Hotels ready to welcome American travellers, but still face challenges

WINNIPEG — With the Canada-U.S. border set to reopen to vaccinated travellers on Monday, Manitoba’s hotels are eagerly waiting to see if Americans will be coming north.

Scott Jocelyn, president and CEO of the Manitoba Hotel Association, said the reopening of the border is a promising sign for the hospitality industry.

“I think it’s just another opportunity to go back to normal,” said Jocelyn. “The opening of the border will be another step in that direction. We want to make sure people come back, so I think we’d look at that as good news for us.”

Over at the Winnipeg Delta, Jeff Kennedy, the hotel’s general manager, is happy about the border opening.

“I think it’s great news for the tourism industry,” Kennedy said. “I certainly understand the slow approach to make sure it’s done safely, but now that we can see it, it’s bringing hope and enthusiasm.”

But with the pandemic still creating uncertainty, hotel operators are holding their breath that Americans will make the trip.

“Hopefully, it brings a bunch more people to the city,” said Kennedy. “Looking forward, we hope the special business travellers start to come back in September. It’s a key piece that needs to happen.”

So far, the Manitoba Hotel Association said it’s heard of a few American travellers making inquiries.

“The reality is it’s an unusual time of year,” said Jocelyn. “We’ve heard some reach outs from people looking to come up and we’ll certainly welcome them with open arms.”

SURVIVING ON STAYCATIONS

During the past year and a half, the hotel industry has been relying on local travel to fill their rooms.

“There is a lot of great things our province has to offer. So, as people stick close to home, we hope they think about the places in their home province,” said Jocelyn.

Jocelyn said programs like the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce’s tourism rebate incentive program, which gives Manitobans up to a $100 rebate on local hotel stays, have been helping.

At the Winnipeg Delta, staycations have been important, but the hotel is still eyeing potential business travellers.

“We are certainly getting a lot of Winnipeggers and Manitobans right now. But when leisure travel potentially ends in September and school starts, we need the business traveller to come,” said Kennedy.

REOPENING CHALLENGES

As many hotels look to take advantage of loosened restrictions and a reopened border, operators are still facing challenges.

Jocelyn said staffing has been a significant problem for hotels lately.

“As we open up and kind of close and open up again, we’ve last a lot of good employees. I think they had to move on for some stability,” he said.

“A common theme we are hearing is that as we open up, it’s challenging to hear some people want to open, extend their hours, reopen more, offer services and now they’re dealing with the reality that they may not have enough people to do that.”

Jocelyn said operators are also tasked with navigating the new reduced public health orders.

“Some operators are saying we are going to stick with this and stick with that. We are in the people-pleasing business, so I think we’ll be reading off our customers,” he said.

With those challenges in mind, the Winnipeg Delta is looking at the long journey to recovery.

“We are down probably 30 or 40 per cent right now in the summer months and forecasting that for the rest of the year,” said Kennedy. “It’s been a long road, but certainly hospitality is going to take a few more years to get there.”

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