One of the National Capital Region’s most enduring symbols has chosen a fittingly patriotic date to reopen its doors to the public.
Chateau Laurier general manager Rick Corcoran told OBJ Wednesday the iconic lodging – which temporarily shut down on March 21 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – will be back in business on Canada Day.
The significance of the date was not lost on the veteran hotel executive.
“This is kind of a tribute to Canada,” he said. “Canada’s been there for us for 100-plus years, so we’re going to be there for Canada when it counts. This is going to be our way to celebrate.”
Corcoran said the hotel’s management and its owners, the Fairmont chain, initially considered reopening on June 15 and looked at a few other dates before deciding it wouldn’t be economically viable to resume operations before July.
“It did not make sense at all,” he said.
The hotel plans to enforce strict safety measures, Corcoran said, such as taking the temperature of every guest and employee when they enter the building, stepping up cleaning and sanitizing procedures and reconfiguring furniture in common areas to ensure adequate physical distancing.
In addition, the gym and swimming pool will likely be available by appointment only as a way of limiting contact between guests. The hotel also plans to leave rooms empty for at least 48 hours after guests depart, remove frequently touched objects such as coffee-makers from suites and cut down on the number of towels and pillows in each unit. Rooms will not be cleaned during a guest’s stay except upon request.
“We will follow every single recommendation from the authorities,” Corcoran said. “We will be maniacal about it. The last thing we want is a sick guest in our hotel or a sick employee.”
The Chateau Laurier is one of dozens of local hotels that have shuttered since the novel coronavirus began wreaking havoc with the world’s economy and slowed the tourism industry to a crawl.
Steve Ball, the president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, said previously about half of his organization’s 60 member properties have closed their doors since the pandemic began – including major hotels such as the Château Laurier and the Lord Elgin.
Overall, Ball estimates about 50 of the region’s 100 or so hotels have shut down, and even those that are still open have seen occupancy rates plummet into the single digits. At least 5,000 of the 6,000 employees at local hotels have been laid off since the pandemic essentially shut down Ottawa’s tourism industry.
Ball told OBJ Tuesday he expects the domestic market to fuel tourism’s resurgence, and Corcoran agreed.
“We do not rely on U.S. (traffic) as much as most big centres,” the hotel general manager said. “We sit right between two of the three biggest cities in Canada, which is fantastic. We think Montreal and Toronto would be great markets for us to start welcoming guests back into our hotel.”
Corcoran is also hoping government clients will help drive the industry’s recovery.
“That is a big engine, and when that starts humming again, then we’re going to follow suit,” he said.
Corcoran said he’s not losing any sleep over whether guests will feel comfortable staying at his property. Instead, what keeps him up at night is wondering when his industry will bounce back.
“We think it’s going to be a slow recovery,” he said. “The tough sell for me will be will the world eventually function like it used to? That’s the real big question for all of us.”