By Larry Mogelonsky, www.lma.ca
Last summer, instead of fleeing to some foreign country with millennia of history to absorb, I decided to take my wife on a quaint little road trip through the province of Quebec, visiting six different properties, two family friends and one dear sister in a little over a week’s time. On top of all this, I use the term ‘vacation’ liberally insofar as I was answering e-mails and in and out of meetings every day. Nonetheless, we still had a blast.
For those unfamiliar with the finer points of this bucolic gem, know that it is steeped in colonial history, warfare and citizens proud of their heritage. The food is more reminiscent of France than of ‘regular’ Canadian fare and the rural regions serve as last stands against outright Americanization.
If you want to experience the real Canada, you will inevitably find yourself touring Quebec. My advice: do it in summer as their winters, though beautiful with everything caked in white snow, range from very cold to it-hurts-to-even-look-outside. And don’t worry about the language barrier. There are some small towns where English isn’t spoken, but overall, you can survive quite well without French, and figuring out the signage can make for a few entertaining detours.
In our sixties and attempting to impress my wife (who was a little peeved that our vacation was still a working holiday for yours truly) meant only one thing: luxury.
And in Quebec, the brand you can bank on to deliver on this front is Fairmont. When this chain consolidated ownership of the properties originally built by Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways, they inherited some of the most majestic and iconic buildings in the nation.
This includes the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City which is on almost every postcard of the city (and Canada for that matter) and the Queen Elizabeth which, naturally, sits atop the train station in Montreal. Let’s not forget Chateau Montebello which is one of the world’s largest log cabins.
There may be a few hotels that outclass Fairmont within the province—such as the recently renovated Ritz-Carlton in Montreal—but if you want to combine luxury and heritage in Quebec (i.e. an authentic local experience), Fairmont is pretty much the only name in the game. They also have the lion’s share of the province’s room stock at the four-star or higher segment.
Much like my definition for ‘vacation’, the word ‘heritage’ does not mean only one thing. When it comes to hotels, ‘heritage’ is the oft-prescribed PC term for ‘old’ or ‘in need of maintenance’. Fairmont’s properties are all firmly within the luxury class, but some are in need of a makeover to stay apace with the ever-increasing standards of top tier hospitality.
That said, it’s far easier to renovate a 15-20 year old concrete and steel-framed tower than it is a 90+ year old log cabin.
Rest assured, all of the chain’s properties have undergone upgrades within the past few years, or are in the queue for one very soon. In the meantime, what keeps their customers raving is not the ultra-modern spa or world-class fitness facilities but the simplest of all gifts we can give our guests: superb service.
Providing each and every visitor with the attention they deserve is the glue to hold your occupancy numbers together while you wait for bank loans to be approved so you can afford that $10+ million facelift. And the best part is: it’s wholly in your control!
You can hire people who are passionate about hospitality and you can retrain employees to refine their service techniques. It can make up for any pitfalls your property might have on the physical side.
Better yet, your hotel’s heritage is a story worth telling in person, and your frontline staffers should be educated on how to effectively relay this narrative to guests. In the end, it’s all about compensation.
If you can’t afford that $20-million upgrade just yet, then you have to balance the guest satisfaction equation with stellar service. So give another thought to how your staff and the quality of service they deliver—and not just your features and amenities—emotionally impact your guests.
Larry Mogelonsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the president and founder of LMA Communications Inc. (www.lma.ca), an award-winning, full service communications agency focused on the hospitality industry (est. 1991). Larry is also the developer of Inn at a Glance hospitality software. Mogelonsky’s latest anthology book entitled “Llamas Rule” and his first book “Are You an Ostrich or a Llama?” are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.