This article originally appeared in OBJ's 2021 Fall newsmagazine.
Hotel sales and marketing director Roger MacKinnon found himself out of a job at the worst possible time – during the height of the pandemic, when his industry was fighting for its future.
The two downtown Ottawa hotels that MacKinnon had poured his heart and soul into for the past 18 years had been sold, with the new owners wanting to turn The Albert at Bay Suite Hotel on Albert Street and the Best Western Plus on O’Connor Street into rental apartments.
“It was tough,” said MacKinnon, who still regrets that, due to COVID-19 restrictions, he was unable to say a proper goodbye to his former colleagues last October. “It was a sad day for absolutely everyone.”
As for what to do next, “It was not like I could walk across the street to another hotel.”
MacKinnon looked at working in a different industry. He talked to the right people, got deep into the interview process, landed a few job offers, but his gut was telling him not to go through with it.
“It didn’t feel right,” said MacKinnon. “What I figured out is, I’m a hotel guy and I always will be.”
'A great fit'
Last month, MacKinnon started his new job as sales director at Brookstreet, a luxury four-star, 276-room hotel located in Kanata’s high-tech district.
You see, once he was reminded of how much he loved the hospitality industry, he created a list of potential hotel employers, putting Brookstreet at the top.
“I was the luckiest guy in the world to land such a great place like the Brookstreet. I could not be any happier; I think it’s a great fit.”
Brookstreet is led by Nyle Kelly, who’s been at the hotel for more than 18 years, working his way up to general manager.
MacKinnon said everything he’d always heard about the culture at Brookstreet has turned out to be true.
“There’s a common theme, from the general manager to the server in Perspectives Restaurant, and everyone in between. Everybody who works there understands what the essence of hospitality is supposed to be.”
"I was the luckiest guy in the world to land such a great place like the Brookstreet. I could not be any happier."
Brookstreet has been in a better position than other hotels during the pandemic because it’s similar to a resort in its layout, MacKinnon pointed out. It offers such outdoor amenities as a golf facility, swimming pool and pavilion for hosting weddings.
“There are a few things that would give it a leg up,” he said.
MacKinnon is originally from Prince Edward Island, where he studied hospitality and tourism management at college. As a young man, he worked in hotels all over Canada, including Halifax, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Lake Louise and New Brunswick’s Miramichi, before deciding to settle in Ottawa in 2003.
One day, he noticed that The Albert at Bay Suite Hotel was hiring for a sales job. He spotted the posting the old-fashioned way: in a newspaper classified ad. His experience was in food and beverage operations, but he applied anyway and got an interview.
“I had to really prove myself worthy of a sales position, with zero sales experience,” said MacKinnon. “I said, ‘I’m a hotel guy; it’s in my blood. I don’t know sales, but I know everything else, so I think I’ll be good. Take a chance on me.’ They did, and I eventually became director of sales and marketing and took those hotels on a journey to becoming two of the top hotels in Ottawa.”
Looking ahead, MacKinnon is confident that the hotel industry is going to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. “People are ready to travel.”
The hotel industry was the first to be hit by the pandemic and, he predicted, it will be the last to recover.
“But if there was ever an industry that could adapt and evolve and be creative, it’s definitely the tourism and hotel business.”
People on the move across Ottawa
Brad Weir, former senior director with the Senators Community Foundation, is now working for the Canadian Bank Note Company as director of engagement. Weir had been with the foundation (formerly the Ottawa Senators Foundation) for almost 11 years in marketing, communications and community investments roles.
Arnprior Regional Health has announced that Leah Levesque will become the next president and CEO of the organization, taking over from Eric Hanna, who will retire on Sept. 30. Levesque is currently the VP of patient care and chief nursing executive at Queensway Carleton Hospital. She previously spent six years at ARH in the role of VP of patient and resident care and chief nursing executive.
Mitchell Bellman, former president and CEO of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, has joined Service Coordination Support as executive director and CEO. SCS is the initial contact for people who have a developmental disability or autism in Ottawa and the Eastern Region.
OneLife Wealth Management has added two well-known female professionals to its team: adviser Joanne Kudakiewicz, a 2019 Forty Under 40 recipient, and director of strategy and client success Jill Fratpietro, previously a senior account executive with Great-West Life. “We’re lucky to add such strong female entrepreneurs who are focused not only on their work, but on serving their community,” said OneLife Wealth Management president Chris Bockstael. “Plans are in motion to form a women’s business group that helps empower women in business and create an environment for women to learn from others who have already walked a similar path.”
Mischa Kaplan, former HR director with Ottawa Tourism, is now director of people and culture with Cystic Fibrosis Canada.
Rick Corcoran has left his position as general manager of the Fairmont Château Laurier to become general manager of 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, a luxury hotel located on the Brooklyn waterfront in New York.