Soaring summer tourism convinces Lord Elgin to reopen

When Ottawa’s hotel industry recovery took a surprising shortcut last month, the Lord Elgin Hotel stepped up its reopening plan.

After being closed for more than 18 months as the pandemic virtually wiped out tourist traffic for most of 2020 and into 2021, the family-friendly downtown hotel will begin welcoming guests on October 1.

General manager David Smythe said an unexpected increase in leisure visits at the end of the summer that saw the city’s hotel occupancy rate rise to 70% in August led to his decision to reopen.

“Sure, we took note of that and thought, ‘Let’s go,’ said Smythe, who had been watching occupancy rates closely all summer and noticed a steady increase from May.

Still, he said the August numbers were “a surprise to everyone” in the industry. While last month’s numbers were still well above pre-pandemic norms, which typically saw occupancy rates in the mid-1980s for the month, they represented a marked improvement over 2020.

“To be honest, I never imagined that the city would achieve a 70 percent occupancy rate (rate),” added Smythe, who credited Ottawa Tourism with creating incentive programs such as the customers who have booked two nights in area hotels between July 5th. and October 9 with $ 200 to spend at restaurants, tours and other attractions.

“They were more aggressive in the market than I think Ottawa Tourism has ever been with some of the best deals I’ve ever seen from any city,” said Smythe, who is General Manager of Lord Elgin since 2004. ” . does a great job and brings so many leisure travelers to Ottawa. You could see the progress every week.

Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa-Gatineau Hotel Association, also highlighted the tourism marketing agency’s efforts to help fuel the industry’s renewal at the end of the summer.

“I think the uptake has been very positive on this one,” he said of the $ 200 carrot Ottawa Tourism gave visitors. “We had a few programs going on that were really appealing. “

In addition, Ball cited the hot, dry weather in August and the popularity of special attractions such as the Canadian Museum of History’s sold-out Queens of Egypt exhibit to increase the number of motorists in Toronto and across the country. Montreal on weekends.

“It was a little unexpected, but it was taken with happiness,” he said of the August resurgence. “I wasn’t optimistic until the summer so we did really well.

Smythe said the 355-room Lord Elgin, which employed 116 people before COVID, will open on Friday with a staff of 42. He said he expects business to be “a little tough at first,” adding that the hotel needs to be at least 30 percent occupied in order to break even.

“When you go from zero (percent occupancy) and you have to hit 30, that’s a challenge,” he said.

At the same time, Smythe said he was encouraged by the higher than expected number of requests for rooms and meeting space from government, associations and corporate clients since Lord Elgin announced that he was back in business.

He said all of the property’s largest meeting spaces were already full for several days in November.

“It’s nice to see the mix happening and not just a market segment,” Smythe said. “There is pent-up demand, and I think that’s why we get phone calls. It took us a bit by surprise.

However, Ball does not yet release the champagne. He noted that many hotels are struggling to rehire staff, as many former workers have either moved to other industries or are still taking advantage of government support programs.

“It will be a long-term problem for our industry,” he said.

And as local properties start to see more bookings for weddings and Christmas parties, Ball predicts it will be a long winter for hotels that rely on business and convention traffic.

“We know we don’t have a lot of this type of business on the books right now,” he said. “Our industry has always had this luxury, where we could look ahead and know what our occupancy rate would be six months or a year from now. The pandemic destroyed that. ”