According to the latest statistics provided by the City of Montreal, the number of tourists in this economic capital has been rising since 2010, with a record occupancy rate of 73% in 2016. We met with Marie-Pier Germain, General Manager of Alt Hotel Montreal, who shared her vision of the hotel business with us.
Marie-Pier is the daughter of the co-founders of Groupe Germain Hôtels. Founded in 1988, it includes Le Germain Hotels and Alt Hotels in Quebec, Montreal, Brossard, Toronto, Calgary, Winnipeg and Halifax, and will soon be adding Ottawa to its list.
"Montreal’s hotel sector is doing well"
Over the past 10 years, tourism in Montreal has grown, peaking in 2016. Ms. Germain confirms that, "In the hotel sector, we recorded exceptional growth during the summer of 2016 and we are expecting to beat records again in 2017. There has already been an increase in hotel occupancy rates since the beginning of the year."
Montreal hoteliers are well-positioned to take advantage of the increased tourism and are not hesitating to invest. "Montreal is a very vibrant city. There are many new construction projects underway – I’m thinking in particular of the Queen Elizabeth, which has invested millions of dollars in renovations, improving upon what was already there. We also have a Four Seasons here and with its niche clientele, it helps to position Montreal in a very positive way."
Ms. Germain also noted that the industry has adapted to the needs of the market. She cites as examples the former Delta Centre-Ville and Holiday Inn Midtown hotels which have closed their doors and been turned into student residences.
Following the Path of Innovation
Montreal is demonstrating its economic vibrancy by improving the hotels it has on offer, but what are the challenges that the sector still faces with regards to innovation?
- - New decor and sustainability. Whether it be in terms of design, new concepts, new ways of doing things, or use of space, hotels must be in a process of constant renewal. "For our part, we demonstrated this with the famous glass showers we decided to install in our rooms 30 years ago when no one else had them. Today, the construction of Alt hotels where geothermal energy is used to heat and cool spaces comes to mind. We were the first in Canada to do that. We always try to be in the lead."
- - Creative spaces. In Alt Hotels, for example, the decor is very trendy and colourful with lounges conducive to creatively-stimulating encounters. Their goal is to foster connections and to encourage the exchange of ideas.
- - New technologies. Touch screens everywhere, voice-activated settings for temperature or lighting, the use of one’s smartphone as a room key - these are some of the technologies in which hotels invest to provide better service and to stand out from the rest. Whether they are linked to products or services, these technologies are at the heart of hoteliers’ strategic thinking. However, as Ms. Germain points out, "It's very expensive to innovate. So we need to be creative in how we implement new systems."
- - Pamper the target audience. "We must not forget that our profession is the oldest profession in the world." For her, it is necessary to stay on the lookout for innovations in order to meet clients’ needs -whether it be in terms of comfort or services offered.
Do Not Be Afraid To Try
Ms. Germain tells us that the Groupe Germain Hospitalité is not afraid to innovate. "We tried to install a check-in with automatic kiosks, but we were not convinced", she states. For the technology to work, the service provided must extend beyond the technology itself. "We do not want to be on the cutting edge just for the sake of it – the technology needs to provide added value to our guests."
"I think there is always a balance between offering new technology to our customers and providing them with exceptional service which exceeds their expectations.” Indeed, hospitality is above all a service industry where one has to take into account the way in which guests are greeted as well as the way in which they are taken care of. "We are not just a company that runs hotels - we welcome people into our homes."
A Place of Choice in the Quartier de l’Innovation (QI)
Located on Peel Street, a stone's throw from the waterfront, Ms. Germain tells us that the landscape surrounding the hotel has changed substantially in the past 3 years thanks to the QI. “Not long ago, there was nothing in the area. The guests arrived and wondered if the hotel was even open," she says, laughing.
Thanks to the QI, "We are all getting involved in the development of the neighbourhood, whether it be to create more jobs or to make it a destination of choice. It is important to create a local economy." She underlines the enormous amount of work done by the Quartier de l'innovation, which has "…succeeded in bringing together all the players in the area. We are all working towards the same goal - making it flourish."
Today, She’s Inspired By...
"Our projects. The effervescence of the QI. It's very motivating to work in an environment like this - whether it’s for us, our employees or our guests." Not to mention that the Groupe has several exciting projects underway with Le Germain Ottawa, which will open in 2018, the construction of another Alt Hotel in Calgary, and the Alt+ Quartier DIX30, which will take root on Montreal's south shore not far from the new rail line linking the south shore to the airport.
The Hotel Sector of Tomorrow?
"Our goal is to make people happy. What will make people happy tomorrow? It’s not easy to say. I think we need to create more connections to communities. Hotels are often perceived as meeting places so why not create more opportunities for interaction around us? We can then build on these relationships to improve our services."
Taking the time to assess new avenues is worth it, even when they are expensive, as they could later turn out to be a cost-effective choice.