CALGARY — Marc Staniloff, owner of Superior Lodging Corp. and co-founder and chairman of MasterBUILT Hotels, described the events of the last few months for Travelodge, Super 8 and Microtel by Wyndham as “a tale of two cities.” Some are faring well, and some are closed. Notable among the ones faring reasonably well are hotels in Fort Frances, Kenora and Red Lake, Ont., in forestry and mining communities largely unaffected by COVID-19. Occupancies in those hotels are 40 to 45 per cent. Business travellers are still going there, and in Red Lake, people working in the mine prefer living in a hotel to living in a camp for security, safety and cleanliness reasons.
Trevor Hagel, executive vice-president, operations at Travelodge Canada, said Travelodge by Wyndham and Super 8 by Wyndham hotels in the Windsor area are doing relatively well, and that occupancy for Travelodge by Wyndham in Welland, Ont., has been great year over year. He noted that 20 per cent of the Travelodges are closed, and 15 per cent of the Super 8s. In Niagara Falls, the Travelodge is preparing to open up, as Niagara Falls is seen as a likely destination for “drive-to” traffic.
Aodhan Sheahan, senior vice-president, operations at MasterBUILT, said Microtel has only two closed hotels, one in Mont-Tremblant, Que., and one in Kitimat, B.C. MasterBUILT has two hotels in Fort McMurray. Their TownePlace Suites by Marriott stayed open and the Microtel had been closed. The Microtel had to reopen quickly — within two hours — to accommodate evacuees during the city’s recent flooding. “That hotel has been full for two or three weeks,” Sheahan said.
MasterBUILT is closely monitoring the opening of schools in the Montreal area, as Microtel in Mont-Tremblant, Que., is a great drive-to location from Montreal or Ottawa. Vancouver Island is another destination that will likely benefit as a staycation destination once the restrictions are lifted.
“Our hotels are in more drive-through markets, as opposed to major urban or airport markets,” Staniloff noted. “People today are more likely to drive than take a plane for their vacation or business travel. Those hotels will fare a little better than those in bigger markets. Other than our TownePlace Suites and Residence Inn, we are firmly in that market.”
“Select service hotels will offer a little more flexibility than full service in the medium term post-COVID,” said Sheahan. Full service hotels will have to modify their business offering, changing traditional food and beverage offerings and how they host conferences and other large gatherings. “We have some F&B and some conference space, but with more flexibility.”
Superior and MasterBUILT hotels are in the upper economy and midscale segments, which Sheahan sees as a potential strength because guests might have more questions regarding cleanliness and health and safety procedures for economy hotels. “They would have a bit more faith and confidence in the upper economy and midscale segments, but we’re still relatively economical,” he noted.
Hagel added that they have a lot of new builds in the upper economy and midscale segment, whereas some economy properties are old, keeping them in good condition can be a struggle, and they may appear to be unclean. He also mentioned a need to bring cleaning front and forward in hotel operations and to educate the public regarding industry vendors. “Ecolab is the biggest in the industry. It’s a matter of changing guest perception. Lysol is great, but Ecolab is the industry standard.”
Sheahan noted that there are quite a few Microtels in the oil patch, in communities that include Lloydminster, Fort McMurray and Fort St. John. “This sector faces really significant challenges apart from COVID-19,” he said.
Many on the Travelodge and Super 8 operations team are evaluating opening two weeks to a month from now, said Hagel. “Not many are going to be closed until summer.” Sheahan says Microtel owners are heavily engaged to reopen and relaunch. Between June 1 and June 15, they expect to be back to 100 per cent open and operating.
The Superior Lodging and MasterBUILT pipelines are still very active. Microtel is looking at going in the ground on two new properties, one in Kanata (near Ottawa) and the other in the Montreal area very soon. They also have land zoning for a third property in the Montreal area and two opportunities in the Maritimes. These projects are in addition to the Microtel under construction in Aurora, Ont.
Hagel said Travelodge and Super 8 have received strong interest from new franchisees for both brands from people who are looking to join now, before post-COVID. A new Super 8 should open this fall in Hearst, Ont., and a new construction Super 8 in Thompson, Man., is slated for 2021. They also have projects in Winnipeg, as well as Alberta.
There are still many unflagged hotels in Canada, and the COVID-19 crisis has given them more reason to join a chain, due to the reservation system and the fact that major brands are all unveiling strict cleanliness standards.