Tourism and hospitality businesses across Metro Vancouver are participating in the social media movement #WeAreTourism. We are supporting each other by sharing these stories of challenge and hope.
This is one story.
No one knew what to expect, but they knew they had to trust each other.
On a quiet little part of Robson Street at the foot of Stanley Park, the locally-owned Times Square Suites is a hidden gem of a property. Built in 1995, the building features a traditional-looking clock tower that overlooks the corner of Robson and Denman streets. The owner commissioned local clockmaker Ray Saunders, renowned for not only the Gastown steam clock, but also a number of customized clocks around the world that serve as public works of art and tourist attractions.
The hotel has “flown under the radar” since then, bringing in a variety of international guests during the summer. Their guests range from Europeans to visitors from Australia and New Zealand who tend to prefer self-catering accommodations, to Westenders coveting this property in the off-season to house visiting friends and family. The unassuming hotel features 42 one-and-two bedroom suites, a roof-top patio for guests with gorgeous views of the city and mountains, and such amenities as a barbeque, a picnic table and relaxing sitting areas.
It was definitely not the usual spring and summer for this independent property. “When the pandemic hit, it was a shock for everyone. But we never closed.” General Manager, Jacqui McMullen, shares that as the onsite manager, she stayed on property along with their maintenance and reservations manager, with everyone else from the team in a holding pattern.
Meanwhile, the front desk was busy fielding phone calls, cancellations and refunds; it seemed they were just giving money back with not much room to negotiate the force majeure policies. But it wasn’t all bad, according to Jacqui. “At the same time, you’re exhilarated because you’re thinking, I’m part of the solution here and trying to figure this out.” They were grateful to be busy and thinking about how they could move forward and handle this crisis in order to survive.
Jacqui offers kudos to the BC Hotel Association for jumping to action by offering rates for healthcare workers and first responders. That, along with the owner’s philanthropic relationship with St. Paul’s Hospital, helped the hotel maintain an occupancy of up to 80% throughout April and May, albeit at a fraction of the revenue due to the discounted rates. But it kept the team busy.
By the end of May, the frontline bookings started to ease off and June was the most difficult period. Jacqui explains, “It was our worst month. We were grateful for the government subsidies that were introduced.” If it weren’t for the wage subsidy, they wouldn’t have been able to keep their employees at arm’s length. By summer, the hotel was relieved to start seeing customers that have been booking the hotel for the last two decades, ones that wouldn’t normally visit during the peak season due to pricing or availability.
Jacqui proudly speaks about their philosophy on supporting local businesses and charities that the pandemic has given them an opportunity to collaborate. For example, their team eventually sourced hand sanitizers for their guest room amenities from Gastown distillery, Odd Society, as one of their new health and safety protocols.
In the past, they have supported Adopt-An-Acre and Stanley Park Ecological Society through staff memberships and silent auction donations. But Jacqui is also realistic, “We have to be sensitive to how we spend now since budgets have been affected. So we are not doing more, but doing it differently.” Thus, if they can purchase face masks for their staff to wear from organizations that support Stanley Park, they will find a way to make that happen.
“We call Stanley Park our backyard and we always have. It’s a big reason why we are successful, especially now. We always tell our guests to visit; it’s a healing experience in the park,” adds Jacqui.
The team at Times Square Suites wants to encourage the community of Vancouver to let go of fear and trust that businesses are doing everything they can to keep their guests and staff safe. “If you live in a small place, this is an option to house friends and family,” Jacqui suggests as a way to keep visits safe. Businesses such as accommodations can help plan get-togethers that follow provincial health and safety guidelines. They encourage everyone to reach out, ask questions and let them help.
Jacqui shares some final wisdom about their operating philosophy during the pandemic, “It’s not about you or me, it’s about everyone’s comfort level.”
Just for now, not forever. But least for 2021.
ARTICLE BY: Kelly Liberatore, Creative Contessa Marketing
PHOTOS BY: Mark Kinskofer, Vision Event Photography, and Mick Slivecko
SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT BY: Joyce Lam, Kumquat Marketing