Jim Bence: The View from Saskatchewan

REGINA — Saskatchewan Hoteliers are having a tough time, but the SHHA is fighting back, meeting with potential leaders of the Saskatchewan party, expanding membership, tackling immigration, and lobbying for members to sell marijuana.

Jim Bence, SHHA.

Jim Bence, SHHA.

REGINA — Saskatchewan hoteliers are having a tough time.  Hardships include lowering of the blood alcohol count for driving to 0.4; SGI’s
recent lawsuits involving bar owners who over-serve customers; elimination of the PST exemption on restaurant meals; Airbnb; Workers' Compensation Board; staffing and immigration. The list goes on.

The Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association (SHHA) is fighting back, meeting with four of five potential leaders of the Saskatchewan Party, advocating for a level playing field for liquor pricing, expanding membership, tackling immigration, and lobbying for members to sell marijuana.

Getting in front of the leaders

Longtime premier Brad Wall has resigned, and the ruling Saskatchewan Party is currently in the throes of a five-way leadership race
with an election on Jan. 27. Jim Bence, SHHA president and CEO, has met with four candidates, challenging them
on what they can do for small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Saskatchewan Party has virtually the same demographics as the SHHA, which has many rural members. Many Saskatchewan hotels are small-town lodging establishments that often include a bar and/or restaurant and sell liquor as retail store permittees (RSPs). 

“We’re lobbying to be the group to sell cannabis,” said Bence. “It’s a
very simple fix [to members’ problems]. Saskatchewan is the last province to
make a decision.  The most recent plan is
to have only 40 centres, which is ludicrous.” Many SHHA members are in rural
centres across the province and Bence would like to allow the 700-plus current RSPs in Saskatchewan to retail the sale and distribution of cannibis in the province.

“We already deal in a controlled substance, which is liquor,” said Bence, in a CBC interview. “It's already heavily regulated; it's taxed. We already do a really good job in that competitive space.”

Saskatchewan is the only province still to announce details about how it plans to retail and regulate pot once the drug becomes legal for recreational use in July. 

Bence has found that traditional letter-writing campaigns to MLA’s are not
effective, as the letters are often answered by a junior person or an intern.

“We have new technology that we're using with the Hotel Association of Canada on
Airbnb. Letter writing is now targeted and surgical. If you send an email,
the technology uses postal codes to link our letter to the member's specific MLA in their area.

“I need this government to not forget where they came from,” Bence
said. “Small towns are already struggling. 
The government doesn’t have to speed up the process with a terminal
diagnosis.”

Expanding
the SHHA’s base

SHHA Board of Directors from Left: Herman Zentner, Shotz on Eleven, Chamberlain; Jasmine Deblois, Limerick Hotel; Joel Kish, Ice House Tavern, Emerald Park; Jim Bence, SHHA President & CEO, Gary Hoffert, Regional VP, Canalta Hotels, Chair of the Board; Glenn Weir, Best Western Seven Oaks, Regina.

SHHA Board of Directors from Left: Herman Zentner, Shotz on Eleven, Chamberlain; Jasmine Deblois, Limerick Hotel; Joel Kish, Ice House Tavern, Emerald Park; Jim Bence, SHHA President & CEO, Gary Hoffert, Regional VP, Canalta Hotels, Chair of the Board; Glenn Weir, Best Western Seven Oaks, Regina.

The association currently has 300 members,
and is expanding its base into the tourism side as well as the hotel side. This
includes tourism attractions, casinos and event centres.  

“On issues like minimum wage and the WCB,
we’re all in this together.  We can find
common ground.  As the face of the
organization changes, we are including companies like Tim Hortons, Subway and
McDonald’s.  We need to broaden the
spectrum and get those members on the board of directors.”

Once the original members sell to foreign owners, Bence found that those buyers
immediately dropped their membership. “This provides us with an opportunity to
reintroduce ourselves. Their concerns are vastly different — one of them is
immigration.  That’s okay.  I understand their motivation.”

SHHA Board (cont'd.) from left: Past Chair; Denny Joyal, Waterfront Beach Bar & Grill, Regina Beach; Courtney Morrison, Best Western Plus East Side, Saskatoon; Lance Grosco, Duck Lake Hotel; John McKenzie; Katepwa Hotel; Bryan Baraniski, Shorebird Inn, Carrot River.

SHHA Board (cont'd.) from left: Past Chair; Denny Joyal, Waterfront Beach Bar & Grill, Regina Beach; Courtney Morrison, Best Western Plus East Side, Saskatoon; Lance Grosco, Duck Lake Hotel; John McKenzie; Katepwa Hotel; Bryan Baraniski, Shorebird Inn, Carrot River.

Entry to Executive pilot project

Saskatchewan is piloting a program titled Entry to Executive in
Saskatoon and Regina. “This program introduces newcomers to Canada to our
industry.  The program includes a two-week
training program with particular emphasis on housekeeping.”

In Saskatoon, the SHHA worked with the Saskatoon Open Door Society and
Global Gathering Places. Airline Hotels provided rooms for housekeeping and
meeting rooms for the course.

“The two weeks of training takes place with an employer in town, who
supplies the guestrooms and trains participants to the housekeeping standards
required in the hotel. “They teach 'at work' English, helping with people’s
confidence while at work. They provide
training specific to the job — for example, the difference between a cup,
a mug and a glass. It’s designed to deal with questions they would get. 

“The difference in participants’ confidence levels is remarkable,”
said Bence. “In Saskatoon, 12 people started the program.  At the end-of-program celebration, it was
totally unscripted. They stood up and talked about what the program meant to
them.”

The course involved paid employer training, and after it was finished,
a number of the participants were hired. 
“We were hoping for just one — this exceeded our expectations,” said
Bence. “What’s different about the program is that the training doesn’t stop there.  They can take other training to become an executive in a hotel.”

The Regina program involves the Open Door society, Regina Trades
and Skills, Saskatchewan Training and Education Corporation (STEC), Service and Hospitality Safety Association (SHSA) and local hoteliers. In the Regina project, STEC isn't as involved as they were in Saskatoon and the SHSA provided the training materials only.

A parting thought.. promoting Saskatchewan as cradle of craft beer

Bence lived in the Okanagan during the period when orchards were being converted to vineyards, and the valley became known as a global wine area. “We can do that in Saskatchewan with craft beer,” he said. “We are known by craft brewers throughout the world for our wheat and malt. The [craft beer] industry is starting to pick up speed.  There is no reason why we can’t be the best craft beer producers on the planet. The question is how to get there,” Bence said.

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