Jennifer Belanger, GM of the Bruce Hotel in Stratford, Ont. | PHOTO CREDIT: RICK O’BRIEN

Jennifer Belanger never set out to be in the hotel industry. Having studied journalism at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson), her dream was to write, but after working in restaurants, she found herself “enamoured by the industry” and saw “an opportunity to create memorable experiences for people.” It was while managing One Restaurant in the Hazelton Hotel that she was exposed to the luxury-hotel segment. “I enjoyed the ‘aliveness’ of a hotel; it’s a living thing that requires care and precise attention. It never sleeps.”

For the past two years, she’s been at the helm of the Bruce Hotel in Stratford, Ont., a 25-room property that caters to loyal festival goers. There she oversees a team of 80 associates. “This is a destination property and guests come to dine and rejuvenate,” says Belanger, a big believer that “hoteliers need to “lead the way with kindness and empathy. How we connect with our people is how they connect with our guests.”

Like many hoteliers, the onslaught of COVID-19 forced her to pivot. “The industry has been challenged to approach things differently. It’s been a “healthy reckoning” for equality and greater work-life balance. We’ve been fortunate enough to support and retain our employees throughout the pandemic.”

Since restrictions have eased, Belanger has seen a healthy resurgence in business but she’s also noticed “the world needs connection now more than ever.” That means hoteliers need to delight the guest in front of them. “Listen to cues, pick up on golden nuggets an≠d deliver.”

Among the varied lessons she’s learned is the importance of taking time to listen actively to the employees and to connect with them on a human level. So much of the post-pandemic world has been about stabilizing departments, she says, but “now our teams need a clear vision for the future. Each employee needs to feel seen, heard and valued.” Her plan “is to tackle the next year by creating deepened connections and to collaborate with the team.”

She defines her style as balanced and approachable and her service philosophy begins with setting up the team up to win every day “by providing the tools they need, asking what support looks like and following up regularly.” To ensure success, she creates checkpoints to measure progress. “When an initiative is launched, it has to be nurtured. My biggest success has been watching management create a healthy work culture.”

Plans are currently afoot to optimize the outdoor space and expand the chef garden by “creating a space for guests to enjoy a fire and outdoor cooking. While business is slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels, Belanger says the stressors of the pandemic and the future of Canadian hospitality keep her up at night. “Things are fragile and we need to build resilience together.”



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