How’s business in hotels across Canada?

Ottawa hotelier predicts hotels could remain closed

Denis Gilles (right) with Rick Colling outside Homewood Suites, Ottawa last spring.

OTTAWA — One Ottawa hotelier says the situation during this COVID-19 pandemic is so bad he fears many hotels will remain closed for good if the federal government doesn’t step in with targeted financial support for the industry, according to an article by CBC News’ Ryan Patrick Jones on April 14.

“They will have absolutely no reason to reopen because financially they won’t be able to,” said Denis Gilles, general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites in downtown Ottawa. “It will never be back to the way it was,” said Gilles, who also sits on the board of directors of the Ottawa-Gatineau Hotel Association.

“We were at 85 per cent [occupancy] in March … [Now] we have an average of 30 to 40 rooms on any given day, which means 20 to 25 per cent occupancy on a 346-room hotel,” said Gilles.

The Hilton Garden Inn is not the only hotel suffering during the pandemic. Fifty hotels in the Ottawa-Gatineau region are closed, which works out to half of the area’s hotels, according to data from the Hotel Association of Canada. On top of that, around 5,000 hotel employees are out of work. 

Nationally, more than 4,000 hotels are closed and 250,000 workers are affected.

Quality Suites Laval houses mental health, palliative patients

Quality Suites, Laval.

LAVAL, Que. — A growing number of hotels across Canada are converting into special COVID-19 crisis sites, as low occupancy rates have prompted dozens of properties to suspend normal operations, putting tens of thousands of Canadians out of work, Global News reported earlier this month.

The Quality Suites hotel in Laval, Que., is housing up to 130 mental health and palliative care patients. They came from the nearby Hôpital de la Cité-de-la-Santé, which brought in its own staff and is now essentially leasing out the property, explained Brian Leon, president of Choice Hotels Canada. “These are patients [who] have been relocated out of the hospitals to provide more room in the hospitals for the COVID patients,” Leon said.

Patients from a different hospital, in Northern Ontario, are staying at another hotel in the franchise. Two affiliated properties in the Montreal area have government contracts to house isolating international travellers. Such collaborations could become more widespread as Canada’s health-care facilities face the added strain of the COVID-19 pandemic while beds in hotel rooms across the country sit empty.

How Edmonton hotels are hurting

Best Western Denham Inn & Suites, Leduc, Alta. (Edmonton Airport)

EDMONTON — Hotel managers say bookings have fallen off a cliff in the last two months, prompting companies to lay off most employees until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, according to CBC News early this month. Many hotels, which are considered an essential service, remain open but they are serving fewer customers than ever.

“We’re essentially just covering shifts for the couple of guests we have in house,” said Chris Short, general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel in downtown Edmonton. Short is also vice-president of the Hotel Association of Greater Edmonton. Just a handful of the hotel’s 188 rooms have been booked each night over the past week, and 69 of 76 staff members have been laid off, Short said.

“Everybody is suffering but our industry has been dramatically affected,” said Perry Batke, general manager of two Best Western hotels in Leduc. Most employees at his hotels have also been laid off. At first, the crisis seemed manageable, Batke recalled, but then came cancellations of flights, conferences and sports tournaments. When bars, lounges and pubs were ordered to close two weeks ago, that caused another large drop in business.

“It seemed like every 30 minutes, we were faced with unbelievably difficult and complex situations with impossible alternatives,” Batke said. The few guests that remain in his hotels work for service companies, airlines and essential manufacturers.

Some hotels, including the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald and the Delta Hotels downtown and south side locations, have temporarily closed their doors to visitors.

“This is beyond what anybody could imagine,” Batke said.

Manitoba properties step up to the plate

WINNIPEG — Manitoba Shared Health says it has been finding ways to increase the use and availability of COVID-19 isolation centres, which are meant to provide self-isolation spaces for front-line staff and patients who test positive for the illness — as well as close contacts — but don’t have other safe spaces available, Nicholas Frew of CBC reported on April 15.

