In the globetrotting world of hotel management, flitting from property to property is common fare for most hoteliers.
For some, moving from continent to continent is typical. But it’s not often a hotelier born and bred in Quebec, and raised in country inns in La Belle Province, decides at age 48 to pick up and move to Toronto. Still, for Renaud Payette, formerly the GM of the tony Saint Sulpice in Montreal, the decision to helm the 586- room InterContinental Toronto Centre was all about timing.
“I’ve been here 18 months. It’s my first time managing a hotel of almost 600 rooms with an adjoining convention centre, literally, in the centre of all the action,” he says. “It’s a very exciting and stimulating environment.”
These days with the economic downturn on everyone’s mind, Payette has his work cut out. American business is on the decline, so the hotel is focusing on emerging markets like Latin America and Asia, while looking to increase its presence in Europe. Since assuming the top spot at the property, Payette has solidified his sales team and made significant changes. For example, last June the hotel assumed control of its 8,000-square-foot spa sanctuary after leasing it to a third party for several years. Next on his agenda is a major multi-milliondollar two-year renovation project. “We need to keep up with the competition coming into the market,” explains Payette, pointing to the new Ritz Carlton and Shangri La hotels set to open in close proximity to the InterContinental by 2010.
But ultimately, Payette says service is what brings customers through the doors. “We have to offer the basic physical amenities guests expect. The most common these days are flat-screen TVs. If you don’t have them, you’re antiquated. But once you are on a level playing field with amenities, service sets you apart.”
With a staff of 375, Payette admits that “finding truly committed employees, getting them to care and keeping them motivated,” is his biggest challenge.
A detail-driven perfectionist, the hands-on hotelier constantly pursues excellence at his property. “I expect staff to go about their tasks without my interference. I lead by example. I show passion for what I do and encourage my colleagues to follow.” His passion for the business was instilled in him while working at Auberge Handfield, his uncle’s inn in Montreal. “I always loved going there,” he recalls. “My first real job was as a front-desk agent.” Ironically, he became a lawyer before succumbing to the allure of hospitality.
As for the future, Payette is open to opportunities. “[One day] I’d like to manage a great hotel in Europe or Asia, build one from the ground up, or find new sites for development,” he says. In the meantime, he’s passionately focused on building the business— one hotel guest at a time