Good news stories amid the pandemic

CANADA — Hospitality has long been known as a people industry, one that cares and gives back to the community. While the industry is currently facing its worst challenges in almost a century, that spirit has not dimmed. Hotels have their windows lit up to form the shape of hearts. Easton’s Group has started Project Kindness by delivering excess food from hotels to those in need. And Accent Inns, Amexon and The Fairmont Royal York are among the hotels offering free or heavily-discounted rooms to emergency and health care personnel. 

With Glowing Hearts…

Niagara Falls lit up with hearts. Photos: Stephen King.

The hearts at the top of the article were on the Embassy Suites Toronto Airport (left) and the Fairmont Hotel Winnipeg. Hotels in Niagara Falls started to show they had some heart about a week ago. The large hotels on the Canadian side of the falls created what the country’s tourism officials are calling the “Niagara Heart of Hope.”

“Our hotels and casinos in Niagara Falls are lighting up glowing hearts as a sign of hope and solidarity,” Niagara Falls Tourism said in a Facebook post. “As a community, we are united on the fight to stop the spread of the virus.” The hearts were created when hotels turned off all of their room lights, with the exception of those that create a heart-shaped symbol. The idea was initiated by workers at the team at the Marriott Fallsview Hotel, the Niagara Gazette reported. Other hotels quickly followed suit.

Project Kindness and beyond

Suraj and Reetu Gupta.

Here’s how brother-and-sister team, Suraj and Reetu Gupta of Easton’s Group, started Project Kindness.

“With our hotels shut down, we realized that we had tons of food that we could get to those in need,” Reetu told Breakfast Television recently. Easton’s Group of Hotels has 20 hotels in Ontario and Quebec, and like hotels across Canada and the world, they have not been doing well because of low occupancy.

“I had not been sleeping on Tuesday night (March 17), not because of business but because of my people — it’s heartbreaking,” Reetu said. “But there are people in need of food, and on Wednesday at 6 a.m., I emailed our hotels to start Project Kindness. The idea is that we would all give back. Since we had low occupancy, we had food to spare.

“I was hoping that kindness would be contagious, and the focus on kindness would go out of the company and into the community. And that would create peace in the world and peace in peoples’ hearts.”

Within 24 hours, they had six or seven giant truckloads of food, Suraj said. “Twenty-four hours later, that food was on someone’s table. It was an incredible initiative and we have great people.”

“I am so full of joy. I cannot believe all the managers stepped up. They are dealing with so much right now,” said Reetu.

Over the following week, Project Kindness continued but the needs of the community have changed. “We looked at how we could help retirement homes. They don’t do dining halls any more; they serve the residents in their rooms. But they didn’t have dining trays, plate covers, etc.”

On March 30, teams across the Easton’s Group of Hotels continued to spread love through Project: Kindness. Courtyard by Marriott Kingston donated 1,300 bottles of shampoo and 450 bars of soap to the City of Kingston Housing and Social Services for makeshift homeless shelters to assist with health care and social distancing. 

Reetu noted that a lot of people are suffering from anxiety and she has spent years teaching meditation. She has now rolled out live meditation sessions. “This is salvation, not isolation,” the invitation to the meditation says. The next one will be held on Saturday April 4, 2020 at 12:00 pm EST on YouTube and Instagram.

Free rooms for medical personnel from Amexon

Heidi Wengle, The Grand Hotel & Suites.

On March 26, Amexon Development Corporation extended its thanks to Toronto doctors and nurses in the continuing battle to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, by offering free accommodation at its Grand Hotel & Suites, located at 225 Jarvis Street, in downtown Toronto.  

Said general manager Heidi Wengle, “Front line doctors and nurses in nearby hospitals are working tirelessly to keep us all safe and Amexon is pleased to offer a comfortable facility so they can get much needed rest and avoid long commutes. We hope we can be of help since our hotel is conveniently located near the major downtown hospitals.

“We see this initiative as our civic duty and acknowledge the efforts of those who are continuing to work long days and nights to keep patients safe and Covid-19 at bay. We will do whatever it takes to help make the hotel stay for these heroes feel like a home away from home,” she added.

“Self-isolation rate” for essential services staff at Accent Inns

One of Accent Inns’ signature ducks!

“After hearing that many essential services workers were sleeping in their cars in between overtime shifts out of fear of bringing the virus home to their families, Accent Inns has stepped up,” the company said on its website. “We’re supporting all essential services employees by offering an all-time-low rate so that they can be safe and rested during this chaotic time. 

“Our essential services staff are, well, essential to our community and we know that we have to keep our hotels open so that they have a clean, comfortable and safe night’s sleep. It’s the absolute least we can do.

But what happened next is pretty amazing, the website story continued. After announcing this offer, their phone lines flooded with concerned community members offering to cover the cost of accommodation for essential services employees who needed to stay with them.

“The generosity and kindness our community has showed in this time is inspiring to all of us,” the company said. “In fact, you’ve inspired us to launch the new Hotels for Frontline Workers program in partnership with the United Way of Greater Victoria. If you want to show your love for essential services workers, you can donate here to cover the cost of their accommodation.”

Rest Safe Program sets aside 100 rooms at Fairmont Royal York

Urban Angel/St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation had a full-page ad in The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, describing how the Fairmont Royal York Hotel and KingSett Capital, together with two of St. Michael’s most generous donors, the Barford and Love families, are making 100 rooms available at the hotel so that courageous front-line staff can stay safely and comfortably. “Front-line staff are caring for patients around the clock. But just when they can get some rest, they’re not going home for fear of putting their families in danger,” the ad said, inviting people to donate to St. Michael’s Courage Fund, where all gifts would be matched by a generous donation of up to $1 million. “We are St. Michael’s and we STOP AT NOTHING,” the ad noted.

Future guests will remember these actions…

“I believe we are seeing the rising to the occasion of many businesses: alcohol factories making hand sanitizer and garment companies making masks,” said Greg Klassen of Twenty31 Consulting. “Many charitable ideas are coming out. Some, such as Accent Inns, are renting hotel rooms to health care professionals so they can leave their shifts and not worry about infecting their families. Maybe hotels could help house the families of COVID-19 patients, so the patients can stay in their homes. There are lots of other ways of retooling to help.

“The traveller of the future will remember those who rose to the occasion and gave back — it’s a way to very quietly infuse their brand so that travellers have warm and fuzzy thoughts. And if you’re filling a room at $49, most of that goes to the cleaning staff, but it gives them a job, keeps the economy moving.”