Interview with Bryan DeCourt, EVP and Joe Reardon, Chief Development Officer

What were some of the early challenges when COVID-19 first hit?

BD: The immediate shock, in terms of the speed of erosion of business, took all of our collective breath away, because it happened so quickly. For a group our size — we’re spread out across a bunch of different time zones and a couple different provinces and countries — the challenge became how to, in a relatively decentralized environment, get your arms around that [reality] quickly and make some difficult decisions with fairly limited information.

Joe Reardon: Just like everybody else, it was [a hit] to the portfolio across the board. When you’re in those situations, you focus on how much market share can I grab and keep in my hotel during these times. Cost control was also really important, so [we] assembled a group of experts on the sales and operation side that quickly had to make some hard decisions.

Have you laid off any staff?
BD: At the property level is where we had to make really tough decisions — and not only in Canada. We re-
deployed the regional teams across the U.S. as well as Canada, and have had to lay off housekeepers and maintenance [staff] due to volume not being there. But each hotel’s different based on occupancy levels, the needs of the hotel and some location. Now, our revenues are starting to increase and we’ve got a plan in place to start looking at potentially bringing back regional teams and team members.

How is the HE portfolio performing as the industry begins to re-open and who is staying in your hotels right now?
BD: Our full-service properties in larger urban markets have struggled, but our extended-stay and regional markets, where there is more leisure and transient business, have had better recovery. [In terms of guests,] first responders and project workers, such railroad and pipeline workers, are the bulk of our business right now. We’ve got a handful of hotels in the Midwest and the Iowa area and, as an example, [guests are] working on the large windmill turbines. That type of business has helped drive and sustain occupancy. The university segment is also starting to come back, which is interesting, as schools start to get their arms around what that’s going to look like either in a virtual environment or in a more traditional classroom environment.

JR: Our occupancy [in Canada] during this time is anywhere between 20 and 35 per cent. Our extended-stay hotels have done extremely well. The hotels that have not come back or have done very poorly during these times are anything full-service with larger spaces for meetings or conventions — that’s always the last to come back.

What’s your advice to other hoteliers?

BD: In the current environment, there’s going to be a tendency to overreact and not just react. So we all have to be mindful, as we roll out new initiatives in a volatile environment, that we’re not making decisions we can’t reverse or peel back. We’re going to see a number of iterations of this environment and the new normal changes hourly. And so, until we get some type of stabilization, we need to be cautious about making any over-arching decisions that aren’t hyper-focused on protecting cashflow and ensuring the safety and security of your associates and guests.


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