COURTENAY, B.C. — Bayview Hotel Group is owned by the Smith family, William and Irma, going back to 2009, when the family acquired the brand new Holiday Inn Express & Suites Comox Valley in Courtenay, on Vancouver Island. The Courtenay property spent 10 years as a Holiday Inn Express, but at the end of the license, the family decided to go independent. These days, their son Grant Smith and daughter Cherryl Smith manage the company’s two hotels: Grant at the newly independent property in Courtenay, B.C. and Cherryl at the Days Inn Saskatoon, which the family built and opened in 2001.
The situation in Courtenay is totally different from that in Saskatoon, which is a “totally different market,” Grant Smith told CLN. “The changes the brand was asking us to make in our 11th year were not necessary in [the Courtenay] hotel’s life cycle. We were No. 9 out of 170 properties, and scored 4.5/5 on TripAdvisor. We were very highly rated on Booking.com at 8.8/10. The brand changes demanded seemed unrealistic, and they didn’t seem to have the owner’s interests in mind. We bought the hotel for $12 million in 2009. When we were so highly rated, it didn’t make sense to put that kind of hardship into a property that didn’t warrant it.
“The marketplace is a huge factor in whether a brand is needed. Boutique hotels are now charting their own course,” said Smith, who has been in the hotel business for 20 years and the hospitality, restaurant and catering, and camp catering business for 35 years.
This past September, the family chose not to renew their franchise agreement license with IHG and decided to operate as an independent hotel using Amadeus (Travelclick) as their booking engine and Oracle Hospitality OPERA as their property management system.
Smith is pleased with his experience in using Amadeus for their bookings. “They sit down and help with forecasting and numbers, and they came out and did our photos and website,” Smith said. They chose the Oracle version of OPERA for their PMS, and it works within that website. “The system is easy for staff to use,” he added.
Being a long-standing franchisee with both Wyndham and IHG, the Smiths knew the power of what brands offer. But marketing has changed since the Smiths bought the hotel. “Brands were doing a lot of things right and taking the mystery out of [booking],” said Grant Smith. “The Internet has changed the hotel business over the last 20 years. Brands offered guests consistency, where independents were a question mark as far as the quality and service provided by a hotel. Now there’s information consumers can get from independent entities like TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Expedia. They can look and see what customers have to say about any given property, so the mystery of being an independent has changed dramatically.”
The other missing element when deciding to be an independent hotel, was having a quality rewards program like so many branded hotels do, Smith continued. “Regular travellers and corporates love their rewards points!”
“We at Bayview Hotel Group Ltd. (Bayviewvi.com) are extremely proud to announce that we are the only hotel in our area to offer AIR MILES® Reward Miles for every stay. We believe that joining the AIR MILES Reward Program, offering Miles to our customers for every stay and additional Miles for booking directly with us, is a game changer for us and other quality Canadian independent hotels who could possibly follow our lead.
“We have now successfully operated for six months. We are getting fantastic reviews and the relationship we have with Travel Click’s Amadeus and their support is similar to that of a franchise yet way more cost effective.”
The hotel features include 91 deluxe guest rooms; a swimming pool, a whirlpool and the Comox Valley’s only water slide; a free hot breakfast buffet; “fantastic” Wi-Fi; a 24-hour business centre; 24-hour fitness centre, 24-hour guest laundry; and a boardroom for 14 people.
Most guest rooms have 40-inch televisions, and when they went independent, the hotel started offering HBO and Crave TV. They got all new lobby furniture, had recently painted outside and installed the new signage.
Located right where Highway 19 becomes Cliff Avenue, the hotel is close to Courtenay’s historic 5th Street shopping and a wide selection of activities ranging from World Champion golf courses to skiing at nearby Mount Washington. “The [Comox] Valley has rainforest and beaches, while up on the mountain is winter — where it belongs!” said Smith. “There’s a lovely walk behind the hotel to the estuary, where there are thousands of species of birds, and Trumpeter swans. After growing up in Saskatchewan, it’s another world.”
To be successful, independents have to hit all of the touchpoints brands offer, or go above and beyond, Smith said.
Asked if he had any advice for hotels that want to go independent, Smith said, “Know your marketplace and where your hotel fits within the competitive set. If you are well-positioned, going independent could work. It’s important to have a good, long-term relationship with your financier, because banks traditionally like brands.”
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