.

Moderated by Anne Axler-Larcade of Sequel Hotels and Resorts, the panel included Don Cleary, president of Marriott Hotels of Canada; Kathleen Taylor, former president and CEO, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; and Anna Chartres, regional director of Talent and Culture, Central Canada, Fairmont Royal York.

“I’d like to begin by saying sometimes Canadians are very polite,” said Axler-Larcade. “I hope today, we will not be polite. I hope today we will have conversations that open our minds and cause revolution. I am here today to help you make more money and solve your labour problems with my colleagues by opening yourself to diversity and inclusion because the data shows that is possible.”

According to Cleary, achieving diversity targets in organization requires measurable goals. “Set a five-year ambition, make it very aspirational. I think bringing these targets to life requires a good mentor program, as well as coaching and counseling.”

The final session of the day, Talent Tug of War, examined talent challenges and offered strategies owners and operators can implement to contemplate the essential elements of sustainable human-capital strategies.  

Moderated by Joe Baker, the panel included Erin Haid, director of Global Talent Acquisition, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; Philip Mondor, president of Tourism HR Canada; Susie Grynol, president and CEO, HAC; and Frank Menezes, professor at George Brown College.

“I’m a big believer in situational leadership,” said Baker as way of introduction. “It’s important that we become aware of what’s happening around us, and that we adjust our own approach to deal with whatever is put in front of us. An essential element of that is to look to experts and leaders, with differing experience and backgrounds, to really help inform our approach to any given issue. Now, here we are talking about talent, we’re talking about labour, we’re talking about people – there’s no end to the complexity of this issue. And there’s certainly no silver-bullet solution. So, we need many different perspectives. And our goal today, ultimately, is to triage this issue, give everybody a bit of a sense of what’s happening right now, some solutions that are being crafted and potentially what the future looks like.”

Grynol began the discussion by reiterating that this is not a new problem. “We’ve been dealing with this problem for a really long time, but it’s now reached whatever is beyond the point of crisis. You’re all feeling it, you’re experiencing it in your hotels, and it’s the thing that’s keeping you up all night.”

Mondor agreed that labour issues are not new. “However, they are heightened, and they’re more acute,” he said, adding there are some broad categories to address around the labour issue, included supply and skills.

“From my vantage point,” said Haid, “large [hotel] brands, as well as every organization, are facing a pipeline problem. But there’s a lot more to it than the pipeline problem and I don’t think these are new problems to our industry. I really don’t. I think they’re compounded. I think they’re highlighted right now because of the urgencies and how much of an impact it’s having on our operations. But they’re not new. But if we collaborate, think differently and dive into some innovation, we can disrupt and change how we do things and what we’ve held as our own barriers and our own boundaries that potentially aren’t serving us in this situation.”


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