DRUMHELLER, Alta. — Essential services such as railway and road construction, mining projects, pipelines and plant maintenance have helped some of Canalta Hotels’ properties weather the COVID-19 crisis. At the peak, the company had shut down 16 hotels out of 43, or about 40 per cent of its portfolio, but expects to have all of its hotels open in the next few weeks.
“It has certainly been painful and difficult, but we’re fighting hard to get any business we can and for that reason most of our hotels remained open,” Brooke Christianson, executive vice-president at Canalta Hotels told CLN.
“Overall we’re pretty happy with our performance as we averaged 15 per cent throughout April and we’re seeing occupancy steadily increase. We hope to do 25 per cent in May across the board. It’s amazing what qualifies as ‘good’ occupancy these days — we get really excited about every little piece of business we close on. Our sales team has never worked harder. One of our sales associates even got COVID in April and worked through it. There were a few days when she couldn’t even talk on the phone but she was giving it all she had over email. I’ve never been more proud of our people.”
Canalta owns and operates14 Ramada hotels in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and owns the development rights for Ramada in Eastern and Western Canada. They also have 23 Canalta properties, all in Alberta, and some Super 8s. Ninety-five per cent of their properties are select service. An exception is the Canalta Lodge in Canmore, a town located just outside the gates to Banff National Park. The Canalta Lodge just reopened. Renovation of Canalta’s other Canmore property, the Voyager, which is being converted to Canada’s first Moxy, has been delayed.
“Banff was a tough market [in the pandemic] because it is leisure based, with no essential services,” Christianson said. He expects business to really bounce back at Canalta properties in the tourist-driven markets of Banff and Drumheller, Alta., once restrictions are lifted.
The Moxy is not the only project to be delayed. In fact, Christianson said that the company has delayed all renovations and new projects by at least one year.
“Without the essential services that we were accommodating during the last couple of months, things would have been much worse,” Christianson said. “As always we were more than happy to accommodate work crews dedicated to building and maintaining power infrastructure, rail, construction and oil and gas.”
Christianson believes that Canalta’s select service hotels are probably more resilient than full service properties because their model is very simple and lean. “For instance, we had closed hotels that we reopened on a day’s notice because we had a regular customer that called us up to bring in a crew. I think that would be harder to accomplish in a full service model. Also, many of our hotels offer rooms with kitchens which has been extremely popular in this market lately. I think these room types are probably not as common in full service hotels.”
“Corporate customers are really shopping for the best deal, so there has been some downward pressure on rates. I believe that now and for some period of time into the future, those shopping for hotel rooms are going to be very rate sensitive, and hotels in the lower half of the chain scale are probably going to achieve better numbers.”
Christianson added that cleanliness — of paramount importance to guests post-COVID — is not necessarily better in new hotels. “I’ve stayed in new hotels that are dirty, so this guarantees nothing. It’s the practices and protocols that make the difference. I think hotels and brands that make their customers feel safe because they’ve put in place high standards for cleaning and safety are going to come out on top. We did this right away and we’ve let all of our customers know about it.”
As for which hotels are performing better, “Its been totally hit and miss. The markets that have performed just happened to have some project work happening in the area, including rail, construction, mining, and oil and gas. Surprisingly some of our oil and gas markets performed better than expected due to projects including plant and or pipeline construction. We lead most of our markets so usually we’re the hotel that penetrates hardest on RevPAR Index and this continues to be the case.”