Choice Canada marks its 25th anniversary

Brian Leon.

Brian Leon.

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — Choice Hotels Canada marked its 25th anniversary with a conference at the Niagara Fallsview Hotel, a gala awards dinner at Ravine Vineyard and a book that celebrates its franchisees.

One of the highlights — and there were several — was a special presentation of a hardcover book to celebrate 30 of the company's franchisees.

“When we thought one year ago about celebrating our 25th anniversary, I knew it had to be about our franchisees,” said Brian Leon, president of Choice Hotels Canada. “Our success is totally driven by franchisees… and we decided to write a book about our franchisees.”

“There are few things I am more passionate about than our franchisees,” said Leon. “We wanted a book that reflected diversity — of brands, types of hotels, markets, backgrounds and generations — some of them new to the industry. We called the book, 'Strength Through Diversity.'”

Since no one on staff knew much about writing a book, Choice hired Dr. Ulrich (Uli) Frisse, a corporate biographer, publisher, historical branding and story-marketing consultant. “I learned about hospitality all across the country. You opened up your hearts; you opened up your hotels,” said Frisse. “Without you, it would not have been possible.”

Even a quick glance through the book shows some fascinating stories. Did you know that the first Quality hotel was opened by the Groom family in Prince Edward Island in 1955? It's still there — now called the Quality Inn & Suites, Garden of the Gulf. Billy Coles of BCP Module Construction, whose modular North Battleford Comfort opened recently, worked as both a pastor and in construction after graduation, ultimately choosing business but still supporting ministries and youth camps in particular. 

Sam Kassam of The Sterling Group owned a car rental agency in Calgary after he arrived in Canada from Tanzania in the mid-1970s. The Gupta brothers, Steve of Eastons Group and Ray of Sunray, were in the gas station business as well as hotels when they started out. 

And the Sparkes family, prominent hoteliers in Newfoundland, are guided by founder Clayton Sparkes' words. “When our dad Clayton Sparkes started in the hotel business in '68, he quickly learned that success is 'the million little things,' and he challenged us to make this our goal,” said the three Sparkes children who are in the hotel business today — Steve, Bruce and Judy.

The hardest part of the exercise was choosing the 30 companies to be featured — no mean feat when the company has 325 hotels in Canada. Does this mean there might be a Volume II? Said Leon, “There is truly more to tell in the future.”

Biggest ever development pipeline

The Comfort Inn & Suites North Battleford displays the new Comfort logo.

The Comfort Inn & Suites North Battleford displays the new Comfort logo.

“The development pipeline is the biggest we've ever had, with 28 hotels” Leon told CLN at the conference. Of those, 15 are new builds, including new build Comforts. One opened in Bowmanville in August, another in North Battleford in August, and Comforts in Goderich and Napanee are expected to open soon.

The list of hotels in the
pipeline includes 10 Comfort, 1 Comfort Suites, 1 Econo Lodge, 10 Quality, 2 Rodeway and 4 Ascend Collection.

There are currently 12 Ascend Collection hotels, but more are in the pipeline, including two that will be repositioning:

— The Courthouse Hotel, an Ascend Hotel
Collection Member, Thunder Bay, Ont.;

— The Hue, an Ascend Hotel Collection
Member, Kamloops, B.C.;

— The Insignia, an Ascend Hotel Collection
Member, Sarnia, Ont.;

— Le Noranda Hotel & Spa, an Ascend
Hotel Collection Member, Rouyn-Noranda, Que.;

— Hotel Belmont, an Ascend Hotel
Collection member, Vancouver, B.C. (Reposition);

— Bayside Resort, an Ascend Hotel
Collection member, Parksville, B.C. (Reposition).

Alison Evans of HAC spoke at the conference.

Alison Evans of HAC spoke at the conference.

In the past five years, most of the new build development has been in Western Canada. That new build development has dropped off considerably. The shift has been to Ontario. And Choice is becoming more proactive about finding locations at an earlier stage, then working with developers and consulting companies, Leon said.

