It’s been a year of change and challenge for Jeff Waters. Since joining the historic King Edward Hotel in June 2012, the 54-year-old hotelier has been involved in a flurry of activity, including the sale of the property, new management and a rebranding of the historic 301-room hotel. And, as if that’s not enough, the property is undergoing a multi-million renovation that includes restoring the legendary penthouse-level Crystal Ballroom — abandoned since the 1950s — to its glory. Toron-to’s oldest hotel property will be made new again.
Of course, change has always been part of the King Edward story. “The hotel opened in 1903 as Toronto’s first luxury hotel,” explains Waters, pointing to the hotel’s rich history. “It has changed with the city as Toronto has grown. Almost every Torontonian has a ‘King Edward’ story.” The guest list reads like a who’s who of politicos, royalty and celebrities, ranging from one-time resident Ernest Hemingway, and celebrity couples such as Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, to the Beatles. The hotel’s signature experiences include one of Toronto’s most lavish Sunday brunches, afternoon tea service and partnership packages with some of the city’s leading cultural destinations.
Now owned by King Edward Realty Inc., the hotel has become Canada’s second Omni hotel, joining the Omni Montreal as one of 60 Omni Hotels in North America. “Transitioning and implementation of brand standards and initiatives has been the hotel team’s focus,” says the hotel veteran, whose previous stints include roles with Marriott, Delta, Renaissance and Four Seasons Hotels. Most recently, he was GM of the Delta Toronto Airport West.
With more luxury brands and boutique hotels now in Toronto than ever before, Waters hopes the renovation, and the rebranding, will help re-position the hotel as a luxe leader. “We completed some new rooms with the remaining rooms scheduled for completion in 2014. The new rooms are outstanding — very luxurious and contemporary in design, however, true to the heritage and classic feel of the hotel.” The public areas and the 24,000 sq. ft of meeting space will also be upgraded.
Waters is proud of the contemporary amenities, but he’s quick to underscore the importance of his 240-strong team, many of whom have been with the hotel for years. “Service is very professional and friendly while focused on individual customer’s unique needs. The efforts of individuals influence customer loyalty and significantly impacts sales and profits.”
At the end of the day, says Waters, being a successful hotelier is somewhat of a balancing act. “Great service and great product also need to consistently produce strong profits.” And, though “balancing long and short-term profitability can be challenging,” admits Waters, he’s up for the challenge and more. “I’m looking forward to managing the hotel through its expansive renovations and repositioning. Toronto’s first luxury hotel has a very bright future, and I’m looking forward to being part of it.”