People

Entrevue: Marie Pier Germain

Marie Pier Germain is vice president of sales and marketing at Quebec-based Germain Hotels, which operates Germain and Alt Hotels from Alberta to Newfoundland and employs some 1,500 workers. She has a Bachelor of Engineering degree from Queen’s University, a Master of Business Administration degree from EMBA McGill-HEC Montreal, and a Certificate of Entrepreneurship from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. She’s also vice chair of the Canada Council for the Arts and serves on the board of Tourism Montreal.

MP Germain 3

Q: How is the recovery going for your company? 

A: So far, our forecasts are exceeded. Our hotel in Montréal will have its best June ever. Now, we do have 30 more rooms than we did (before the pandemic). But still, it’ll be good. We didn’t know how the year would pan out. The pickup is strong everywhere. For us, Winnipeg is a bit difficult, but that’s a story of our property there and we’re working hard on that. St. John’s is doing well. The good news is we’re able to keep our rates. That’s a real challenge when you come out of a crisis. People in the U.S. are changing their travel plans because of inflation. That might catch up with us, but we’ve been able to maintain our rates, which is good because costs are going up as well. There’s good growth in Toronto and good rates. That was an issue during the pandemic. A lot of our competitors were bringing their rates down. But we were able to maintain ours, so we’re quite happy with the recovery in Toronto as well.

Q: What’s happening with business travel? Is that rebounding? 

A: Business is picking up. My question is, How will business travel come back? What will be the new business travel?” There will be business travel for sure. We’re hearing a lot about bleisure,” people extending their work trips to leisure trips. I would say business and leisure travel are evening out. For a while we only had weekends. Now Tuesdays and Wednesdays are back to what they were. We don’t have the peaks and valleys we had the last two years. But it’s not the same companies that are travelling now. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are travelling, but some of the big companies aren’t right now. 

Q: Why is that? 

A: I think it’s a combination of being risk averse and being hungry for business. They (smaller businesses and entrepreneurs) are realizing that to do business you need to have those face-to-face meetings, and the risk is maybe not as big a factor for them as it is for some bigger companies. Also, the big employers aren’t bringing back their people. Hydro Quebec says they’re only bringing their workers to the office one day a month. 

Q: It seems we have shortages of everything from restaurant workers to lifeguards in Canada. Is staffing an issue for you? 

A: Yes. We had to let go of so many people. Is it just people that are retired and not in the workforce anymore because they’ve retired? I don’t know. For us, it’s very difficult. Quebec City is worse and has been for the last two years. Quebec City has very low unemployment. It’s difficult when we’re competing with the government for jobs. 

Q: A top official in Vancouver told me recently that they can’t have full occupancy at hotels as they don’t have enough workers. Is that the case for Germain hotels? 

A: Yes. It’s a problem in Quebec City. In Charlevoix/​Baie St. Paul we’re working with international temporary workers. The issue we had last year, however, is that it takes time to get permits and do the labour impact assessments. It can take up to nine months for someone to come to Canada. That’s really no good. But people in the agriculture industry can have people come within two months, and the laws are different for them. It makes it difficult to plan that far ahead. This summer is better in Charlevoix. But we couldn’t sell all our rooms last year as we didn’t have staff. It wasn’t just cleaners, but service workers and people in the kitchen. It’s across every department. 

Q: We’ve come out of the pandemic, I hope. How do you think hotels have changed in Canada in the past two years? 

A: I think we expected things to be much more different in terms of (customers) expectations. But they’re not really. People are expecting things to be back to how they were. You know how we stopped doing service daily because we didn’t have the staff and people didn’t want us to go into their room during the pandemic. That did not continue as we anticipated. They’re coming back and they’re expecting full service. Some people have changed their habits. But valet parking, and all the things we used to do, they expect to have those services again. We’re ramping up, but when all of a sudden occupancy jumps from 30 to 60 per cent like it did, there’s a lot of catching up. (laughs). We’re not complaining because we’re happy to have people back. 

Q: Are things moving ahead with other Germain hotels in Canada? 

A: In Calgary, we’re moving ahead (with an Alt hotel near the University of Calgary). Construction is starting again. It should open in 2023; maybe the spring or perhaps later. There aren’t any other projects I’m able to talk about right now.