Party’s Not Over: Hotel Industry Leaders Say Canada Is Still Hot

Open Jaw

(l to r) Bryson Forbes, event moderator, Dorothy Dowling, Chief Marketing Officer and SVP, Best Western, Susie Grynol, President, Hotel Association of Canada and Brian Payea, Head of Industry Relations, TripAdvisor.

Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations in 2017 attracted 20.85 million international visitors, an all-time record. But according to panelists at the 13thannual Best Western Leisure Travel Summit, the party is still going strong.

“The Canadian hotel industry is at an all-time high,” said Susie Grynol, President of the Hotel Association of Canada. Grynol told the audience that 2017’s occupancy rate of 66% was also a record, and nightly hotel revenue per available room topped $100 across Canada for the first time ever. “Overall, it’s a great time to be in the hotel business,” she said.

The Canadian-born Dorothy Dowling, Best Western’s Chief Marketing Officer and SVP, says there’s no let-up in interest for Canada as a destination, both with international and domestic travellers.

“Canada is truly rocking it for Best Western. Our bookings are up 8% year-over-year for May-October. Considering that’s already the period of highest demand, that’s an amazing number,” Dowling said. 

“It’s a very strong market. There continues to be growth in demand for Canada,” said Brian Payea, Head of Industry Relations for TripAdvisor, the review site that attracts 455 million unique visitors each month. 

Payea says there’s strong interest from south of the border – especially from New York State, while Canadians themselves appear more inclined to travel within their borders this summer. In terms of searches for Canadian travel on the site, Payea says there’s been a spike from travellers in Japan, Italy and France.

Grynol says Canada is seen as welcoming, safe and with a stable government, and all the interest stimulated by last year’s 150thcelebrations -- including being named top country to visit by Lonely Planet and the New York Times – is having a halo effect on 2018 industry performance.

On the 30thanniversary of Best Western’s BW Rewards loyalty program, Dowling says rewards remains a major consumer incentive for hotel bookings. When she started with BW 15 years ago, reward program member bookings represented 9% of total revenues. Today that number is 47%. And as Dowling has said in previous years, Canadian consumers are “points junkies,” with free nights the driving incentive.

For the Hotel Association of Canada, Airbnb and other digital platforms for short-term rentals is the biggest cloud on the horizon. The association says it is not opposed to fair competition, but continues to lobby governments to level the playing field through regulation.

“Airbnb pays no tax on its profits from Canada,” Grynol said. “We’re not worried about people renting a room in their home. But 83% of Airbnb revenues in Canada are coming from the commercial side – accommodations being used for the sole purpose of rental. 

“Governments are realizing that they need to update laws and public opinion is starting to shift on this too, with the majority wanting fair regulation. That wasn’t the case before.”

Despite that challenge, Grynol says the cyclical hotel industry is in great shape in Canada, with supply and demand in a rare balance.

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