At the Travel Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) Annual Tourism Congress held this week in Ottawa, Marriott Hotels of Canada President Don Cleary participated in a panel focusing on Rebuilding Urban Tourism in Canada. The discussion centred around the critical need to focus on urban tourism in city centres, which have seen typically busy cores, with bustling commercial buildings, restaurants, conference spaces and hotels reduced to near zero capacity.
Over the past 19 months, travel restrictions intended to combat the threat of COVID-19 continue to cause challenges for the hotel industry, though he said that they have very recently seen a slow uptick in business transient and small groups in some of the urban markets, but it’s not enough.
Said Cleary: “Urban tourism is such a vital economic driver for Canada” and was the hardest hit by the pandemic. “Overnight, occupancies dropped significantly, 85-90 per cent, when the pandemic hit in March 2020, and it’s been a slow, slow climb ever since."
“With vaccines this spring and the slow lifting of restrictions this summer, leisure, extended stay and roadside hotels have made a reasonable recovery,” he continued, “but the urban hotels significantly lag and continue to do so.”
While the “big box” hotels in the Marriott portfolio (Sheraton, Westin, JW Marriott, Marriott), which are primarily located in urban centres, have innovated to attract leisure travellers, marketing staycations and other creative ways to induce demand, “none of that is really going to get us back in our urban markets until we get the business traveller and the groups (back).”
Cleary called for a coordinated approach from the entire industry in Canada, imploring hospitality providers, airlines, destination marketing organizations, our cities, and the government to work together holistically.
“A 3000-delegate conference in a hotel generates an approximately $4 million investment in our urban centres through restaurants, retail and hotels, etc. We have a unique opportunity to capitalize on our high vaccination rates,” he said.
Cleary pointed to the United Kingdom, which has begun offering financial incentives to attract international conferences to the UK and suggested that provincial and federal governments consider similar measures.
Marriott has more than 260 hotels across Canada. Its Commitment to Clean protocols, coupled with its support of vaccination, are among some of the ways the company hopes to instill confidence in the safety of travel.
“The good news is that in speaking to Marriott’s customers, they want to get back on the road and begin to meet again, and largely have the funds to do so. This isn’t economically driven, it’s a confidence issue. They want to make sure it’s safe for them to get back on the road.”
Given the successful vaccination campaign and measures Marriott and others in the industry have adopted, Cleary hopes it will be possible to begin attracting international conferences and larger business events to support the viability of urban hotels.