With roughly 15 years of experience as an association executive, Susie Grynol has managed a number of complex industry issues. In her current role as president and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC), Grynol is a national leader in the dialogue surrounding the hotel industry, achieving significant advocacy wins and promoting a unified vision for HAC’s network of more than 8,000 members.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Grynol took her leadership to new heights by positioning HAC at the forefront of discussions with the Federal government and demanding critical action to ensure the survival of tourism and hospitality businesses.
“When the pandemic hit, HAC mobilized to build an elevated advocacy program which was driven and funded by industry leaders,” says Grynol, this year’s Pinnacle Award winner for Supplier of the Year. “This involved extensive media work, grassroots lobbying, data analysis and economic modelling, policy design and hundreds of meetings with government leaders to ensure that support programs were targeted to businesses that needed it most.”
While the government provided financial support to employees early on through Employment Insurance (EI) and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), HAC and its members continued to advocate for additional relief measures to combat low profit margins, liquidity crises and fixed costs. The establishment of the Coalition of Hardest-Hit Businesses, where Grynol serves as co-chair, called on the federal government to extend the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to avoid ongoing economic disruption.
Furthermore, the HAC team secured thousands of TV, radio and news interviews and hosted more than 100 webinars to reinforce its demands and obtain government response. “Hotels don’t automatically get the sympathy of the general public or politicians,” says Grynol. “We really had to tell the story of the Canadian hotel owner — the one who invests in the community and supports employment — that’s now devastated. [There are] countless examples of hospitality throughout COVID-19, whether it’s [housing] frontline workers, homeless or those needing to self-isolate, [with] hotels [being] a part of that solution despite their losses.”
Most recently, the government released new targeted support programs, including the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program, to help businesses survive the winter months and continue to pay employees and fixed costs, with hopes of making a more significant recovery next spring. Specifically, the introduction of the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program is a direct result of HAC’s intense lobbying effort prior to the election to safeguard the hotel sector until May 2022. Collectively, the hardest-hit businesses heaved a sigh of relief.
“With the support of the industry behind us and the resources to deliver on our objectives, HAC rose to trusted-advisor status with the government and successfully accessed more than $11 billion in relief and liquidity for the industry — more than any other sector,” says Grynol. “We’ve been at the table with the government since the beginning of this pandemic, and we’ve had significant influence over their programs.”
For a team consisting of fewer than 10 people, HAC’s accomplishments are nothing short of extraordinary. Grynol says that while this work has been rewarding, there has been no shortage of personal and professional challenges. In addition to managing macro conflicts impacting the industry as a whole, Grynol has also had to stabilize HAC’s revenue and make time to support her team.
“The other big challenge was the fact that we lost about 75 per cent of our revenue and, at the same time, we had to build an expanded government relations team of professionals,” says Grynol. “Fundraising from an industry in crisis was an added complexity, but we hit our targets both years.”
These COVID-19-related changes have been especially hard for Grynol as a mother. “Working around the clock for 19 months on some of the most important, critical files in the country has been both exhilarating and exhausting,” says Grynol. “Couple that with three little kids at home and a husband on the frontlines dealing with COVID-19’s sickest patients. It’s been quite something. It’s the stuff people write books about. I hope that book includes a chapter on how it weathered its way through an incredible storm and came out on the other side stronger, and more resilient than ever. At least that’s how I would write it.”
During one of the most unprecedented times in modern history, Grynol has navigated turbulent waters with strength and skill. Her heroine image burns bright across the industry and her efforts have captured the attention of many.
“Warm congratulations to Susie Grynol for a fantastic job in leading the charge during these tough COVID-19 months,” says Tony Elenis, president and CEO of Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association (ORHMA).
“On behalf of all of us at Choice Hotels Canada, I’d like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Susie Grynol on receiving this prestigious Pinnacle Award,” says Brian Leon, president of Choice Hotels Canada. “With her extraordinary leadership at the helm of the Hotel Association of Canada, she stands out as a beacon in our industry. She has worked tirelessly to provide support, guidance and effective advocacy, and as a result has galvanized the industry with a strong, collective voice. Susie and her team at HAC have achieved Herculean results for our industry, especially during the height of the pandemic. By ensuring that the government understands our industry and the significant impact brought on by COVID-19, she has had a direct and positive impact while providing exemplary leadership and guidance during a very challenging time.”
“[This is] bigger than an award,” says Grynol. “For us, it’s the success of an industry rallying together to fight for survival. I’m just honoured that we were trusted with this immense responsibility and thankful that we were successful. I can’t think of a team that deserves this recognition more.”
By Nicole Di Tomasso | Photography By Jessica Deeks