James Hague is living the dream. As GM of the Baker Creek Mountain Resort, nestled in the idyllic Banff National Park, the affable hotelier has cut his teeth in some of Western Canada’s most beautiful resorts. After getting his start at the iconic Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, Hague also worked at the Westin Resort & Spa in Whistler and at the Moraine Lake Lodge in Lake Louise, Alta.
Since 2017, the dedicated hotelier has been overseeing the 19 standalone log cabins and an additional 16 suites located in two separate lodge buildings that comprise the resort, directing a team of 30. “Baker Creek was a dream job for me,” says Hague. “I love the intimacy of the property. There’s no place I’d rather be.”
Not surprisingly, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the property. Hague also had to deal with a devastating fire that wiped out the resort’s restaurant. But, says Hague, “we weren’t nearly as severely impacted as city properties. We are a remote wilderness location, so most guests viewed it as a safe alternative.”
While Hague laid off his entire team for the initial six weeks of the pandemic, he was able to bring them back in short order. “The team we had at the outset stayed with us for the entire year.” Though he says that may not sound like a long time, “living and working remotely with no cell service, limited Wi-Fi, 45 minutes to the nearest grocery store, and no public transport…turnover for us is accelerated compared to most businesses. During the first six weeks of the pandemic, the hotel offered complementary housing for staff and groceries at cost.
Now, two years later, the hotel is working creatively to reduce the impacts of staff shortages. and address the challenges of the hotel’s remote location.
Ultimately, Hague believes the industry would benefit from having the Temporary Foreign Workers program reinstated. “We’ve been involved with school programs and internships — they help — but without the influx of temporary workers on work visas, I just don’t know what can be done. Wages are their highest point ever, and it’s not had as much of an effect as you would think.”
While the use of technology has been accelerated through the pandemic, Hague says the opposite is true at Baker Creek. The hotel still uses “real keys,” he quips, and guests “really love it. We don’t have the connectivity to allow apps on the phone.” But rather than being viewed as a hindrance, Hague says guests are happy to re-connect with their family and truly relax amidst a natural setting. “If anything comes out of this pandemic, it’s the focus back on human interaction — hopefully that survives,” says Hague.
Written by ROSANNA CAIRA