“It's a case of waiting for the people to be ready. We are working with franchisees who want to do multiple developments. There's a big demand for people to buy hotels — they aren't interested in building. There's another group who put the deal together, find the land and do the permits and hang onto the hotel. And then there are the franchisees who put deals together and sell the hotel before it opens.”

Most of Choice Hotels Canada's portfolio consists of Comfort or Quality hotels. “Quality is such a strong brand in Canada,” said Leon. “It's been on a great trajectory, with significant growth in its index versus its competitors.”

Changes to legacy Comforts

Of the 151 Comforts and Comfort Suites in Canada, more than 100 are former Journey's End properties, acquired when Choice Hotels Canada was formed in 1993 as a 50/50 joint venture between Choice Hotels International and Journey’s End. These properties are on some of the best real estate in Canada, but there's a need to reinvent those hotels and make them more modern and competitive. Some of the land is being used for parking — so the approach would be to use the same footprint and go vertical.

General Rick Hillier (right) gave a speech that was both inspirational and funny.

General Rick Hillier (right) gave a speech that was both inspirational and funny.

Over the past four years, Choice has spent over $100 million in conjunction with InnVest, on renovations that are much more than just taking the existing box and redoing it. InnVest has sold 35 of these hotels since 2007, and franchisees have spent $1.5 million or more  in renovations. InnVest still owns more than 60 of the hotels in the former Journey's End portfolio.

The Comfort redesign initiative has three prongs:

— A new prototype — with a totally redone interior design, something creative and really transformative.

— An exterior that is quite different.

— Conversion of some the properties to three-storey hotels, rather than two-storey properties.

Celebratory gala at Ravine Winery

Delegates from Atlantic Canada at the gala, with Marc St-Gelais, Eastern Canada development director, centre, who is retiring at the end of the year.

Delegates from Atlantic Canada at the gala, with Marc St-Gelais, Eastern Canada development director, centre, who is retiring at the end of the year.

Choice Hotels Canada ended its conference with a gala dinner at Ravine Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, complete with champagne, a feast and spectacular fireworks for 300 guests.

Choice announced the national
winners of its prestigious APEX Awards (Awards for Property Excellence) at the conference.

Twelve top performing properties across the country were
awarded national APEX Awards, which recognize stellar performance, ongoing
commitment to guest service and community leadership. Sixteen additional regional
awards were also given out, recognizing customer satisfaction and loyalty, as
well as revenue growth.

“Since we started handing out APEX Awards in 2010, our
hotels have continually raised the bar and this year is no exception,” says Brian
Leon, president, Choice Hotels Canada. “We are so impressed by the incredible
work our franchisees achieve at the hotel level and how their efforts
consistently translate into hospitality excellence.”

The 2018 national APEX winners

Alexandre Audet of Quality Inn & Suites Val d'Or, Que., won Leader of the Year.

Alexandre Audet of Quality Inn & Suites Val d'Or, Que., won Leader of the Year.

Guest Satisfaction (Top LTR):
Inn, Sturgeon Falls, Ont. 

RevPAR Growth
: Comfort Inn & Suites,
Collingwood, Ont. 

Highest Choice Privileges
Elite Recognition:
Comfort Inn & Suites,
Salmon Arm, B.C.  

Highest Choice Privileges
Enroller Rate:
Comfort Inn Downtown, Vancouver, B.C. 

Excellence Award:
Inn & Conference Centre, Red Deer, Alta.

of the Year Award:
Inn Toronto North, Ont.

Leader of the Year Award: Alexandre
Audet, General Manager,
Quality Inn & Suites,
Val-d’Or, Que.

Corporate Citizen Award: Geneviève Milot, Owner,
Quality Suites
Drummondville, Que.

New Entry – New Build Mid-Market Brands
: Comfort Inn & Suites, North
Battleford, Sask.

New Entry – Conversion Mid-Market Brands:
Quality Inn & Suites, Bathurst, N.B.

New Entry – Economy Brands:
Lodge, Regina, Sask.

New Entry – Ascend Hotel Collection
: The Champlain Waterfront Hotel, an Ascend
Hotel Collection member, Orillia, Ont.

Choice franchisees from Quebec at the gala.

Choice franchisees from Quebec at the gala.