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Navigating Adversity: Fairmont Royal York

What have been the immediate impacts to your hotel’s business since COVID-19 first hit and most travel was restricted?
While we remain open for overnight accommodations for guests, the majority of the services and facilities at Fairmont Royal York have been suspended due to public-health requirements and mandates from all levels of government in Canada, which restricts travel, gatherings, retail and restaurant and bar operations. The hotel is currently serving the local community primarily as a home for frontline healthcare workers. All venues, event spaces, retail tenants and public areas are currently closed pending the re-opening plan and timeline for the City of Toronto. It’s an unusual time at the hotel and very unique to, at times, be one of only a handful of people in the entire building. Put simply, COVID-19 has been devastating for the hospitality sector.

How has this impacted your staffing levels?
Unfortunately, the impact on staffing levels has been significant. As business levels adjust, we’ve had to make difficult decisions around how to temporarily re-structure and operate the hotel, maintaining only a fraction of our usual team of colleagues and leaders to look after hotel operations. As you can imagine, having this many of our team absent from the hotel has been incredibly difficult and we have been working diligently to support and stay connected with our entire team throughout this time.

What have you had to do differently operating during this health crisis?
In a word — everything. We’ve had to take a step back and review literally every operational procedure across the hotel — taking a step-by-step approach to both the colleague and guest journey to ensure all aspects of our operational processes mitigate risk of exposure and maintain the health and safety of our guests and colleagues. This has led to a wide array of operational changes that will continue to evolve as we learn more about COVID-19 from our hotels around the world and the team of expert advisors guiding these very important decisions. Accor is working diligently with industry leaders and our vast global network of operational teams to ensure we can stand behind our commitment to safety and our new #ALLSAFE Cleanliness label. 

What have been some of the challenges you’ve had to deal with during this unprecedented time?
First and foremost, we consider the safety and health of our colleagues and guests, which has required us to very quickly learn about a virus we hadn’t heard of before January 2020. Our team at Accor and Fairmont Royal York have developed a comprehensive suite of new standard operating procedures tailored to ensure all public-health guidelines are adhered to, while still providing the high level of service for which our brand is well known.  

Operationally, the onset of the pandemic arrived in Toronto at one of our busiest periods of the year, with both the hotel and staff at full capacity. Navigating the safe-harbouring process as guests and colleagues honoured the “stay-at-home” requirements presented complex logistics that our team handled incredibly. 

Communication also presents us with unique opportunities as we’ve never before had so many of our team away from the hotel for such an extended time. Having to “pivot” from in-person communication, our team has established numerous avenues to remain connected, including creating a comprehensive personal email-communication network, setting up a private “closed” Facebook portal and hosting virtual team meetings and Town Halls via Zoom. Staying personally connected to our entire team has been one of our key priorities.

How have your cleaning/sanitation protocols had to change?
We’ve always had very high standards and expectations of cleanliness and sanitization at Fairmont; however, it was part of the “behind-the-scenes magic” that created the ambiance of the hotel. Today, these measures have become more overt and a visible part of the hotel’s DNA. For example, we diligently track and record the increased cleaning and disinfection of our public areas, introduced “settling periods” for departing rooms prior to staff entering for servicing and rolled out enhanced standards for Personal Protective Equipment for all “contact” staff, both front and back of house. 

Were you able to pivot to different revenue streams to offset drops in occupancy?
The financial impact of COVID-19 is going to be unprecedented. What was on track to be one of the most successful years in the hotel’s history may very well be one of the most challenging on record. That said, we’re actively working to ensure that our Business Continuity Plan is in place and have the support of a strong ownership and brand stakeholders to ensure the future of Fairmont Royal York is robust and solid. As an iconic Canadian institution, a very high percentage of our business is Canadian, which we believe will serve us well on the other side of this crisis.

Is the hotel involved in community-based initiatives?
The “Rest-Safe” program, which provides complimentary accommodations to frontline healthcare workers in partnership with Kingsett Capital and the hospital foundations at Sinai Health, St. Michael’s and University Health Network, has delivered a safe and comfortable place for them to rest between shifts. We’re also looking after our hotel community. In conjunction with many of our suppliers and partners, we’ve been able to donate hundreds of food hampers to help our teams at home. The ALL Heartist Fund has also been created to provide critical support to our Accor colleagues in need across North America. Finally, the “Fairmont Love” campaign came to life on the building exterior with a large lit up “heart” — signaling Toronto that there were brighter and better days ahead. This message triggered our largest ever social-media response and has continued as we evolve the messages, including lighting the hotel “purple” in support of the #hospitalitystrong campaign. 

What lessons have you learned through this pandemic?
Empathy is key now, more than ever, and slowing down and spending some personal time making a connection with someone for whom your contact may be their only conversation that day, can make all the difference. The events of the past several weeks remind me why I wanted to be part of this business . It’s about the relationships you make. Attitude is everything — staying focused on what we have rather than what we have lost.

How will your business change moving forward?
Our business will undoubtedly need to evolve and change moving forward but at the heart of what we do — turning moments into memories — this element of our DNA will always be the basis of how we seek to take care of colleagues and guests.

What advice would you offer to other hoteliers?
Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! Look forward not backward. Be decisive. Lead your team — there are brighter days ahead.

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