How can you tell a new season is upon us? This spring didn’t feel much like a new season, given the wonky weather. And, to make matters worse, the spring budget offered little to the hotel industry. If that isn’t enough to make us shake our heads, could anyone have imagined the tragedy that struck the Boston Marathon, where three American spectators were killed and hundreds more injured? A new season: some days it feels more like the end of the world.
Still, as we move closer to summer, there is anticipation in the air and hope that the warmer weather will drive travellers to Canada to keep the hospitality industry busy.
After all, Canadian hoteliers are ready, a trend reflected at Hotelier magazine, where this spring we hosted an Investment Roundtable, as well as another instalment of our Breakfast Speaker Series called Icons & Innovators, featuring the queen of boutique hotels, Christiane Germain, co-founder of Groupe Germain. Later this month, the hotel investment community will gather in Toronto at the annual Canadian Hotel Investment Conference, which will undoubtedly uncover growing opportunities in the competitive hotel industry.
The good news is the industry is moving in the right direction, and, after a few lethargic years, business is back. Last year was one of the strongest on record, with $1.2 billion in transaction volume and steady RevPAR growth.
Clearly, opportunity does exist, whether it’s developing a new brand, converting properties, the spurious growth of the select-service market or the potential for growth through casino development. What has changed is the context of the opportunities. As Tony Cohen, vice-president of Crescent Hotels & Resorts, said at last month’s investment roundtable, “There’s no real new demand generators [in Canada]. We always say within our portfolio, don’t expect new demands; steal from the competition. And, that’s really all you’re doing.”
Hoteliers and analysts at our roundtable agreed on the need to repair the damage of recent years. “The government has to wake up and say protection isn’t the way to grow the business or grow the country,” said Steve Giblin, president of SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts. “Basically, that’s what we’re doing. We are protecting Air Canada and the airports through our fees — so what? The end-game here is not to say we’ve got a small [piece of the] pie, let’s hold onto it for the rest of our lives; let’s expand it. Canada is recognized around the world as a tremendous place for tourism, and, yet, [tourists] are going to other countries. And, they’re leaving us in droves. That shrinkage is a tremendous loss to the industry.” So, what are we going to do about it?