When COVID-19 rocked the very foundations of Canada’s hotel industry back in March, the immediate impacts felt at the brands under the Northland Properties umbrella were beyond measure. “As Canada’s largest privately owned hospitality brand, we saw a dramatic decline in occupancy rates and an unprecedented increase in cancellations on future hotel bookings,” says Robert Pratt, president of Sandman and Sutton Place Hotels, which are part of the Northland Properties portfolio. “Restaurants had to close dining-rooms and resorts shut down operations for the season four weeks ahead of their regular schedule. The sad reality of minimal to no revenue being generated was that we were forced to make difficult and heartbreaking decisions regarding our valued team members.”
In the early days of the pandemic, the number-1 priority at Northland was the safety, security, and well-being of team members and guests. “Our immediate reaction to the pandemic was to find creative ways to provide comfort and support to our people, our guests and those living in our communities across Canada,” says Pratt. “We understood there were three top concerns: health and well-being, financial and emotional stability and job security, so we developed and launched Northland Cares with a purpose to provide immediate care and support.”
Knowing many of its team members would face financial challenges while waiting on their federal and provincial benefits to start,
Northland set up a grant program to help as many team members as possible during this transitional period. “Our hotel and restaurant teams pivoted their business models to support health heroes and frontline workers in our communities across Canada — employees from essential services, manufacturing and transportation companies were offered special rates at our hotels.”
Through Northland Cares, the Calgary-based company also supplied beds to community hospitals and its restaurants offered attractive discounts and creative take-home meal packages through takeout, delivery and curbside pick-up.
“Throughout the pandemic, we saw people coming together through simple, heartfelt acts of kindness and, in solidarity with this movement. Each of our hospitality teams found unique and heartfelt ways to show their communities how much we care,” Pratt explains.
The leadership team at Northland Properties — a team made up of hospitality leaders from its hotel, restaurant and resorts divisions — spearheaded the companies initiatives. “We’re all incredibly proud to be hospitality professionals in an industry passionate about taking care of people. At the beginning of March, everything happened very quickly. Still, we at once knew that taking care of our team members, guests, frontline workers and the most vulnerable in our communities was the right thing to do.”
Pratt says his team faced three truths following stay-at-home government mandates and the subsequent stages of re-opening — people needed to be taken care of, the company had to find new ways to take care of its guests to ensure the survival of its businesses and, “even though times are financially challenging, we recognized a considerable investment was needed to develop new health-and-cleanliness operating procedures designed for our guests to have absolute confidence while staying in our hotels, dining in our restaurants or safely exploring our resorts.”
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to impact the industry, Pratt says Northland’s current protocols will be around for a while. “This is our new reality. Masks, physical distancing and heightened levels of cleanliness are here to stay until we have an effective and widely distributed vaccine. Until then we all need to act responsibly and follow the rules because that will keep us safe and in business. Flexibility and nimbleness were once considered positive qualities and are now essential for survival.”
Pratt emphasizes that as Northland endeavors to keep its guests and team members safe, “we need to be careful not to become sterile and separate. We must never lose our ability to be warm, friendly and hospitable. Those qualities are essential to the guest experience and our company’s culture and are much of the reason we are in this business to begin with. However, this can be challenging at times as people can’t as easily tell we’re smiling behind our masks and it can be challenging to communicate with our faces covered. It is all in our eyes and our tone of voice now. Just the effort to keep people safe is an act of caring and hopefully that shows.”