For the first time in 16 years, Ottawa’s largest hotel has a new chief staffer.
© Cole Burston.
Ross Meredith is the general manager of the Westin Ottawa.
Ross Meredith took over as general manager of the Westin Ottawa in March from John Jarvis, who announced in December he was stepping down from the post to start his own business.
Mr. Meredith spoke with OBJ to discuss the reasons for his move to the capital, why he’s stayed with the Westin chain for so long and what he wants to see happen next in Ottawa’s tourism industry.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
OBJ: Why did you decide to make the move to Ottawa?
Ross Meredith: I’ve been at (Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, the management chain behind the Westin name) for a number of years and spent some time in Alberta with two great Starwood properties in Calgary and then had a fun little sojourn into California, where I was at another Westin property in the desert, in Palm Springs. But all along we knew we were going to want to return back to Canada; the intent was not to go there forever. So when this opportunity opened, someone on the Starwood side reached out to meet me and asked me if this was something I would have an interest in and I said “absolutely.”
There’s a couple of things that excited us about Ottawa. First of all, it’s a great product here, a great city and a great hotel with a great team. And secondly, the city’s fun. It’s a dynamic city, (with) an international feel to it, a capital city. And so when I looked at where to come back to in Canada, Ottawa was my first choice. When the job opened – and as you know my predecessor loved it so much he stayed a long time – I realized that it was a good time to put my hand up and I was fortunate to be chosen for the position.
OBJ: What would you like to do with your tenure at the Westin? What are your priorities?
Meredith: My priorities are around the sales and revenue side of the organization, growing the top-line revenues. We’re in a bit of a lull cycle, business-wise. We need some action and activity and hotels are all competing hard for business. So a big part of my role, a big part of my focus and time, is to support the sales teams and their activities, both meeting customers, supporting their needs and wants, and supporting our team to drive revenue. So that’s where a big part of my focus is right now: meeting our long list of long-term customers that have been with us for many years, mainly on the association side (since), as you know, Ottawa is very association-based. I’ve enjoyed my first two or three weeks here. I’ve enjoyed seeing as many people as I can, getting out and thanking them for their business in the past and recognizing that we look forward to doing more business in the future.
OBJ: What’s the preliminary strategy for boosting those revenues?
Meredith: One of the things that’s important is that we work as a team. So I’ve been able to meet with senior leadership at the (Ottawa) Convention Centre and senior leadership at Ottawa Tourism. I had a chance to meet many of my GM counterparts in the first few weeks. As much as we all want to compete for business that’s coming to Ottawa, we’re better off if we just get more business coming to Ottawa and then compete for it. So I think lots of work on working with our partners, tourism and government, to say: how can hoteliers support and encourage (travel) activity to Ottawa? It starts with a great service culture when they get here, it starts with a phenomenal site experience when they’re coming and (looking at) Ottawa versus Toronto versus Montreal. A big part of what we need to do is tell them “Ottawa’s a place you need to be.” And so as a group of hoteliers and as a Convention Centre and as great restaurants and as Ottawa Tourism, there’s a collective “we.” I want to be a big part of that collective “we” that says “How do we bring more business and traffic to Ottawa?” And if we do that, then we’re all going to get a little bigger piece of the pie.
OBJ: Are there particular segments (of travellers) that you think the city needs to be focusing on?
Meredith: As a city, I think we need to remind everyone that we’re a phenomenal summer location and that we have arguably the most beautiful city, with the riverbanks, the beautiful fall colours, the great summer, the great weather. As a group of hoteliers and as Ottawa Tourism, I think we need to focus a little more time and attention on getting that message out to our friends in Quebec and our neighbours and friends in other parts of Ontario and certainly into the States. We’ve got a great dollar advantage, which is different than it was a year ago. A year ago it was tough. It’s now an 11- (or) 12-per-cent advantage to drive north for your summer holiday (thanks to the low Canadian dollar). And Quebec and Montreal and Toronto are going to be competing for that and Ottawa needs to remind people that we’re a great place to visit. So I think a little more focus on the transient-leisure side to both the two provinces adjacent and to what we call the drive market, where you just get in the car, wake up on a Friday morning and say, “let’s go book a room and come to Ottawa for the weekend.” And then the drive market in the northern United States I think there’s some opportunities there with the Canadian dollar.
OBJ: How do you view the state of the city as it’s viewed from potential visitors at the moment?
MEREDITH: I think it’s got a phenomenal reputation as being a safe, friendly, inviting city. I think the reputation is strong. If we call our reputation our brand, I think the city of Ottawa brand is well-respected. So I think there’s a lot to work with. We’re not trying to reinvent this wheel by any stretch of the imagination. I think that the natural connection to the capital, some phenomenal museums and summer events certainly bode well. I know from speaking with senior leadership at the Convention Centre, they’re certainly wanting to expand the client mix broader than they currently have for groups and conventions. They see they need more American penetration and would like to see more European penetration. It’s not a huge flight to get to Ottawa and so there’s some work I think on that side to give a little more exposure and awareness that if you’re considering an international conference, the capital of Canada would be a great place to do it. I think clearly a broader reach on the groups and conventions side is an opportunity that has been recognized.
OBJ: What do you have planned for the Westin in terms of potential renovations or anything like that?
Meredith: We are exploring some additions and improvements to our meeting and convention space facilities, giving more choice and more square footage for our guests to enjoy. Particularly, the venues we’re looking at and the changes we’re looking at would be ideal for premium social catering events – weddings, social catering, charity events and the premium leisure events.
(Editor’s note: Mr. Jarvis, the hotel’s previous general manager, told OBJ last July that the Westin is considering adding a 6,000-square-foot reception room on a northern section of the hotel’s roof.)
OBJ: Why have you stayed with Westin for so long?
Meredith: Westin, the parent company of Starwood Hotels in Ottawa, is the largest hotel company in the premium, upscale and luxury categories, so we fall into what we call the upper upscale. Starwood has the biggest portfolio worldwide of upper upscale and luxury product. We’re a premium, high-end quality hotel company. We operate with the concept of “do the right thing.” It’s one of our core cultures, core values. That includes how we operate in the community, that includes how we treat each other and that includes growing and developing and mentoring our teams. So there’s a great deal of pride to work for Starwood. Even in this building alone we’ve got a number of long-term, 25- to 30-year associates who have worked here all their life. So I think there’s a great deal of pride to work for Starwood and a great deal of pride to work for Westin. I continue to enjoy that opportunity and look forward to getting to know a whole new team and working with them. I think that’s one of the things that you enjoy the most in this business. You get to meet a whole bunch of new people and when you move to a new hotel you have two or three hundred new best friends. And that’s kind of a fun thing.
Sidebar: Selections from Ross Meredith’s resumé
April 2011 - March 2013: General manager, Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa
Oct. 2007 - April 2011: General manager, Westin Calgary
May 2005 - Oct. 2007: General manager, Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire
Aug. 2002 - May 2005: Director of operations, Sheraton Suites Calgary Eau Claire
Dec. 2001 - March 2002: Pre-opening food and beverage, Fairmont Dubai
February 2001 - July 2002: General manager, Fairmont Banff Springs