It’s a Canadian Horatio-Alger story: a new immigrant with no prior experience in the hospitality industry steadily and gradually acquires and builds a stable of successful hotels; eventually he’s managing top properties in partnership with some of the most prestigious names in the business, such as Marriott, Hilton and InterContinental. That’s the true-life success story of Mississauga, Ont.-based Manga Hotels, which is named for the great-great grandfather of company founder, president and CEO Sukhdev Toor.
The secret to 30 years of success? “Most important, number-1, we’re a family company and a private company,” says Toor. In addition, “we go beyond the brand requirements.”
Toor was born in India, where he received a degree in civil engineering before immigrating to Canada in 1983. “Times were tough,” he recalls. “I came to Canada with high hopes, but Canada was going through a very deep recession.” In 1984, he entered a postgraduate MBA program at the University of Waterloo, where “I was going to university five days and working two days.”
Within a few years of graduation, he drifted into hospitality with the acquisition of a few small motels, beginning with the Royal Victorian Inn in Victoria, B.C. “From there, I just carried on,” he says. “I spent time in British Columbia. The economy was booming here in Ontario at that time, but British Columbia was down; that was an opportunity to move there and find a better place. Then Ontario crashed a year after, in 1990/’91, and went into recession. It took three or four years to come out.”
In 1993, Toor moved back to Ontario and acquired properties in Niagara Falls, Kitchener and Saint Catharines. By 1997, he had collected nine hotels: six Comfort Inns, two Howard Johnson’s and a Travelodge. In 1999, the time was right to undertake the company’s first new build: the 70-room Hampton Inn Edwards Boulevard in Mississauga, Ont. — the first Hampton Inn in Canada.
“There’s a time to build and a time to buy,” says Toor. “I took a chance at that time. I was lucky to buy a good piece of land and new brands were emerging; Hilton and Marriott were coming into the market.”
But new construction has its challenges, he admits. “It’s certainly not easy, but since I am a civil engineer, I wanted to do it. Now we do it all the time; we’re building continuously. As with anything you do, you learn all the time. Most of the time there are challenges, but you need to be able to come out of the challenges.”
To rise above the pitfalls of new building, he says, “you need a good team to execute the plan and a good construction company that can meet the timelines.” Once the property is up and running, “we have a good team and look after our people. We also strive to exceed the brand requirements.”
This simple formula evidently works: Manga’s portfolio now includes 18 properties in British Columbia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and New York State, and shows no signs of slowing down.
In 2008, Manga embarked on one of its most ambitious projects to date: the construction of the 224-room Hilton Garden Inn Toronto Airport, which would become the first LEED-certified hotel in Canada. An acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED is an internationally recognized rating system that measures environmental sustainability and health impacts in building construction and management. It takes into consideration numerous factors, ranging from the types of materials used in construction and the distance they must travel to the site, to water and waste handling, energy efficiency and sustainable landscaping.
“It was costly; it’s quite a process,” says Toor. “It was a personal decision, actually. I was willing to spend more money to do it right. It was my thinking that we should do it right and it pays out in the end, because you save on energy costs.” He notes that LEED certification makes the most sense with dense and compact high-rise developments.
Manga currently operates two U.S.-based properties as well: the 153-room Aloft and the 101-room Hampton Inn & Suites, both situated at the Buffalo Airport in New York. “We don’t have further plans to expand into the U.S.,” says Toor. However, the company is continuing to grow in Canada.
The Hilton Garden Inn in downtown St. John’s, Nfld., which has been planned for some time, is on the cusp of opening and in the first quarter of 2019, construction of a 196-room Hyatt Place at Toronto’s Pearson Airport is expected to be underway.
There are also a number of projects in downtown Toronto itself, including a new build at Jarvis and Dundas streets, just east of Yonge, which is slated to become a 32-storey mixed-use hotel and residential property. (“We’re still debating the brand,” Toor says.)
Manga is currently working its way through the zoning process for two other Toronto projects, both in the vibrant and upscale King-Spadina district, which has in recent years become a hub of clubs and bistros and a site for several luxe boutique hotels — not to mention the headquarters for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
“We’re adding almost 750 rooms to the downtown core,” he says.
Manga puts a high priority on investing back into the communities where it operates. “It’s important for us to be involved in the community, especially in the Atlantic regions,” says Manga’s vice-president of Sales and Revenue, Shahzad Cokar. “About two-thirds of our portfolio is in Atlantic Canada; it’s very important that we give back there. We have a very big presence.”
One way Manga gives back is through its support of the Children’s Miracle Network and IWK Foundation. Projects such as the annual Delta Fredericton Golf Classic, hosted by Delta Hotels by Marriott Fredericton, further the IWK Foundation’s mission to champion excellence in healthcare for women and children across the Maritimes. It raises about $15,000 per year.
Manga also works with Dreams Take Flight, a charity dedicated to providing the trip of a lifetime to medically, mentally, physically, socially or emotionally challenged children in eight cities across Canada. In December 2017, Manga also raised funds for the Leo Hayes Feed-the-Lions program and Fredericton community kitchen through donated proceeds from a pasta-bar lunch. In addition, employees volunteer once per month with a school-backpack program that provides take-home meals for families in need.
The company is also hard at work on a bigger project: the creation of its own charitable foundation, set to launch in 2019, which will extend the impact of its community support to a new level.
Toor remains optimistic about the future of hospitality in Canada. “It’s a good industry and it will keep growing,” he says. “People have more money and they’re doing more travelling. The important thing is to look at the long term; don’t take shortcuts. Look after your people. Look after your associates and they’ll be able to keep people happy.”
While some operators lament the advent of the disruptive sharing economy, Toor doesn’t fear it. “Airbnb is a different market,” he says. “We have business people travelling. Younger people are looking at a different market niche. That segment of the market is very small overall.”
In order to remain competitive, “you need to stay on the cutting edge of technology,” Toor says. “People demand more. We have to be sure we’re [keeping up] with new trends. You can check in with your iPhone now — it’s your key; you don’t have to wait in line. We’re going to 50-inch smart TVs; you can plug in any gadget you want. We have LED lighting you can turn on with from your bed.”
Toor doesn’t expect this thirst for tech novelties to wane anytime soon. “They keep evolving all the time, like anything in life,” he says, “so we have to provide better than what people have in their homes to keep them coming to us.” It’s a plan that has worked for Manga for the past three decades and it seems poised to keep the business successful for decades to come.
Written by Sarah B. Hood