Hotel Association of Canada's Young Guns Panel

Vito Curalli, right, of Hilton Worldwide, heard from the next generation of hoteliers. From left, Alyson Gregoire, Sheraton Centre Toronto; Jamie Knoepfli, Four Seasons Hotel Toronto; Brian Nam, Sheraton Centre Toronto; Giovanna Vallejo, Hilton Toronto Hotel and Morgan Da Rocha, Sheraton Gateway Hotel.

Vito Curalli, right, of Hilton Worldwide, heard from the next generation of hoteliers. From left, Alyson Gregoire, Sheraton Centre Toronto; Jamie Knoepfli, Four Seasons Hotel Toronto; Brian Nam, Sheraton Centre Toronto; Giovanna Vallejo, Hilton Toronto Hotel and Morgan Da Rocha, Sheraton Gateway Hotel.

TORONTO — At the recent Hotel Association of Canada conference, Vito Curalli of Hilton Worldwide moderated a panel of six recent graduates now working at high-end GTA hotels, asking how they see the world of hotel operations.

In some cases, coming from their own wired world into the hotel meant culture shock. “In housekeeping in particular everything was completely manual, from a clipboard back to pen and paper,” said Alyson Gregoire, who works at the Sheraton Centre Toronto. Recommendations that they use iPhones or mini-iPads are being implemented, but with the average age of housekeepers being about 60, it is difficult to implement in a short period of time. 

Jamie Knoepfli, who works in food and beverage at the Four Seasons Toronto, was asked by Curalli whether luxury customers who pay some of the highest rates in the market are the most connected and want the least contact with people. Knoepfli said that's not always true — that some customers still want face to face contact, and a simpler, better experience. “Technology is changing so quickly. When the hotel opened three years ago, all the technology was relevant. There's probably one certain thing, and that's the big cost of hotel technology.”

Asked about technology in the Hilton Toronto's sales department, Giovanna Vallejo said it was very Apple-oriented  with iPhones and iPads. “We can do better — we need some sort of messaging system.” She said they use WhatsApp for clients from abroad who aren't able to do site inspections. “I can FaceTime the space for all of my clients — show them the space physically to see if they like it. I would like to attach files and use an instant messaging tool to see that they read it.”

Brian Nam, who works in housekeeping at the Sheraton Centre, said his department uses Facebook messaging and email. “But there's some problems because people receive an overwhelming amount of email.” He prefers instant or text messaging if something is urgent.

What about “NextGen” brands?

Curalli asked the panellists what they think about brands meant to speak to their generation.

“I would love to stay at a lifestyle brand, but I can't afford it,” said Gregoire. She says she is price conscious, and looks for the best value on sites like Expedia.

“It's not just the bed and the meal, it's the experience,” said Knoepfli, who added that Four Seasons had changed its logo recently to appeal to the up-and-coming generation.

“I appreciate quality, service and the environment — a place to work and hang out,” said Vallejo, adding that loyalty is important. She loves her Starbucks rewards, for example.

“The brands you like give you a strong sense of experience,” said Morgan Da Rocha, who works at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel near Toronto's Pearson International Airport. “For me, it's Nike and Under Armour work out gear. Their click clack commercials remind me of that sports experience — the click clack of cleats.”

Nam likes McDonald's and favours Tim Hortons coffee because it rates high on consistency. “I get disappointed if previous expectations are not met,” he said.

Gregoire also likes Tim's because of their roll-up-the-rim promotions. She also favours lululemon yoga apparel because it represents something she believes in.

Work-life balance and that constant connection

Work-life balance is strongly valued by our generation, said Da Rocha, adding they are sometimes mixed together. “I want to be in contact all the time. I don't think about my shift — it's all about quality time.”

Gregoire said she works in the basement of the hotel, and housekeeping works to a strict eight-hour day. “I value work and life — I try to maximize my time outside work, but that involves making the most of my time at work.”

Vallejo noted she is always connected during work via phones and laptops. She deals with clients from B.C. and the U.S., and can stay connected with them even when she is not at the office, even though that comes out of her time with friends and family. “If I have to get a contract by working on the weekend, I'll be there.”

Knoepfli said it's easy to work a 14-hour day in this industry. “The biggest thing is that you have to control it yourself. You have to realize when you're doing too much, and talk about it. People think if they don't do this [extra work] it will reflect badly on them.”

“The next generation and the one after will value work-life balance even more than we do,” said Nam. “Previous generations worked really hard, more so than our generation and beyond. We work our eight hours honestly and then go home — but there's a potential for conflict.”