By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
TORONTO — It's been a strong year for Choice Hotels Canada despite hardships in Western Canada, said managing director Brian Leon at CHC's Fall Conference, now being held at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto.
And talk about strong! Who knew the head of one of Canada's largest hotel companies could do 50 pushups along with guest speaker Michael “Pinball” Clemons! In a wide-ranging and well-received speech on leadership that emphasized accountability, discipline and humility, Pinball asked for a volunteer from the audience to come up on stage and work out with him. Leon, who swears had no prior knowledge, was chosen.
This year's fall conference for Canadian franchisees had record turnout with 250 delegates, Leon told CLN at the conference.
“We've opened 10 hotels right across the country so far this year — in Yellowknife, Grand Prairie, Collingwood, Fredericton and Quispamsis [near Saint John, N.B.],” he said, adding that eight new openings are expected by the end of the year. “Development activity has been very, very strong in spite of Western Canada, where new builds have slowed down. Overall, it was a very solid year — near record territory in terms of deal activity.”
Choice Hotels Canada now has 325 hotels with 26,219 rooms.
New build Comforts in Ontario are one of the most exciting developments, Leon said. “It's been close to 15 years since we had a new build Comfort in the province, thanks in part to the old Journey's End properties. Part of our strategy was to drive strength in the brand by rejuvenating existing properties, but we're also pushing for more development of new builds.” The three Ontario new build Comforts are in Goodrich, Napanee and Bowmanville, Ont.
Loyalty was a big area of focus for Choice last year, with the Choice Privileges Program rising from No. 11 to No. 2 in the U.S. News and World Report Best Hotel Rewards Program ranking.
“Changes to the program have been well-received, including Choice Privileges Member Rates, which are a big benefit, offering better rates than booking through the OTAs.”
CHC is focusing on the revenue management area as well, by creating a director of revenue management position, hiring Tamer Dalati, whose 22-year hotel revenue management career includes work with both Delta Hotels and SilverBirch.
Choice's SmartRates program rolled out across the country in CHC's midscale hotels just a week or so ago, and is coming to its economy brands as well. “This industry-leading revenue management technology will help general managers enhance their performance and save time. Before, they spent a lot of time searching to see what their competitors were doing,” said Leon.
CHC is also looking for a director of development for the Ascend Collection in Canada, in addition to its three franchise development directors, who will now be called directors of development as well. “Ascend is a different type of property, a different value proposition. There are huge opportunities for Ascend in Canada,” he said, adding that Marc St-Gelais, who has brought a number of Ascend properties into the collection of 13 hotels, will continue to sell Ascend in Eastern Canada.
Choice has also made positive progress in terms of likelihood to recommend (LTR) scores and its RevPAR index is up 6 per cent over last year. “That's huge for us,” Leon commented. “It's a reflection of all the things we are doing to drive investments in hotels, and better rate channel management. Clearly, we are having an impact and gaining big ground.”