Pre-pandemic, the Brookstreet Hotel relied HEAVILY on business travel to Ottawa’s Kanata North Technology Park (considered by many to be “Silicon Valley North”) and has seen this market shrink dramatically over the course of the pandemic. But, with vaccination rates rising, case counts lowering, airlines returning to the skies, and companies beginning their pilgrimage “back to the office”, this hospitality industry leader is preparing for the New Normal.
Micrometrics Marketing Lead, Dave Hale, sat down with Nyle Kelly from the Brookstreet Hotel and Marshes Golf Club to discuss his thoughts on:
- Managing the decline of his property’s business travel and events business during the pandemic,
- Pivots that were made to keep occupancy levels up,
- And what his playbook looks like in the weeks and months ahead to regain consumer trust and market share in these areas in order to return to “business as usual.”
Nyle is a results-oriented hospitality executive with over 25 years of progressive leadership and management experience within the tourism industry. He has affected strategic direction and management of a wide range of outlets including: Rooms Division, Food and Beverage, Retail Outlets, Spa, Fitness/Recreation, Golf Course Operations and Sales. He is actively involved as a hands-on leader skilled in problem resolution, performance management, change management and process improvement.
The Brookstreet Hotel and Marshes Golf Club is a 276 room property that has full-service restaurants, a spa, a fitness studio, indoor and outdoor pools, golf, and other activities for the market. “We have three primary segments of the market, and one of them would be leisure,” Nyle stated. “So right now in the summertime would be our busiest time for leisure, and we are seeing that bounce back quite a bit since they started to relax the [covid] regulations. But I would say our bread and butter, if you will, is the corporate conference business. We have a strong corporate market because we are located in Kanata North with over 500 tech companies in the region and over 25,000 employees that are employed here in Kanata North, so that’s a big part of our business. Then we’ve got over 3,000 sqft of meeting space here, as well as our pavilion outside in our marshes meeting facility. So we do a lot of conference business as well.” It is safe to say that the pandemic had a huge impact on the business starting in March 2020 where they went from 75%-80% average occupancy down to 2% overnight.
Nyle went on to note, “Our owner was keen to get the hotel back open so we did open June 1st and that might have been a little premature as far as the business that was available out there, but we wanted to bring back as many employees we could at the time, and get the business back up and running. We found a few ways over that time to shift and pivot and bring a little additional business in over that time.” Some of the pivots that they made were to utilize their vast outdoor space like the patios and outdoor pavilion. “We started to utilize that as an amenity for our guests because we were limited in what we could do at that time. So again, the majority focus was on leisure, and golf and creating packages that kind of were built around that.”
The Brookstreet Hotel is about a 25-minute drive from downtown Ottawa so it is a perfect staycation spot but with travel restrictions easing Dave asked Nyle “Do you think that people are clamoring to get on a plane and go somewhere, you know, assuming it’s safe to do so?” Nyle is confident that a portion of the population will continue to stay local for a while. “People are really engaged. People are supporting local [and are changing] their mindset here and I think that’s going to stick. That’s not going to [stop once] we’re allowed to do everything that we did before the pandemic happened. I don’t think that that changes, I think that it’s built into the mentality now of our client base.”
Looking ahead, Nyle is confident that the conference business will pick up again in 2022 where they are already receiving inquiries. “Conferences will take the longest to come back. Corporate travel is a different conversation, I think that when you look at the borders opening up, and the vaccination rates increasing, I think you will start to see larger organizations and companies that do have their teams traveling, you’ll start to see that happen this fall. If I was to guess you might see 25 to 40% of what we would see in normal times, starting to happen, but by the end of this year we’ll see that corporate travel business picks up. I mean I’m already starting to plan conferences and events and things like that over the next year that I’m going to be going to.”
