Growing up on Prince Edward Island, Edwin Frizzell developed an affinity for hospitality at an early age. “When you’re born in a place like P.E.I., the spirit of hospitality becomes part of you,” he explains. “My parents were in the hospitality industry, they actually ran the general store — sort of the heart of the community.”
But it was a TV show that ultimately led him to pursue a career in the hotel industry. “Hotel was something that really caught my eye and I knew I wanted to be [actor] James Brolin running a big hotel.”
To pursue this dream, Frizzell left P.E.I. to complete a degree in tourism-and-hospitality management at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.
Right out of school, Frizzell joined Disney as an ambassador at Epcot Center in Florida before returning to Halifax to take on the role of Assistant Front Office manager of the Delta Barrington. He transferred to Toronto in 1993 to work at the Delta Chelsea Toronto before assuming positions at the International Plaza Hotel & Conference Centre, The Sutton Place Hotel and Sheraton Centre Toronto. He led a range of departments, including guest services, housekeeping and sales and marketing, before taking his first general-manager role at W Chicago City Center.
Frizzell later returned to Toronto to lead the Hilton Toronto and The Westin Harbour Castle. In 2014, he accepted his current position, taking on responsibility for not only the Fairmont Royal York as its GM, but oversight of 10 additional hotels as Accor’s regional vice-president, Central Canada.
“It was very fortuitous timing,” he notes. “The property was acquired by KingSett Capital a few months after I arrived at the hotel and it became clear very quickly that there was a desire to take the Royal York on a strategic five-year path.”
The subsequent multi-million-dollar transformation of the property began with the $150-million renovation of 1,200 guestrooms completed in 2016. The second phase of the project encompassed a reimagined Fairmont Gold offering, the public spaces and lobby area, the hotel’s food-and-beverage outlets, including the launch of new concepts REIGN and CLOCKWORK, and meeting and event spaces — much of which was unveiled as part of the Fairmont Royal York’s 90th-anniversary celebrations this summer.
“Starting with all the bedrooms, figuring out food and beverage, the arrival experience, all the event and meeting spaces and topping it all off with Fairmont Gold was really the key piece of the plan, but the foundation of all that started with the colleagues,” Frizzell notes. “First and foremost, we realized we needed to create a great sense of community spirit within the hotel for the colleagues themselves.”
This was accomplished through internal programming dubbed Colleague Nation; a mantra of “innovate, elevate and inspire” designed to drive empowerment; and a multi-media, interactive “Vision Lab” to ensure the hotel’s vision was being heard and understood by all of its more than 1,200 staff.
“One of the hardest things we do as leaders is try to make sure everybody in the building understands where we’re going,” he says. “People need to know what the destination is and you need to give them an idea of what the map looks like, too.”
And, by focusing on team engagement and empowerment, the hotel’s guest experience was ensured. In fact, customer-satisfaction scores saw continual growth through the hotel’s transformation — even during the height of the renovations, which included the closure of the hotel’s main lobby and lobby restaurant, as well as the removal of the lobby’s concrete spiral staircase.
“Engagement is a key piece of the puzzle for me — you simply can’t expect teams to deliver best-in-class results if we don’t take care of them in a best-in-class way…The business of hospitality is a business of serving other people,” he explains. “Whether you’re a leader taking care of your team, a frontline colleague taking care of our guests or a heart-of-house colleague taking care of somebody who is taking care of our guests, this idea that you have to want to give of yourself is key.”
Building on this philosophy, Frizzell has long been an active member of the hospitality community and is currently serving as chair of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, as well as a board member of Tourism Toronto. “I’ve always felt that being part of the community is important,” he explains. “And, at Fairmont, we see ourselves as part of the essence of every destination. So, we want to give back to the communities in which we participate.”
He notes the hotel donated more than $100,000 (including in-kind donations) to local organizations in 2018, including the Children’s Wish Foundation — the Fairmont Royal York’s charity of choice.
“Charitable donations/acts need to be important and relevant to the colleagues,” says Frizzell. “We encourage our teams to find the charities that are relevant to them.” For example, the executive team has cooked and served food to families staying at Ronald McDonald House on several occasions.
As part of Accor, the hotel is also committed to the company’s Planet 21 sustainability program, which Fairmont Royal York achieved platinum status in last year. Related initiatives include Ocean Wise seafood, energy conservation and the hotel’s rooftop garden and apiary. “Sustainability is a huge, passion of mine,” says Frizzell. “We very much felt we could demonstrate our commitment to the planet here.”
Although he’s taken part in many hotel renovations during his career — including several recent and ongoing projects within Accor’s Central Canada portfolio — Frizzell counts ushering Fairmont Royal York into this new chapter as the highlight of his career.
“The extensiveness of this transformation — these projects don’t happen very often and they certainly don’t happen multiple times in your career. So, for me, this is the pinnacle of my career thus far,” says Frizzell. “The Royal York has been really good to me. She has a distinct personality and it’s been really fun seeing her through this five-year journey.”
And, there’s still more to be done. The Library Bar and the Imperial Room will be renovated in 2020 and ongoing work to the mezzanine function rooms will also be completed in the coming year. And, in 2021, the hotel’s well-being and fitness areas will undergo updates.
“And then we start over,” Frizzell says with a laugh. “We’re literally working on designing model rooms for the next phase of the guestroom renovation because the first rooms [of the last phase] were done in 2013.”
The Fairmont Royal York has not only become the site of the hotelier’s crowning achievement, but, as Frizzell recently discovered, the hotel played a significant role in his choice of career. “Hotel made me want to be a hotelier. What I didn’t know at the time is that Arthur Hailey — who wrote the book Hotel (off which the show was based) — actually wrote that book while in residence at Fairmont Royal York,” he explains. “So, all these years later, the reason I’m a hotelier is actually the hotel that I’m running. Life goes full circle sometimes — I feel like I was meant to be here.”