By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
MONTREAL — You've seen Xavier Gret, president and CEO of Association Hôtellerie Québec, standing in front of the Parliament Buildings next to Suzie Grynol or Alana Baker of HAC, and Tony Elenis of ORHMA, advocating a fair playing field for hotels and Airbnb-type companies.
Canadian Lodging News had a chance to sit down with Gret on a recent trip to Montreal, to find out more about the man and the association.
AHQ has been in business for since 1949, 70 years! They have more than 500 members and represent 60 per cent of the total number of rooms in the province's 1,400 hotels. AHQ is the link between the Quebec government and the hotel sector.
“If you want to speak with hotels in Quebec — it's us,” said Gret. “We are the ones to speak to regarding Airbnb, manpower and more. We represent motels, inns, resorts — all types of accommodation.”
Quebec has more independent hotels than other Canadian provinces, with 75 per cent independent properties. “It's the same in France — they have 65 per cent independent hotels, but we are unique in North America,” said Gret.
AHQ membership reflects that split — about 75 per cent of their members are independent and 25 per cent are chains.
AHQ's annual conference will take place on Nov. 12 in Drummondville, Que., followed by the congress of the Alliance d'Industrie Touristique du Québec. At the conference, they present awards including the Hotelier of the Year. The conference attracts speakers from outside the country, such as the French or Belgian Minister of Tourism. AHQ is part of Forum des hôteliers Francophones, whose members include France, Belgium and Luxembourg, with links to other French-speaking countries such as Tunisia and Morocco.
Gret lists the primary issues facing AHQ. Manpower is the biggest issue, followed by Airbnb, rate parity on third party websites such as Expedia, and obtaining bank financing for hotel investments.
Manpower is a huge issue in Quebec. This summer, from April until the end of August, ATQ worked with ITHQ and Restaurants Québec to bring eight people trained in France to in Quebec for the summer months. “We do 80 per cent of the job and they do 20 per cent,” Gret said. “We have had great success and next year we will bring more people — 40 next year and then 100.” They have developed a video for owners to promote the project, which is through Office franco-québécois pour la jeunesse (OFQJ). The eight people were placed in Saguenay, Montreal and Shawinigan.
Gret notes that it's easier to get managers from French-speaking countries like Tunisia and Morocco than it is to get people to work at housekeeping, the kitchen or the front desk. “If they don't have a diploma, it's difficult,” he noted. “We would like to have a way to bring them in like agricultural seasonal workers.”
AHQ went to Switzerland last year to recruit students from the prestigious Ecole hôteliere de Lausanne. They did very well, receiving 25 CVs, but there was still a major issue bringing these people from various international countries to Canada.
“We're always thinking of Mexican workers, but in the coming years there will not be enough workers in Mexico to work in their own market,” Gret noted.
Quebec is doing very well in terms of Airbnb and similar platforms, as this jurisdiction is the first in the world to regulate the whole province.
In June, the province announced that Quebecers who rent out their homes on a short-term basis (less than 31 days) will be required to obtain a registration number through the province. The registration number will be available “easily and at a reasonable cost” of between $50 and $75, according to the province.
The changes are expected to go into effect this fall. Once in place, they will forbid people from renting a property in Quebec without a registration number. Even if the rental is only a room in a house or a short-term rental, all owners and subletters will need to register with Revenu Quebec under the new regulations.
The Forum des hôteliers Francophones is following the Quebec regulations closely to see how they work.
There are specific rules for two rental categories: accommodation in a principal residence and accommodation in all other types of establishments. Fines for violating the new regulations can reach up to $10,000 for an individual and $25,000 for a corporation. The minister said municipalities can also create stricter bylaws over and above the provincial regulations.
Rate parity on third-party websites such as Expedia is an issue, thanks to the high fees of 15 to 25 per cent that they charge. For example, if a hotel advertises on Expedia for $100, then pays 20 per cent to Expedia on commission, they can't turn around and advertise that property for $90 on their own website. Expedia is not interested in negotiating rate parity with a group of 500 hotels.
Obtaining bank financing for hotel investment is the fourth priority. Banks are reluctant to give money to small hotels in remote areas of the province. Expedia feeds into this, as some of these hotels have 50 per cent of their inventory on Expedia. Many of the hotels are in seasonal markets or in economies that go up and down. “We have to help ask the government to give us money to bridge the gap between the banks and small hotels.”
AHQ holds five regional meetings a year. There are five regional hotel associations whose members are also members of the AHQ: the Montreal Hotel Association, Quebec Hotel Association, Saguenay Hotel Association, Outaouais Hotel Association and Abitibi Hotel Association.