“It really has been an impressive effort of a bunch of people working together to make sure that this resource is available, and really a key part in reducing the spread of this virus in the province,” said Lanette Siragusa, Manitoba’s chief nursing officer, during Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing.

The province has been looking to businesses such as hotels to provide such spaces for several weeks, especially since health-care workers started testing positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

A Winnipeg hotel opened up as the first isolation centre less than two weeks ago, but several others have popped up since.

Shared Health has been taking a “multi-pronged approach,” working with various provincial departments, the federal government, hotels, shelters, First Nations communities and the Canadian Red Cross, Siragusa said.

Thirty hotels and inns throughout Manitoba have inquired about hosting isolation centres, she said, which is “great because we weren’t sure if there’d be a lot of interest.”

Brandon hotel houses the homeless

Redwood Motor Inn, Brandon, Man.

BRANDON, Man. — The Redwood Motor Inn is putting a roof over the heads of some members of the homeless community who need a place to self-isolate in Brandon during the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC reported on April 5.

“We knew we needed a particular response for our homeless population,” said Carly Gasparini, director of the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation, which is helping organize the new space. “So we worked together again as a community team to identify a hotel that kind of met our needs and right away started identifying people.”

Brandon has received approximately $275,000 to help homeless people and others during the pandemic, said Gasparini.

The group is bringing in people with chronic illnesses and those over the age of 65 who are in particular need of a place to self-isolate as the disease caused by the new coronavirus continues to spread across Manitoba. The Brandon motel was the perfect fit for what they were looking for, Gasparini said. It’s close to downtown, making it easy for people to get there and for staff to bring food to them from the local soup kitchen.

The motel already had a relationship with the community group because it helped house people when the city’s one shelter was overcrowded, she said. That allowed them to quickly work out a monthly rate to use the space as an isolation centre with federal funds earmarked for addressing homelessness.

“Really, we’re just trying to keep people safe. It’s really been a team community effort. Our soup kitchen is providing lunches, our shelter, [which] provides meals to people in the shelter, are also providing meals up there,” said Gasparini.

Gasparini said the new space plays an important role in the community — one that people who have never experienced homelessness may not understand.

Food bank in an Alberta hotel room

GRIMSHAW, Alta. — The Dee-Jay Motel in Grimshaw, Alta., has started using a guest room as a community food bank and takes homemade food to seniors living alone, the Alberta Hotel & Lodging Association reported in a tweet on April 20.

“We are all in this together,” said general manager Eileen McGuire.

Saskatchewan hotels support truckers

Holiday Inn Express & Suites, North Battleford, Sask.

SASKATCHEWAN — At a time when everyone has come to value their grocery and toilet paper supply more, the people largely responsible for moving those products to Saskatchewan’s grocery stores are facing a challenge of their own: a lack of open washrooms and restaurants, Lynn Geisbrecht reported in the Regina Leader-Post on April 6.

But as quickly as truckers began noticing the challenge across the province, Saskatchewan’s businesses stepped up to fill the gap. The Holiday Inn Express & Suites in North Battleford is offering free hot showers and free breakfast and supper for any truckers who need it, said Jenni Wuttunee, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. Breakfast is available between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., and supper is available from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Meals are individually wrapped and brought to the driver since the hotel’s lobby is shut down.

Wuttunee said many drivers have taken them up on the offer since they launched it on Tuesday, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive and appreciative. “We’ve even had drivers try to pay us for the service, and we just won’t accept it. They’re just very grateful, very appreciative,” she said. “They’re trying to get these deliveries as quick as they can to grocery stores, fuel stations, hotels. Every industry utilizes the trucking industry, so it’s very, very important that we’re taking care of them.”

The Holiday Inn’s sister hotels — the Hampton Inn and Suites in Regina and Western Star locations in Estevan, Carnduff, Stoughton, Carlyle, Esterhazy and Redvers — are doing the same.