News / Sector Profile
Elisha Ammann is the Executive Director of the Medicine Hat Accommodation Association (MHAA); A non profit funded by local hotels that gets those within the hospitality sector to work together for common goals that benefit not only the industry, but ultimately the city as well. The support Elisha and the organization provide for local hotels has become all the more valuable as they grapple with the fallout of COVID-19 on their business.
Since its establishment 14 years ago, the Accommodation Association has been providing marketing and promotions for local hotels, as well as building relationships to grow events such as those in sports tourism. Through this work they are able to allow or encourage events of all sizes to occur in the city of Medicine Hat through sponsorship and guidance.
As far as the impacts of COVID, the local hotel market has been drastically impacted according to the data collected by the MHAA. The immediate impact began in the middle of March, where there were a number of large events planned throughout the city. With the postponement or cancellations of events, combined with a massive reduction in leisure travel, occupancy dropped immediately over a period of days.
On Wednesday, March 11, hotels across the city were expecting occupancy rates around 80% over the weekend. By Thursday, March 12 they had dropped to around 50%, and by Friday, March 13 they had reached around the 30% mark. After essential travel was cancelled most hotels were hovering around 10%, compared to an average of 67% occupancy.
Hotel Managers are now working remotely or taking on multiple roles to accommodate the reduced staffing numbers. The repercussions of having to let go of staff that rely on their employment was heartbreaking for employers and managers. Combine that with the drop in business and the concern for safety of staff and guests and it became a very difficult time for hotels across the city.
The steps the hotels took are not only regarding staffing, but also how they continue operation to keep everyone on the property safe.
“They [The Hotels] are aware of the situation… They acted quickly to change their business. Everything about their business had to change overnight. All of them have lots and lots of safety precautions in place, so if people do need to travel, and we are seeing travellers still for essential services that need to happen still, they are as safe as possible”- Elisha Ammann
Currently the bulk of hotel guests are those working in the construction industry. That number is expected to rise as we see more infrastructure projects that will be funded to get people back to work, as a lot of those workers are from out of town when it comes to specialties.
“Orange vest guys and those kinds of workers have always been our corporate base in Medicine Hat, and they are what continues to be what is floating the hotels right now. In the beginning there was a little bit of leisure travel with people coming back from down south and what not, but that dried up within a week.” – Elisha Ammann
Going forward, Elisha feels the stringent safety standard implemented by hotels will become the new normal across the hospitality industry. Some hotels are very eager to get back things like hot breakfast, so they are working diligently to see how they can do that safely. Currently offering individually packed breakfasts is the best way to ensure they can feed their guests while maintaining the highest standards of safety.
Another way hotels are adapting is by removing touchpoints from rooms such as tent cards, pen and paper, glassware, and shampoo bottles, which are now available upon request instead of placed in the room immediately. There are also modified room service and cleaning processes focussed on the sanitization and sterilization of everything such as exchanging towels via a bag, with some hotels even going so far as to completely shampoo rooms upon checkout.
“We want to assure those people that have to travel, that if they do have to travel, the hotels are doing everything they can to make it as safe as possible. They have put in a lot of safety measures that are all going to likely stay in place for a long time. By the time people non-essential or leisure travel can happen, this will be old hat to the hotels. This is going to become standard pro-active now.” -Elisha Ammann
MHAA is forecasting leisure pickup through July, and hope to see an increase of business coming through the summer, which would normally be peak time. The MHAA also believes that if kids are able to return to school it will have a drastic impact on their economic forecasts.
When hotels are able to open up again and open features such as their swimming pools, they are looking forward to the support of the local community. Currently, there are a number of promotions in the works for “Staycation” packages, where Hatters can kick back at local hotels and act as tourists in their own city. Different driving tours and itineraries are also being developed for both local and regional travellers.
Overall, the industry is remaining hopeful for the future and ever vigilant in their practices to keep all parties involved safe.
“The local hotels are on it. They are on knowing what measures need to be taken to keep their guests and their staff safe. That’s their top priority.” -Elisha Ammann
To learn more about the Medicine Hat Accommodation Association and to see if they might be able to help you with your next local event, as well as for great information on local hotels, visit their website here.