Virtual GTHA AGM features SmartServe, Lisa MacLeod

TORONTO — The Greater Toronto Hotel Association held the first virtual annual general meeting in its history on June 30, with Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, providing the keynote address and Richard Anderson, executive director of SmartServe Ontario as invited speaker.

The Hon. Lisa MacLeod.

For the previous two and a half weeks, The Hon. Lisa MacLeod had been staying in hotels, including Windsor, Ont., where she was to hold a press conference with the premier following the GTHA meeting. “We have been dealing with so many things. It’s a triple threat: first the public health crisis; then the economic crisis; and, now that we are in Phase 2, recognizing that there are social issues regarding consumer behaviour and sentiments. Some hotels across the province are operating at under 10 per cent capacity and many have been shuttered.”

After her two and a half weeks of travel, MacLeod said, “It is safe to stay and safe to play in Ontario, given the stringent and rigorous procedures hotels have put in place. I’ve had an opportunity to stay in a Hilton, a Best Western Plus and a Holiday Inn Express, and I kicked off my trip the Toronto Hazleton.”

She added that the Ontario government has pledged $13 million to boost hyperlocal travel, and sees tourism and hospitality recovering in three phases. The first phase is for consumers to reconnect to their neighbourhoods, home cities and home communities. The second phase will be the staycation. The third phase, still a ways away, will be when international borders open and airlines will start to see robust international travel. MacLeod said she is also on the Airline Advisory Council, which reported that Canadian airlines lost 13 million seats between January and May, 11 million of those in April and May.

MacLeod is doing her bit to promote the return of travel. “I’m taking flights between Ottawa and Toronto, and will continue to do that — to lead by example and demonstrate confidence. The more we do that, the sooner we will be back,” she said.

GTHA chair Edwin Frizzell, general manager of The Fairmont Royal York Hotel, gave his report, providing some statistics regarding the GTHA’s success during 2019 — which seems like a lifetime ago. During 2019, GTHA recorded 45.4 million visitors with spending totalling $10.9 billion. A total of 10,117,500 hotel room nights were sold, and occupancy was 76.1 per cent. The average daily rate was $196 and RevPAR was $149.

“These are incredible results and growth from our previous years,” Frizzell said.

He added that last year, the association supported the City of Toronto’s position on short-term rental bylaws, which limited short-term rentals to principal residences only, put a four per cent tax on all short-term rentals and required licensing and registration with the city. The decision was appealed, but on June 23, the appeal was dismissed.

GTHA also worked toward a continued reduction of the average premium rate from the WSIB, reducing the rate by 17 per cent for 2020. Since GTHA started lobbying for this four years ago, the rate has been reduced by 47.1 per cent.

GTHA president and CEO Terry Mundell added that GTHA has lobbied continuously to ensure the hotel industry is considered favourably by all levels of government, not only on a financial basis, but as a respected and credible advisor to government. “We have a good working relationship with the Cabinet and MPPs in Ontario,” Mundell said. “I see growing traction and steady appreciation of what our industry needs.” Mundell is a co-chair of the Provincial Government Hotel & Hosptitality Panel, which provides information to the ministers, who then relay it to the Jobs and Recovery Panel.

“As the chaos descended, the government demonstrated its confidence in the hospitality industry by designating it an essential service. We have seen record losses and real threats in the environment, but hotel members of the GTHA are depending on us to keep the lights on. It’s been 14 weeks. We have been an essential service for healthcare workers, the vulnerable and workers on the front line. We are looking for a bridge from the immediate crisis to recovery. One of our key recommendations is that the government must give us clear guidelines on allowing meetings and events to continue under controlled standards established by the government.”

They are also looking for a hotel sector-specific funding program. “Our team members have proven we are up to the challenge in keeping the public safe over 14 weeks in a pandemic with no issues. This conversation is underway with government.”

Mundell also talked about the Hospitality Recovery Task Force with the newly minted Destination Toronto (formerly Tourism Toronto) and its president and CEO Scott Beck. “The Task Force will provide a road map for next steps, using the experience, expertise and hard-won gains [we won] during SARS and the global recession.

“We will tackle these challenges head on, and a strong and unified hotel voice is essential. The events of 2020 were unimaginable. We will manage what we can control and we will get there. It won’t be easy, but folks, we will get there.”

Richard Anderson, president and CEO of SmartServe Ontario, which provides the AGCO-approved Alcohol Beverage Sales & Service Training Program in the province, reported that 100,000 people participated in the free SmartServe training offered in April — a year’s worth of business in three weeks and a bit.

He said that SmartServe would be adding three new training courses to the program in the fall. The first is on sexual assault, which includes both sexual harassment and drug-facilitated assault. Participants will learn what to look for and what they can do to prevent this from happening. The second new course will deal with cannabis, including infused beverages, edibles and topicals. The third course will give participants the tools to deal with those who mix alcohol and cannabis.

Anderson added that they will be talking to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and attorney general’s office about recertification, as Ontario is currently the only province that doesn’t require recertification for their alcohol sales and service program.