Best Western Sawridge Fort Mac a triple award winner

David Kong, CEO Best Western; Erin McKay, AGM and Paul Jones, GM, Best Western Plus Sawridge Suites; and Terry Bichsel, chairman, Best Western.jpg

David Kong, CEO Best Western; Erin McKay, AGM and Paul Jones, GM, Best Western Plus Sawridge Suites; and Terry Bichsel, chairman, Best Western.jpg

NASHVILLE — Best Western Plus Sawridge Suites in Fort McMurray, Alta., won the MK Guertin Award, Design Award and Heroic Hospitality Award at the Best Western Convention held recently in Nashville.

Paul Jones, general manager of the hotel, and Erin McKay, assistant general manager, were on hand in Nashville to receive the awards. 

The hotel won the Heroic Hospitality award due to their actions during the Fort McMurray fires.

The hotel was evacuated on Tues., May 7, 2016, and Jones closed the hotel and headed for Edmonton. But by Friday, he and six key staff were back in the hotel, opening it up to accommodate members of the Fort McMurray fire department. By Saturday at 9 p.m., the staff were serving the firefighters dinner, and they stayed at the property for a month, as explosions rocked the community and the fire kept shifting direction. 

The 151-room hotel had just celebrated its first year anniversary that May, and all the soft case goods had to be replaced. Jones looks on the bright side. “It allowed us to correct little glitches we made in the opening,” Jones told CLN.

The hotel also won the M.K. Guertin Award, a service award given to the hotels that best represent the vision of Best Western’s founder and demonstrate exceptional levels of quality, guest satisfaction and dedication to the brand. M.K. Guertin winners must also meet other brand standards and membership requirements to qualify for this award.

“I thought the award was so cool for us.  People have heard stories about Fort Mac, and you don't usually hear Fort Mac and service in the same sentence,” Jones said.

While their actions during the fire certainly demonstrated Guertin's high standards, the Best Western Plus Sawridge goes above and beyond when it comes to other aspects of customer service. 

After the fires, they had a town hall meeting to honour the seven people who stayed behind, presenting them with plaques and with gift cards for stores in town. A year after the fire, they held an old fashioned ice cream social — no speeches, just a change for 300 people to come and relax.

The hotel is doing “phenomenally well,” despite the fact that it opened during a depressed economy and then went on to face the biggest crisis the community has ever endured. “There's a 20 to 25 per cent variation in what we're doing compared to our comp set,” Jones said.

He attributes their success to customer service.

The hotel instituted a “wow” program — employees are asked who they wowed each day.  “They are phenomenal at taking notes.  For example, they can ask a guest, 'how was your trip to Florida.' Employees have a fund of a couple of hundred dollars to help guests with things they are missing, such as a special brush for long hair and phone chargers. If guests leave something behind, we call first and then send it to them from the hotel.

“The staff love it, and the report has become a game with them,” Jones said. They make sure first time guests get a card and a chocolate.  Employees also have chocolates in the shapes of a vacuum cleaner for housekeeping or a screwdriver for maintenance — they leave a card and a chocolate shape if they've done some work in the room.

“We got the Design Award because it's a well-built hotel,” said Jones.  “If there's music in the hallways, you can't hear it in the rooms because they're so well insulated. The construction guys said it was overbuilt — it's a beautiful property.”

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