For my summer vacation this year, I decided to take my wife on a road trip through the province of Quebec, visiting six different properties, two family friends and one dear sister in a little more than a week’s time. (I use the term “vacation” liberally insofar as I was answering emails and in and out of meetings every day. Nonetheless, we had a blast.)
For those unfamiliar with the finer points of this Canadian gem, know that much like the rest of the Eastern seaboard, it is steeped in colonial history, warfare and citizens proud of their heritage. However, outside of pockets in Louisiana, not many other places on this continent can boast a culture that is unwaveringly French — the language is preserved by government decree, the food is more reminiscent of France than of regular Canadian fare and the rural regions serve as last stands against outright Americanization. If you want to experience the real Canada, you have to tour Quebec. My advice: do it in summer as the winters, though beautiful with everything caked in white snow, range from very cold to it-hurts-to-even-look-outside. And don’t worry about the language barrier. There are some small towns where English isn’t spoken, but overall, you can survive quite well without French, and figuring out the signage can make for a few entertaining detours.
Attempting to impress my wife (who was a little peeved that our vacation was still a working holiday for yours truly) meant only one thing: luxury. And in Quebec, the brand you can bank on to deliver on this front is Fairmont. When this chain consolidated ownership of the properties originally built by the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways, it inherited some of the most majestic and iconic buildings in the nation. This includes the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, which is on almost every postcard of the city (and Canada, for that matter), and the Queen Elizabeth, which, naturally, sits atop the train station. Let’s not forget Chateau Montebello, which is one of the world’s largest log cabins. There may be a few hotels that outclass Fairmont within the province, but if you want to combine luxury and heritage in Quebec Fairmont is pretty much the only name in the game.
Much like my definition for “vacation,” the word “heritage” does not mean only one thing. When it comes to hotels, heritage is the oft-prescribed politically correct term for “old” or “in need of maintenance.” Fairmont’s properties are all firmly within the luxury class, but some are in need of a makeover to stay apace with the ever-increasing standards of top-tier hospitality. That said, it’s far easier to renovate a 15- to 20-year-old concrete and steel-framed tower than it is a 90-plus-year-old log cabin.
Rest assured, all of the chain’s properties have undergone upgrades within the past few years or are in the queue for one very soon. In the meantime, what keeps their customers raving is not the ultra-modern spa or world-class fitness facilities but the simplest of all gifts: superb service.
Providing each and every visitor with the attention they deserve is the glue to hold your occupancy numbers together while you wait for bank loans to be approved so you can afford that $10+ million facelift. And the best part is: it’s wholly in your control! You can hire people who are passionate about hospitality, and you can retrain employees to refine their service techniques. It can make up for any pitfalls your property might have on the physical side, so now that we are drifting into autumn, give another thought to how your staff — and not just your features and amenities — will emotionally impact your guests.
(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in HOTELSmag on September 2, 2013)