True Key caters to experiential travellers

Newton Cove Resort

Newton Cove Resort

By Colleen Isherwood,
Editor

RADIUM HOT SPRINGS, B.C. — With properties in places like
Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Harrison Hot Springs and Radium Hot
Springs, True Key Hotels & Resorts Ltd. offers some of the bucket-list
travel experiences today's travellers are looking for.

“We've benefitted from the trend in the industry where
people are looking for travelling experiences. Because of the locations of our
resorts, we can offer really exceptional, bucket-list experiences,” said
Michael Anderson, president of True Key Resorts. 

Michael Anderson, president of True Key Resorts

“In Sooke, there's whale-watching right at the end of the
dock, guided fishing, sailing and crabbing. In Radium Hot Springs, they can go
whitewater rafting or snowshoeing. At Harrison Hot Springs, they can land a
400-pound sturgeon.

“From Parksville, they can see the West Coast rainforest. And
when the tide goes out, they can walk for a kilometre. They can see all the sea
life there is, including crabs and sand dollars.”

True Key has grown from managing two resorts when Anderson took
the reins in 2010, to eight today. The company tends to manage properties in
secondary and tertiary markets that are high-end, but a little off the beaten
path. “We're not Whistler or Banff,” Anderson said.

Michael Anderson, president of True Key Resorts

Anderson started in the industry at age 14 as a busboy at a
hotel in Edmonton, working his way up to server and prep cook. At age 18, he
moved into nightclubs. By 20, he was managing his first hotel. Later, Anderson
worked at Bellstar, helping grow the company from two properties to more than a
dozen. He worked for the predecessor to True Key, Glacier Lake Management
Corp., acquiring equity and changing the name to True Key.

Their current portfolio consists of: Bighorn Meadows in Radium
Hot Springs; Harrison Beach Hotel in Harrison Hot Springs; Moutcha Bay Resort
in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, approximately
70 km north of Tofino; Nootka Sound Resort; Newton Cove Resort, also on
the west coast of Vancouver Island; Sooke Harbour Resort and Marina just east
of Victoria; Sooke Point Ocean Cottage Resort; and Sunrise Ridge Waterfront
Resort on the east coast of Vancouver Island, about 40 km northwest of Nanaimo.

Bighorn Meadows Resort in Radium Hot Springs

Bighorn Meadows Resort in Radium Hot Springs

Over the past few years, the company has faced some challenges.
As is the case in other parts of B.C., the top challenge is the availability of
front-line labour. Housekeepers, servers and front desk staff get more
difficult to find each year. Between the Municipal & Regional District Tax
(MRDT) and the increase in the minimum wage, labour costs have risen about 10
per cent a year over the past three years. 

Airbnb and VRBO have also had an impact. On the one hand, affordable
housing for staff is more scarce. Vacation property owners are also willing to
pay $25 to $30 per hour to get their properties cleaned, meaning hotels face
stiff competition for housekeepers.

The political unrest between Alberta and B.C. means B.C.
properties miss out on oil and gas corporate travel, regardless of the
political views of the resort operators. And provincial restrictions on fishing
have affected some of the properties as well.

“Regardless of the challenges and economic hiccups, our
company continues to show year-over-year improvements almost without exception
over the properties we manage,” said Anderson.

Focus on culture

True Key counters these problems with a focus on employee
culture. They were recently honoured with the Tourism Vancouver Island's Employer of the Year award, sponsored
by accounting firm MNP, which recognizes tourism businesses that exemplify best
practices in all areas of operations and human resource management. The winner
of this award is chosen based on the quality of the workplace and work
atmosphere, as well as leadership in recruitment, performance management, and
career advancement. 

“We've done quite a bit on the corporate culture
side,” said Anderson. “While it's critical to deliver exceptional
experiences to our guests, we also deliver exceptional experiences for our team
members, because they provide the services we need on a daily basis. We also
invest in education and professional development for team members, from
learning excel to taking safety courses or professional courses toward a degree
in accounting. Our view is that for us to cover costs, the only caveat is that
it is a win/win that benefits the employee and is applicable to the service
they are providing.”

They have also developed some innovative marketing and sales
strategies, diversifying the clientele. What started as a rubber-tire leisure
market now encompasses a much broader clientele. True Key has worked with
wholesale companies to attract international guests from the U.S. and overseas.
They are working to get more corporate travellers, who work in the area or come
for incentives, corporate workshops and business meetings.

Anderson believes in slow
and steady growth for the company. “We want to make sure we have the
foundation and infrastructure to support vertical growth,” he said. That
being said, the company is actively seeking new management opportunities, and
expect to welcome at least one, if not two, resorts into the portfolio in the
coming year or so.