When COVID-19 hit in March, shaking the Canadian hotel industry to its roots, Susie Grynol says it was as if the sky was actually falling. “Millions of dollars were wiped off the books in a matter of 48 hours,” explains the president of the Ottawa-based Hotel Association of Canada (HAC). “All future bookings [were] gone in the blink of an eye. Looking back, it feels like a bad dream — and I’m not sure we’ve woken from it yet.”

She says HAC’s budget was similarly impacted, yet the team needed to bolster its advocacy work and spend more money than it had in order to properly represent the industry and move significant support programs through Parliament.

“For this, we had to turn to our members for a fundraising campaign,” she says. “Over the course of the pandemic, we were able to raise more than $400,000 and have bolstered our team with economists, strategists and public-relations specialists. Our team has been our lifeblood. They have been working around the clock since March.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Grynol says hotel owners needed to “clot the bleeding” by establishing and executing austerity plans, including mass temporary layoffs, deep cuts to expenses and a re-design of operations to
implement new protocols.

“As the pandemic impacts deepened and Canada began to shut down, our hotels found themselves on the front lines. Guests were showing up with COVID-19 symptoms wanting to self-isolate. Governments wanted to use hotels as quarantine facilities. Frontline workers needed to isolate from their families. Provinces wanted to turn hotels into hospitals and cities wanted to shelter the vulnerable. Our association played a central role in bringing together our industry leaders to navigate these issues together.”
During this time, it was critical that HAC hear from an expanded membership base and all members of the industry had access to its much-needed resources and support. “For this reason, we opened up our membership to anyone who wanted to join. This brought in more than 850 new members. Although a dark time, it was incredible to watch the industry band together in support of local communities and each other — and rally behind our association as the essential voice for the industry. “

By April, when it became clear the industry would need deep support from government, HAC swiftly triaged the issues with members and began an intense lobbying campaign, which, to date, has totalled more than $6.1 billion in support for the industry.
A big component of HAC’s pandemic work included an extensive media strategy. “We needed to move the general
public away from pre-conceived ideas that the hotel industry is a bunch of big American chains with deep pockets and help them understand that the industry is actually made up of mostly small operators — often family run — in communities across this country and that they are worthy of government support and tax payers’ dollars,” says Grynol. “Further, our workforce is predominantly women, visible minorities and new Canadians, which is a vulnerable population and a disproportionately impacted group — also worthy of deeper support.”

Over the course of the pandemic, the HAC team secured 3,000 TV, radio and news interviews; 1.1-billion impressions; and $10 million in equivalent advertising. “We even beat out Justin Bieber with more impressions at our press conference for the hardesthit.ca launch than his new song in Canada,” she quips.

Despite the pace and intensity this summer, Grynol says HAC was adamant its staff take holidays and really disconnected from the office. “We’re also giving days back to the team for overtime worked during the pandemic — personal Fridays are days they can take off for ‘me days’ without taking vacation.”

“The pace is crazy,” she continues, “but the payoff is so rewarding when we see the kind of results we’ve been able to secure for the industry.”

Rebuilding a shattered industry will take work, she says, and will also require significant stimulation from the government in order to facilitate a strong return. “I believe demand will come back strong. People will be anxious to interact again — to get married, to have a meeting. We will soon get back to ‘normal.’ Until then, we’ll ensure the industry has the strongest possible voice in Ottawa and that the government continues to support us to the finish line.”


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