When the COVID-19 pandemic created myriad challenges beyond operators’ control, Accent Inns — a Victoria-based company that operates Accent Inns and Hotel Zed brands throughout B.C. — turned its attention to supporting its staff, guests and community.
“At the very, very beginning, I went down the rabbit hole of fear,” shares Mandy Farmer, CEO and president of Accent Inns. “I was concerned I was going to lose my family’s third-generation business.”
But, she asked herself, “How do I want to come out of this?…Even if I might lose the business, I want to be proud of how we responded.” However she’s quick to give credit to the Accent Inns team for the many community-facing initiatives the company took on. “As the CEO, I just set the tone, then it was everyone else who stepped up.”
The initial focus was ensuring a safe environment for staff and guests. “We were really lucky in that one of our managers used to be a hospital ward nurse,” Farmer says, explaining that she helped the company get ahead of the curve and ensure it had the right procedures and protocols in place.
Then, the team started hearing of frontline workers who were scared to go home, for fear of exposing their family to the virus and moved to address this. “Right off the bat we decided to partner with United Way,” says Farmer, adding this partnership was hammered out in about a day. “We launched a campaign whereby we raised money in order to provide free rooms for these frontline workers, so that they didn’t have to worry about paying rent twice, they knew that they could come to a safe place and they could keep their family safe.”
This program, which was offered at all Accent Inn hotels — all of which remained open through the crisis — provided the rooms at cost and the approximately $200,000 raised by the campaign helped to cover the hotels’ expenses.
When word came that one of the company’s partners, Variety – the Children’s Charity, was struggling with its fundraising initiatives, the team stepped up to lend its support. Through the summer, Accent Inns hotels offered guest the choice of receiving a 25-per-cent rate discount or donating the amount to Variety. “We helped them raise close to $100,000 doing that,” Farmer shares.
With business still reduced, staff from the company’s call centre were also re-deployed to support Variety by making calls on their behalf.
Additionally, Accent Inns partnered with the B.C. Cancer Foundation to offer special pricing for patients who have to travel to receive chemotherapy. Hotel Zed properties also took on their own initiatives, pivoting to offer rooms as quiet, distraction-free spaces for those working at home and using the brand’s fleet of vintage vehicles to offer free party parades and brighten the birthdays of kids celebrating during lockdown.
Accent Inns also ensured its employees were well taken care of through the crisis. Before government supports were in place for temporarily laid-off staff, the company provided the entire team with grocery gift cards. And, as soon as news of the wage subsidy came, it hired back its entire team and provided retroactive pay to cover the time they were off.
In September, the entire team also received their full year-end bonuses early. “I’m so proud of them and couldn’t have done this without them. So, there’s no way that I wanted them to suffer financially,” Farmer explains.
And, while other companies pared back their sales departments, Accent Inns expanded its sales team and scrapped its incentive-based pay structure. The sales team also chose to re-brand themselves as the Wolf Pack. “And this Wolf Pack went out hunting,” Farmer says earnestly.
With uncertainty on the rise once again, Farmer says she and her team plan to stay the course. “Our plan for the upcoming winter is to respond exactly how we responded in the spring, which is [to] open up our hearts [and] make sure we live our values to their fullest.”
This will see Accent Inns continue to offer the programs it’s put in place. And, Farmer adds, something else on her radar is mental health. “Our long-term plan to get through this bleak winter is, first and foremost, mental health. I’m concerned about all of our mental health — [from] every single team member at Accent Inns, to the mental health of our loved ones at home, our kids, our parents and our communities.”