TORONTO — Aimbridge Hospitality has been growing dramatically over the last few years. When Aimbridge and Interstate Hotels & Resorts merged last year, they became the largest global third party management company, Andrew Jordan, the company’s chief marketing officer told CLN in an interview. The deal made sense because Aimbridge had a presence in Canada and the Caribbean, while Interstate’s strength was in Europe and into Russia. Earlier, Aimbridge had acquired the right to manage ONE Lodging’s properties; and in Canada, they acquired the rights to manage the Bellstar portfolio last fall.
“We have been leveraging our scale to support owners during COVID, as we have many people on furloughs and occupancy was low across the globe. In North America, occupancy has been increasing over the past eight weeks, and we have been bringing back some of our furloughed employees over the past six weeks or so.”
Over the next little while, the company’s priority will be continuing to support owners and provide value to guests, Jordan added. This includes implementing the new protocols surrounding small meetings and managing the safety of both employees and guests. “Some of our hotels are brands and we are working collectively with them. We have implemented new operations procedures and have been very aggressive with our rebound-ready plans,” he said.
Aimbridge Clean and Aimbridge Connect are two the the programs the company has set up. Aimbridge Connect provides information on how to work through meetings including a virtual component, and how to provide answers for guests.
Will Loughran, COO of Evolution Hospitality, currently oversees management of Canada’s Aimbridge hotels, located in B.C. and Alberta. These consist primarily of Marriott properties, and the Bellstar independent condo hotel portfolio that Aimbridge acquired in fall 2019. Once a yet-to-be-announced property comes on board later this month, Aimbridge will have 11 hotels and 1,316 rooms in Canada.
Aimbridge’s Canadian hotels include: Grande Rockies Resort, Canmore, Alta.; Solara Resort & Spa, Canmore, Alta.; Glacier Mountaineer Lodge, Golden, B.C.; Kicking Horse Homes, Golden, B.C.; Palliser Lodge, Golden, B.C.; The Royal Kelowna, Kelowna, B.C.; The Beach Club Resort, Parksville, Vancouver Island, B.C.; The Westin Whistler, Whistler, B.C.; Courtyard by Marriott, Prince George, B.C.; and Four Points by Sheraton, Surrey, B.C. The first seven properties are Bellstar Hotels.
“We put our general managers through the cleanliness certification program. Three of our hotels are part of the Marriott Family, and we implement Marriott’s Commitment to Clean practices, including the use of electrostatic precipitators. We have really increased our common area and heart of the house cleaning protocols. We are co-ordinating with the brand regarding brand programs, and putting our Aimbridge programs through. We are starting to drive confidence in our guests and our associates, so that they will feel comfortable coming into work. We look for proper provincial guidance, and proper use of masks and PPE.
“During COVID, all of these hotels remained operational,” Loughran told CLN. “The hardest hit was the Westin Whistler, with occupancy in the single digits. The Bellstar Hotels have now surpassed 50 per cent occupancy with the return of business. The Four Points in Surrey, B.C. and the Courtyard by Marriott, Prince George, dipped to 10 to 15 per cent occupancy. We have now seen nine straight weeks of occupancy gains. The Westin Whistler hit 50 per cent occupancy the weekend of July 1-4, and they expect higher numbers this summer. The summer looks quite strong — there’s been pickup in the last 30 days.”
Loughran praised B.C. for its management of the COVID crisis. “July and August look quite strong, but in the fall, group business is not really returning yet.” Nevertheless, he remains “cautiously optimistic.” Summer demand will be strong at the Bellstar resort locations. There’s a lot of demand for people to escape where they have been, and the resorts offer lots of outdoor activities.”
Throughout the process, Aimbridge has provided strong advocacy on behalf of their owners, making sure they take advantage of the significant relief organizations and program in both Canada and the U.S. Aimbridge even appointed a chief government affairs officer in the U.S., Erica Hageman. “A lot of management companies started reducing staff — we did the opposite,” Jordan said. “We need to provide understanding and advocacy for our owners.”
Ian McAuley, Aimbridge’s Canadian president, notes that his position on the board of directors of the Hotel Association of Canada makes him privy to the inside workings of the government. He provides information to Hageman and can draw upon her expertise as well.
McAuley joined Aimbridge last year following their acquisition of ONE Lodging. “You know everyone in Canada,” Aimbridge told him. “You can help us grow.” A year ago, Aimbridge enlarged its footprint in Canada with the acquisition of Bellstar, and later InterState.
There is some Aimbridge expansion in the works with a new build on the Vancouver Lower Mainland, and a project in the GTA. “Hotels will be changing hands, and there will be some announcements in the next little while,” McAuley said. “Aimbridge’s size and scale are second to none. There are some Canadian owners who also own U.S. hotels or want to invest in the U.S. There is more and more Canadian capital that is looking at projects around the world.”
McAuley also hopes to attract more Canadian talent to join Ambridge, which is a global company with great support at that level.
He added that there are a number of Aimbridge properties that have undergone or are in the process of renovations. The Courtyard Prince George was renovated in 2018 and is essentially brand new, and the company has spent $14 million renovating the Whistler Resort and Spa. “The hotel really looks fabulous,” McAuley said. The company’s Royal Kelowna Hotel is about to be renovated as well.