Focus on the positive and celebrate the successes — that was Anne Marie Johns’ mantra throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The general manager of Quebec’s luxurious Fairmont Tremblant says the last 21 months have given her the opportunity to re-examine how her hotel runs and how she interacts with her team.
“We need more presence on the floor,” she says. “We get caught up with so much administration and dealing with owners but we need to get out [and about]. And so, we termed an action called ‘management by walking around.’ It’s nothing new, it’s actually something old in our industry, [and focuses on] our leaders getting out from behind our desks and seeing how the teams are doing, how the guests are reacting onsite — it’s about observing. More than ever, it’s important to be close to the team as they go through such a difficult, challenging period in our industry and also celebrating their successes.”
Although COVID-19 protocols kept this year’s Pinnacle Award winner for Hotelier of the Year from celebrating these successes in traditional ways, Johns says she still found ways to recognize the Fairmont Tremblant team by thinking outside the box.
“We couldn’t celebrate the same ways we used to — no cocktail parties or gala dinners to celebrate our successes — but one example is we recently brought a food truck to the front of our hotel and provided lunch and dinner that day for the staff and it was a huge success,” she says, adding “when an employee with 20 or 25 years’ experience stops you in the back hallway saying ‘thank you for that, it was outstanding,’ we know we made a good decision on that event.”
Taking care of her team has been top of mind for Johns throughout the pandemic and she points to Accor’s ALL Heartist Fund — a charitable initiative set up to support Accor Heartists who are in distress because of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing financial grants to assist with medical expenses, food and other essential supplies and services. Accor has also collaborated with Lifeworks employee-assistance program — a 24/7 toll-free line that allows callers to speak to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor about their goals and concerns, whether it’s work-related or their personal life.
Johns was also cognizant of the needs of its community and in partnership with La Tablée des Chefs, and les Cuisines Solidaires program, Fairmont Tremblant helped to replenish the fridges of Quebec food banks during the pandemic. Last spring, as the hotel was in lockdown due to the pandemic, executive chef Jonathan Legris and his kitchen brigade came together to prepare 5,000 meals a week (45,000 meals total) as part of this collective initiative, which was then distributed throughout the local community by Moisson Laurentides and La Samaritaine.
“We also collaborated with the local Mont-Tremblant police and a local women’s shelter in St. Agathe in providing a training program for our frontline colleagues on how to identify situations related to domestic violence. With the rise in these incidents in the hotel, it was a priority with the executive team to co-ordinate this training for our colleagues.”
Johns is constantly trying to re-invent ways to keep team morale up, while at the same time maintaining her own.
“My biggest [personal] challenge was to be available and accessible to both my family and my hotel colleagues to ensure their well-being. The pandemic crisis has had a major effect on the mental health of so many, and I must continue to monitor these signs and ensure I stay emotionally connected and aware of potential needs for additional support.”
As someone who needs to be active every day, Johns found her physical health tied directly into her mental health and made a point of going for a walk or run regularly.
“For me, it’s directly related,” she explains. “If I continue to be physically healthy, it helps mental wellness and it just keeps my morale going. So, I disciplined myself, I said, ‘I need a bit of that every day in my schedule.”
While many executives found themselves needing to re-evaluate their leadership styles when the pandemic hit, Johns stayed true to her values.
“My leadership style is collaborative, always focused on optimizing talent and creating winning strategies in synergy with my teams,” says the hotelier, adding that did not change during COVID-19. “However, the need to keep our leadership teams motivated and challenged when faced with low hotel occupancies, curfews and restaurant closures, shifted my focus to challenging them in developing innovative ideas and projects to continue to re-invent ourselves. This has been, and continues to be, a top priority.”
Johns is also a strong believer in mentorship in the hotel industry.
“The industry provides vast opportunities in a variety of disciplines and mobility to grow a career globally. Find a good mentor or mentors to guide you through the endless opportunities. As you move through your career, you’ll take strength from every leader you work with, which will help form and develop your career.”
With more than 30 years’ experience in the hotel industry, Johns says she’s benefited from the mentorship and coaching of corporate and government tourism industry leaders, as well as the Accor NCA senior executive team, regional vice-presidents and GMs — including current CEO North & Central America, Heather McCrory, who Johns has known since the beginning of her career.
“Not only is Anne Marie a phenomenal leader, she’s a wonderfully generous person and a mother who leads a busy and full life,” says McCrory. “She has the type of potential and drive that will open up many opportunities for her and I’m looking forward to watching her career journey continue.”
Looking to the Future
“During the early days of the pandemic, occupancies were limited to ensure a safe environment for both our colleagues and guests,” says Johns. “There were times at which the hotel was performing at a loss, although the Canadian Employment Wage Subsidies ensured we could bring back most of our full-time colleagues. Hotel offerings had to be adjusted, not only to comply with local restrictions but also in alignment with Accor’s global ALLSAFE standards, and in reaction to practical challenges such as the impact of supply chain delays on the hotel’s food & beverage offerings.”
Although COVID-19 regulations and labour shortages continue to be a challenge, Johns says Fairmont Tremblant had a very successful summer, driving record ADR growth with the operations team delivering strong guest-satisfaction results with the overall luxury guest experience.
“Activation of our outdoor spaces continues to be a focus as our leisure and corporate guests are now favouring and requesting outdoor experiences,” she says. “This past winter, we developed a bonfire-igloo experience for our families, which was a huge success, while providing a safe, fun activity within a bubble, and has evolved into a popular activity this fall for our small corporate group meetings.”
And the hard work has paid off in spades, with the AAA Four Diamond recently designating Fairmont Tremblant with its 2021 AAA Inspector’s Best of Housekeeping Award, granted to hotels throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean that earn the highest possible cleanliness and condition scores. In October 2021, the property was also recognized with a Condé Nast Traveler 2021 Reader’s Choice Award.
When it comes to the hotel industry, Johns is “very confident for the future. It’s such a dynamic industry. We’re going through some challenging times but this is a great re-set; we’ve had time to reflect on how we can do things better by looking at efficiencies and management.”
The GM is also being faced with new opportunities, specifically on the labour front, including a recent meeting with an autism centre that has adult training facilities.
“Organically, our industry has always provided opportunities for adults with disabilities, but now I’m looking at formalizing our hotel programs – for instance, to potentially welcome more members of the autistic community to our hotel team in the future. Out of crisis comes opportunity.”
She says while she feels the industry will come back strong, recovery is going to take time and will require a good campaign and a communication plan within the industry to educate the community about how enriching a career in hospitality can be — something she hopes her Pinnacle Award recognition will help promote.
“I’m very humbled and thrilled to be this year’s recipient of the Pinnacle Award, and hope this recognition will inspire future women to become hotel general managers so we can continue to actively contribute to a more diversified leadership environment that celebrates diversity, equity and inclusion,” says Johns. “I would like to thank the amazing leaders and mentors who have supported me in this journey. I now take on the challenge and responsibility to pay it forward and help guide future leaders to grow to their full potential.”
By Amy Bostock | Photography By Virginie Gosselin