When David Smythe dropped out of high school to find a job, his father wasn’t thrilled. But two years later, noting a passion for the food and beverage industry, the patriarch convinced his son to enrol in the F&B program at Loyalist College. It’s a decision Smythe has never regretted.
These days, Smythe doesn’t work in the restaurant business, instead the father-of-four helms the historic 355-room Lord Elgin in the nation’s capital, a position he’s held for more than eight years. “That’s the longest I have ever worked at one property,” states the 54-year-old hotelier and recent winner of the OHI’s Gold Award in the Hotelier category.
The Lord Elgin is the first independent — not to mention the most historic — property Smythe has managed. “The hotel boasts a rich history; it was built in 1941 during World War Two and named by then Prime Minster Mackenzie King for the last Governor General to hold veto power over the Canadian Parliament.”
Managing the property has changed Smythe’s view of his own history; after years of working in branded properties, the hotelier believed no one could beat the “big machinery” of a brand, but that’s no longer the case. “This independent hotel has not just broken records, we’ve shattered them,” the GM boasts, explaining that the hotel finished 2012 with a 114 per cent RevPAR market penetration. “We would not have reached this result without a very engaged team, a superstar DOSM, a nontraditional revenue manager, ongoing support from Atlific Hotels [managers] and, of course, ownership that gets it.”
In terms of the property itself, the hotelier is in the throes of renovating the hotel’s lobby and guestrooms. “It’s always exciting to bring a new image to your hotel. The whole team gets energized,” says Smythe, who’s also putting renewed energy into social media. “It’s evolving so quickly, that, at times, it’s difficult to stay on top of it, but as an independent hotel, we have no option.”
With five hotels, and 1,000 rooms under his purview, Smythe juggles several duties. “Balancing the deployment of resources while delivering on customer and ownership expectations,” is among his biggest challenges. Thankfully, his collaborative style helps bring everything together. “I’m a big believer that two heads are always better than one. As GM, it serves no useful purpose to be an autocrat. Outcomes are far more favourable when you include those around you.”
It’s one of many lessons he’s learned along the way. For example, while working for the Texas-based Bristol Hotels, Smythe learned four tricks to success: friendly employees, exceeding guest and staff expectations, providing a clean and well-maintained hotel and doing the right thing. These guiding principles have carried over to the Lord Elgin, which attracts a mix of clientele. “It’s not unusual for me to watch CBC’s The National and see our guests. There’s always something fascinating going on; I’m hooked on that excitement.”