When conferences started to be canceled at the beginning of the pandemic, Nyle and his team focused on staying in touch with top clients. “This pandemic changed how hotels work with booking contracts and conferences and things like that. There was a time when if you signed the contract on the dotted line, you know, you had to follow these rules or X, Y, and Z would happen. But, we literally had to throw that out the window early on and just manage the relationships and stay connected with our clients because we were in unchartered territories. I think that that bodes well too for the future in that we were flexible and we worked with our groups, and all of our businesses to make sure that they were feeling like they were being taken care of, and that we were being flexible and open. We were doing all the things we needed to secure their business for the future. It was tough and it just goes against everything that we kind of did prior to the pandemic. I think that that’s one of the things that will change in the future – I think that negotiating those business deals and contracts there will be a lot more openness to flexibility. We were allowed to strengthen or deepen those relationships and they truly appreciated that and I think that that secures longer-term clients for the future.”
Since conferences are only going to be coming back at a later date, the Brookstreet Hotel has been seeing an influx in the number of wedding bookings and are starting to receive requests for Christmas parties and other types of corporate celebrations. “So those are all coming back now. So that’ll be the first wave of the group business,” Nyle stated. While business getting back to normal is a fantastic thing there also is the widespread issues of struggling with getting staff to come back to work or hiring new staff that comes along with it. “Now we were fortunate, probably more than most, in that we had some hockey business and some other groups that we had over the winter, and we were able to keep about 40% of our staff throughout with the exception of when we closed. So our ramp-up is probably a little bit quicker than some of the properties that dropped below those 10% occupancy numbers. But, you know, we’ve recalled everybody that we can recall and our staffing levels are at about 60 to 65% of what they were pre-pandemic. So everything that we do now moving forward every single hire that we have now moving forward is a new hire, and it requires a lot of effort and training. It’s going to take a while to get back to a normalized level of things. We’re doing lots of creative things, people offering incentives and referral programs. Some of it works but if the market is not there, it’s just not there.”
Question & Answer Period
A question came in from the webinar live audience that asked Nyle about how to promote services like the golf course, attractions, and other additional services to the general public to position them as an experience apart from the hotel.
Nyle answered, “Happy to answer that question. You know, for us, as an independent property we don’t have that large corporate umbrella to support our marketing initiatives, we do it all in-house through our marketing team and our marketing director. We work with an online digital agency that does a lot of our promotions, either through social channels, through our mailing lists, through working with other suppliers and partner resellers, at the grocery store, and obviously on our own website too. In promoting the additional services, like the golf course, we came up with a lot of unique packages and flash sales and different things like. We try to package things up to make that offering a little bit more attractive and feeling like it’s a little more like a staycation or a little weekend getaway that people are looking for. So if you see our website, through some of our social channels we do lots and lots of packaging with that.”
Dave then followed up by diving deeper into the “basket size” of the guests/rooms in terms of how many additional products or services that the guest adds on to their stay and how they promote those additional services. Nyle went on to say: “we track revenue per available room but we also have something called TRevPAR which is the total revenue per available room, and it includes all those additional options and features throughout the property, whether it’s golf or spa or restaurants. We certainly promote [the services] throughout the hotel with digital signage. We promote at the front desk so if there’s a safe spa or restaurant availability, we’ll let the guests know so it’s always kind of a communication there. Then in the guest’s room on the TVs and in our elevators, we have that opportunity once they’re on-site to sell but if there’s any distressed inventory, if you will look at these empty spots on the golf course, we certainly take every opportunity to communicate those to our guests while they’re here. A lot of guests book that stuff ahead of time, that process starts even before they get on site. The process on the booking engine allows people to add on at that point in time. When they call in they can also speak with a reservations partner who will suggest that they do certain things, especially during COVID, not even just use the pools because we’ve had such limited capacities we’ve had to make those recommendations to reserve ahead of time.” Using technology and staff to leverage promoting those services is essential to ensure ultimate capacity.
Nyle’s conversation with Dave was one of the most engaging ones yet! Feel free to listen to the webinar for even more wisdom from Nyle and be sure to check out past webinars for great information from leading hospitality General Managers around the world.
As a reminder, Micrometrics believes that businesses should create more meaningful connections with the people that they serve. By enhancing face-to-face interactions and creating connections with guests at scale, our hospitality clients leverage powerful messaging automation to improve customer experience and operational efficiency at their properties and ancillary services. You can learn more about us here.