Sunray Group is known for going that extra mile. Whether it’s surpassing brand standards at its conversion properties, developing new technology for its hotels, or launching charitable initiatives to help those in need, president Ray Gupta and his team are never happy with “good enough.”
Founded in 2006, Oshawa-based Sunray Group is a family-owned, multifaceted corporation specializing in hospitality and development. The company, which currently owns and operates 30 hotels and employs 1,500 staff members across Ontario and Quebec, has established successful partnerships with popular hotel brands such as Marriott, Starwood, Carlson, Best Western and Choice Hotels.
“We’ve made it our mandate to be an award-winning company from a hotel perspective,” says Sandeep Gupta, vice-president of Sunray Group. “We brought in the right people from an executive team perspective to ensure that operationally, we’re exceeding brand standards and that the focus on the renovation side is to [offer better than] typical brand standards/prototypes on each project.
In Vaughan, for example, Sunray is converting its Super 8 property to a Four Points by Sheraton “And when it came to the sample room, we weren’t 100-per-cent satisfied with the current standard for the Four Points brand, so we spent almost eight months designing a full custom-room package,” says Sandeep Gupta, adding “when Starwood came for the sample-room review, they told us it was one of the best sample-room reviews they’d ever done.” In another instance, Sunray converted a no-name hotel in Leamington, Ont., to a Best Western Plus. “It needed about $2 million in renovations to make it a Best Western Plus but we actually spent $4.5 million,” he says. “We put a lot of pride and effort into it to achieve above brand standards from both a guest perspective and a renovation perspective. We have also made it a mandate in our last seven months of operation to exceed brand standards in guest satisfaction scores.”
This reputation for excellence has contributed to a strong year for Sunray Group’s hotel portfolio — the company reported operating revenues of $67.2 million in 2015 and will finish out 2016 with a projected increase of 32 per cent to $88.6 million. According to Sandeep Gupta, the company plans to further add to its portfolio in 2016, with a target of acquiring an additional 500 rooms before year’s end.
The company’s approach to the hotel business has always been unique. “When we started out, we were looking at undervalued properties; looking outside of the box to see how we could add value to the existing property,” says Ray Gupta. “We were not buying [hotels] based on the current yield or profitability; these were properties operating at huge losses and with our strategic approach, we were able to turn them around — either by repositioning/rebranding them or by renovating.”
This forward-thinking tactic has allowed Sunray Group to create unique experiences. “From our potential dual-brand Marriott conversion in Oshawa to our resort-style Best Western in Leamington, we are constantly trying to raise the bar in terms of design and development. When most tell us “it can’t be done” we know we are on the right track,” he says. The company’s growth began in southwestern Ontario, with a focus on the 401 corridor — boasting representation in almost every major city from Windsor to Kingston, Ont. “Wherever we have a property, we try to cluster — a minimum of two properties in any given area — which allows us to have a full operations team in place,” says Sandeep Gupta. Now, he says, Sunray has set its sights on central Ontario. “The last year of acquisitions have been mainly in central Ontario,” he says. “We’ve started expanding outside of the 401 corridor to other major highways, such as Highway 400 from Vaughan to Orillia.”
In an increasingly online world, Sunray is creating new digital technologies focused on enhancing the guest experience. GuestLink, the company’s new in-room digital solution, took more than 18 months to develop. “From a security and management perspective, using a third-party provider would have cost $350,000/year, so we decided to utilize those funds to create our own program where we can manage our security in-house,” Sandeep Gupta explains.
GuestLink allows hotels to connect with guests — in a non-intrusive way — to deliver the latest offers, news and information, all while being able to enrich their stay with the latest games, apps and rich-media experiences. An in-room tablet that docks on guestroom desks, GuestLink includes features such as a guest directory, the ability to stream Netflix directly to the TV with no buffering and access to digital newspapers.
GuestLink is currently being tested at the 240-room Radisson Hotel Toronto East — generating a revenue stream through not just advertising in the guest directory, but also the interaction with the front desk to the tablet.
Sunray predicts that in the first year of testing, the tablet will bring in $300,000 in extra revenue. “We can sell robes, beds, do advertising — there’s lots of different revenue streams we’ve been playing around with.”
The company’s success can be attributed to a number of factors, according to Sandeep Gupta. “We have an in-depth executive team; we have been able to cut costs where necessary; and put a strong regional sales force in place to garner business that wasn’t there before.”
But what he’s most proud of is Sunray Group’s philosophy of hiring caring individuals who are dependable, ethical and trustworthy. “We’ve built our company reputation on our pursuit of those characteristics,” he says. “Who we are and who our employees are is based on our ethics and commitment to keeping family unity within our company.” Even with its growth, he says, “We can’t forget where we started — both from an executive and employee level,” adding that Sunray Group offers a wide range of employee incentives and strives to ensure the well-being of all its staff.
In turn, employees are quick to lend a hand when it comes to giving back to the community. Over the past year, Sunray has donated more than $300,000 to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Choice Foundation and Sleeping Children Around the World. “Our employees are also encouraged to donate hotel rooms to local hospitals. In addition to the financial contributions the company has made, many of our team members donate their time as well,” says Sandeep Gupta, who himself represents Sunray on the boards of Emajain and many other charitable foundations.
This year, Sunray Group will launch The Sunray Foundation in recognition of the need to lend a hand to employees in the hospitality industry who may have suffered hardships along the way.
With its slogan, “A ray of hope for those less fortunate,” The Foundation has pledged to raise $1 million to support those in need.
According to Sandeep Gupta, 2016 has been extremely productive. “Over the last 12 months, we have continued to strategically grow our portfolio by more than 1,000 rooms. This year, we’ll be completing a lot of our conversions and renovations and eight to 10 hotels will be rebranded or renovated and brought back into the portfolio.”
Although the company grew tremendously in 2016 with regard to acquisitions and adding to its portfolio, he says 2017 will be a bit calmer “because most of our current acquisitions and hotels will be fully converted and operating under the new brand or renovated current brand,” adding the company has set a goal of the mid-30 hotel range by end of 2017. But it hasn’t been an easy road. “When we started our company in 2006, it was a large struggle, as it is for most when they buy their first hotel,” says Sandeep Gupta. “I was very excited about this award because, although my father is not the kind of person who likes to be in the spotlight, with all his hard work he truly deserves this recognition. It means the world to me and our family.”