The Fort Garry Hotel, Spa and Conference Centre has become part of Choice Hotels Canada’s Ascend collection.
For many years, the Fort Garry Hotel has been an iconic, upscale, independent Winnipeg institution.
And it will remain just that.
But now, Ida Albo, the owner of the hotel, said, "We’ll be part of a 37-million member loyalty program and it will just give us better reach to sell the rooms at the hotel."
Albo said even she is curious to see what sort of impact it will have on reservation dynamics after having operated as a stand-alone property for so long.
Choice Hotel’s Ascend Collection is what the industry refers to as a soft brand.
Unlike Choice’s other branded hotels which would all have a similar feel and look them, the Ascend Collection properties — the Fort Garry is the 22nd in Canada — are all unique properties including boutique hotels, resorts and historic properties like the Fort Garry.
Rob Alldred, director of membership development for Ascend Hotel Collection at Choice Hotels Canada, said the addition of a distinctive property with the kind of reputation the Fort Garry has will burnish the reputation of the collection.
"We are super excited to have the Fort Garry join us," he said. "They become sort of the crown jewel. Having that kind of property as part of the collection is a big win for our company, no question."
And as for the look of the hotel, the only change will be a small plaque on the front of the building that will say "Ascend Hotel Collection."
"We are super excited to have the Fort Garry join us. Having that kind of property as part of the collection is a big win for our company, no question."‐ Rob Alldred, director of membership development for Ascend Hotel Collection at Choice Hotels Canada,
Albo said that the property was a perfect fit in that it has just undertaken some renovations and the implementation of certain brand protocols have been welcomed by staff.
The timing of the move for the Fort Garry obviously comes when the global hospitality industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Albo said business at the Fort Garry is down by about 90 per cent and consequently staff have had to be let go.)
As well, the terrible hit the hotel industry has sustained forced Albo and her ownership group to take the property off the market. It was for sale last year with a selling price rumoured to be around $50 million.
But Albo said that the former sales process included the eventuality of "flagging" the hotel with a global reservation operation.
"We were going to let the new buyer choose who they would flag it with, but it would have been flagged regardless," she said. "It was always part of the next evolution within the industry to re-position the hotel with a brand."
Now, she said, the pivot is that they will stay on and be part of the re-positioning themselves.
"Choice was part of the first round of proposal groups we talked to and they were super excited and aggressive," she said. "So we were able to make arrangement that were mutually beneficial. We are really excited."
Albo said that the current ownership group will now wait until the hotel industry recovers before thinking of putting it back on the market.
"We were always food and beverage function-driven so a lot of our guest rooms came from large social events and conventions," she said. "That dropped completely out of the market and with it all the rooms that were attached to it."
Alldred said that while their properties have shown week over week improvements for the past six weeks, the recovery is slow.
He said there is no way to know when the industry will return to any sense of normality.
"We know that the next six months will be unknown for everyone until we get around the corner," he said. "We are at the mercy of a lot of different things. We will just keep plugging away and hopefully it will bounce back soon."
Choice Hotels Canada has more than 350 properties currently open or under development.
Its brands in Canada include Ascend Hotel Collection, Comfort, Sleep Inn, Quality, Clarion, MainStay Suites, Econo Lodge and Rodeway Inn that are all independently owned and operated. Choice Hotels International, Inc. has more than 7,100 hotels, representing nearly 590,000 rooms, in over 40 countries.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.