TORONTO More than 250 hoteliers converged on Toronto this past week to learn, network and usher in a new board of directors for the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) as it celebrated its 101st anniversary. With the Eaton Chelsea Inn as the backdrop of this year’s conference, a slate of speakers educated and entertained delegates.

Outgoing chair Hank Stackhouse welcomed attendees by citing several stats from 2013.  “Occupancy came in at 62 to 63 per cent while ADR was up by two per cent,” Stackhouse told the crowd of hoteliers. He also added that 72 per cent of Canadians have expressed confidence in the economy over the next five to seven years. The past year was also a banner year for investment in the country as it was the third best year on record.  “The winds of change are underway,” said Stackhouse, “and there are bright skies ahead.”     

But though the economy and consumer confidence are improving, Stackhouse stressed there is a sea of sameness in the way “we interact with our customers, in how we deal with our employees, and how the government deals with the industry.” To avoid the pitfalls of that sea of sameness, the association has created a new strategic plan, which is poised to fuel HAC’s direction over the next four years. But, warned Stackhouse, “We need to ensure that our strategic plan doesn’t sit on the shelf.” 

With the rate of change moving at a breakneck pace the future of travel was this year’s theme. Kicking off the day’s lineup of speakers, was Sheryl Connelly, a futurist with the Detroit-based Ford Motor Company, who painted a picture of a society in flux through her presentation of the top 10 macro trends affecting consumer behaviour today. While she quipped “the future is meant to be a mystery and left to unfold,” she acknowledged there is a “quiet riot of change taking place,” pointing to her own company as an example. “We have 20 new products to be released in a single year.”

Connelly touched on such trends as the advent of drones (positing the possibility of one day having your pizza delivered by them), the growth of vintage products, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), fuelled by the increasing popularization of social media, and the quest for more free time as today’s “ultimate luxury.”  She also noted the growing importance of women in society, a trend she referred to as The Female Frontier. With 50 per cent of the global population, women are increasingly becoming more powerful; they’re going to school longer, they’re putting off marriage to later, and they form 12 per cent of Forbes List of the World’s Most Powerful People. According to Connelly, 66 per cent of men and women globally agree “The world would be a better place if men thought more like women.”        

Eric Morris, from Google Canada then engaged the audience with his look at Best Practices in Hotel Marketing. Rather than presenting a slew of statistics, Morris framed his presentation by highlighting eight key questions that he urged the audience to answer honestly in order to improve their brand’s profile on the Internet.
1.    Are you mining the database of intentions?
2.    Where are you on the development of digital staff?
3.    How fast is your website?
4.    How good is your website on mobile?
5.    Do you have a culture of digital experimentation?
6.    Are you testing content and measuring it?
7.    How profitable is your online marketing?
8.    Are your best and smartest people working in digital? 

As Morris said, “If online marketing is your most important channel, you need to have your best people there.”    

Afternoon breakout sessions highlighted well-attended panels on “The Huge Tourism Potential that is China”, featuring Alice Lin of Cal Travel & Tours and Albert Tseng of the NTS International Group/Canadian Inbound Tourism Association, Asia Pacific, who urged hoteliers in the audience to appeal to this growing market by accommodating their special requests. Among the examples cited were including tea kettles in hotel guestrooms since Chinese bring with them special teas; making available Chinese newspapers and slippers; and, avoiding the number four. “Making them feel part of the hospitality is key,” stressed Tseng. But, he added, “Price is always the first thing; Chinese travellers bargain like crazy.”

Additionally, a panel on corporate hotel programs urged the use of free Wi-Fi. “It’s a given for the business traveller today, everyone expects it,” said lodging and travel buyer Sherry Marshall, senior manager, Procurement, PwC Management Services LP. The panel also stressed the provision for online booking, especially through hand-held devices, for all levels of the buying chain. “Making sure the reporting at both the buyer and provider levels is synchronized and properly reported is vital,” said Marshall.  “We still find providers sending their internal accounting reports to us, we need proper and consistent data capture,” said Marshall. How business is done has also changed, moving from the luxury liquid lunch hosted by the vendor, to hard-nosed business discussions with everything documented and data capture systems in place for use by both parties.

Two awards were also presented during the day.  The Green Key Environment Award was presented to Toronto-based Delta Hotels & Resorts; and the Humanitarian Award went to Tigh Na Mara Seaside Spa Resort and Conference Centre on Vancouver Island.  


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