By Larry Mogelonsky, P. Eng., www.lma.ca
Somehow, someway, I was able to squeeze in a Q&A with Heather McCrory,
the GM of The Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. She had recently received Hotelier of the Year honours from Canada’s Hotelier Magazine. Add to that her double duty as the regional VP, Central Canada for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.
The Royal York’s room count fluctuates between 1,365 and 1,472 depending on suite allocations, along with bustling F&B and a cohort of 1,200 employees. Heather is also championing a multi-million dollar renovation amidst stiff competition from new luxury entrants including Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-la and Trump. But I didn’t meet Heather in her cozy office just to pay homage. I wanted to know what it takes to reach the top of the industry while still maintaining your sanity!
Q: You’ve been called a “Hotel Superwoman” for your abilities. How do you manage the seemingly impossible task of being GM of one of Canada’s largest hotels, let alone your other responsibilities?
There is a certain degree of sacrifice that one has to make. But the secret lies in balance; delegating to my executive team and focusing on leadership development within our vast organization. By ensuring dedication to mission-oriented goals and reminding everyone that our relationship with the guest is paramount, our priorities will shine through.
Q: What of the complexities of meeting the demands of owners, fulfilling the growth of your management team and delivering the brand’s values?
There is no question that there are financial targets we have to meet. We’re fortunate that the strong business climate in Toronto has translated into excellent RevPAR growth. Despite all the new high-end competition, our ADR continues to climb and our 2012 occupancy percentage has hovered at 75 per cent, a record high. Further, the gear up towards the PanAm Games in the summer of 2015 has provided a ‘line in the sand’ in terms of capital project delivery and a further impetus to accelerate our renovation activities. This renovation will see a critical upgrade of our guestroom stock and an enticing enhancement of our Fairmont Gold product. In essence, we will be creating a hotel within a hotel with 103 luxury rooms differentiated through larger room size, separate elevators and check-in, enhanced services including complimentary food and beverage components: breakfast, open honour bar and evening hors d’oeuvres.
Q: What business impact have you seen from these new luxury properties?
It certainly has been a busy time for Toronto. Those who have not been here in the past few years might not even recognize the downtown. The addition of this new luxury room stock has created a new super-premium pricing tier. For too long the Toronto hotel market has had to deal with price compression: a narrow spread between the higher and middle priced products. These new entries have created a whole new pricing echelon, meaning that we can demonstrate excellent customer value for our core product while effectively positioning the new Fairmont Gold within this strengthened high end segment.
Q: What about tiered pricing?
Tiered products actually. We define completely separate competitive sets for each of our Core and Gold products, managing both with individualized STR reports and revenue management programs. And we have the added advantage of being able to upsell between products, a particularly apt tool in the convention segment.
Q: When you ask someone where they’re staying in Toronto, they typically say the Royal York, not the Fairmont Royal York. What of the brand?
There is no question that the Royal York is an icon. We’re Canada’s classic downtown hotel while the Banff Springs, also a Fairmont property, is Canada’s iconic resort. So it’s no wonder that our name gets abbreviated. The genesis of the Fairmont chain was to create an international presence for the old Canadian Pacific Hotels brand: a name that clearly has little relevance outside of Canada. Thus, the DNA of the Fairmont chain incorporates the core elements of what we believe in: engaging service, unrivalled presence and being authentically local. It all fits. We are equally proud of both our Fairmont brand and our Royal York traditions. They go hand and hand.