TORONTO — Realstar Hospitality, which has the master franchise for Days Inn by Wyndham in Canada, is doing okay, working towards coming out of the current pandemic, president and COO Irwin Prince told Canadian Lodging News in a Zoom interview yesterday. “We’re doing more outreach to owners and managers than ever before. We’re looking at this as a bump in the road, maybe a little bit longer than most. We haven’t laid off any of our corporate team.”
Prince has a quote to describe what they are doing during the pandemic. “When the fishermen can’t go to sea, they mend their nets.” Days Inns are going back and getting better at what they do, providing better job assistance for team members and putting safety and health front and centre. They are also looking at ways to engage guests, and to build awareness and friendships in local markets, helping properties with marketing and service.
The emphasis on cleanliness is nothing new for Days Inns. “We’re just spending more time focusing on tough points because of the way COVID-19 spread,” said Prince. “We’re paying attention to metal objects and solid surfaces,” he added, noting that there’s heightened appreciation for the cleanliness of elevator buttons, ice machine buttons, phones and other hard surfaces in rooms and public bathrooms. Approximately eight years ago, Days Inns Canada started using 3M Clean-Trace Luminometers, which illuminate surfaces and highlight areas that need attention.
In the future, most levels of hotels are going to include some elements of a limited service hotel. “The breakfast buffet has traditionally been in the realm of the economy segment, but everyone is going to be moving to grab and go,” Prince said. The demand will be for shelf stable, individually packaged items. Hard fruit items that need to be peeled, such as oranges, will be in demand. Prince has found that apples get bruised, and bananas don’t have a great shelf life. “Guests will grab a fruit, a granola bar, a juice box and an individually-wrapped muffin. Ideally these items won’t need to be refrigerated. The less the food is handled, the more confidence the guest will have. Foods should be as easy and convenient as possible.”
“Days Inn is perfectly positioned,” Prince said, adding that until a vaccine becomes available and broadly distributed, hotels will not see business like they did in 2019. “There is too much tentativeness in the market,” regarding who will want to travel, for example. Some people will not want to go out and travel anytime soon. CLN spoke to Prince on a day when incidence of COVID-19 White House was reported. “When it hits close to home, people become a little more sensitive and a little less cavalier.
“I’m optimistic that travel will return as we head into summer. Families who have been under one roof will be looking for some relief. They’ll be willing drive five, six or 10 hours away just to get a change of scenery. We have hotels from Newfoundland to Victoria, and up in Whitehorse and Yellowknife,” said Prince. “Single family units will come together, or different age groups might book two rooms with a room in between them. They can see each other in the park, go hiking but still be socially distant, eat their meals socially distant, and stay under the same hotel roof. We are starting to see glimmers of that today.”
The construction crew business is also starting to come back, including the people who are working on orphan wells in Alberta. “For crew business, they used to have two people in one room; now they will have two people and two rooms,” Prince said. Most of their hotels are hosting first responders, including truck drivers delivering the supply chain of food, products and Amazon orders; and folks who are working but don’t want to expose family at home.
Days Inns have implemented a number of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They were early adopters of plexiglas screens to separate guests and front desk staff. “There was some concern at first, but guests really appreciate the separation, and so do front desk people. It’s a win/win for everybody,” Prince said. Other measures include floor stand hand pump sanitizers, and signs on the floor indicating social distancing.
Room attendants wear masks and gloves, but whether front desk staff should wear them is still under discussion. “It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that all of these things will become available … both for guests and hotel staff. This will become the norm in the near future.”
Days Inns had closed 22 per cent of its Canadian properties at the peak of the virus two or three weeks ago, but hotels that were closed have started to reopen.
“There’s demand among front line workers. It’s truly inspiring to see folks step up and help others. I’m inspired and invigorated, because [our team members] are putting themselves out to provide the tradition of hospitality, even in the worst times. We want to make sure every associate at every hotel has the appropriate equipment to keep them safe.
“We have an incredibly engaged group of owners, whose initiatives go above and beyond,” said Prince.
That spirit of cooperation has extended to Canadian tourism associations, such as HAC, TIAC, the Canadian Franchise Association and Canadian Federation of Independent Business; and even to U.S. associations. “Susie Grynol of the Hotel Association of Canada is working with Chip Rogers of the AH&LA, leveraging some of their expertise and programs that AH&LA has put together to help every hotel across the nation,” Prince said. The fact that all of the brands are working together under the leadership of the associations is inspiring as well.