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Two hotels cautiously optimistic about reopening

One shut down during the lockdown, the other remained open

OLDS — The lifting of some pandemic restrictions in Stage 2 by the province appears to have spurred business a bit for at least two hotels in Olds, even though hotels and motels were allowed to remain open the entire time of the lockdown.

Hotels, motels, rental units and similar facilities were considered essential so the sector was never required to close by the province, according to an Alberta Health Services spokesman.

“They are allowed remain open, although they’re required to must follow AHS guidelines and advice to keep staff and guests safe,” the spokesman said.

Ramada By Wyndham Olds, was actually shut down for two and a half months during the lockdown even though theoretically, it could have stayed open, said Erin Wallace, the hotel's general manager.

The hotel is owned by Canalta Hotels out of Drumheller.

Lack of revenue was a big reason for that closure.

“There was just nobody staying, so we shut it down for two-and-a-half months,” she said during an interview.

And now, revenue is improving.

“They started getting calls that people were starting to want to stay here again,” she said. “I’ve got some people in my parking lot so I’m (feeling) awesome.”

Another reason for the closure was that Wallace was on maternity leave at the time. She wasn’t due back until the end of May.

“They just decided ‘we’ll leave it closed until Erin can get there and get things back up and running',” she said.

When Wallace was interviewed, seven of the hotel’s 18 regular staff members – including herself -- were back at work. When asked if she anticipates having all 18 employees back working again, she said, “absolutely.”

Health officials have said there’s a good chance a second wave of COVID-19 will likely occur this fall, in conjunction with the flu. There’s even a chance a third wave will occur.

In light of that, Wallace was asked if the Ramada By Wyndham Olds will be shut down again if or when those waves occur.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “My plan is to stay open but we have to sort of go by what head office says and I’m sure their plan is to stay open as well.”

Pomeroy Inn & Suites general manager Dawn Anderson says that hotel stayed open throughout the lockdown.

“We never closed, because for us, should we have considered closing, we still would have needed to have three people on staff at any given time to secure the hotel. So at their very lowest point, we had six employees (working),” she said.

“Our company believes it was more important to provide for those people and so we didn’t close.”

She said when the lockdown occurred, the hotel had to lay off about two-thirds of its staff. As of early June, about 50 per cent were back at work.

“We do still have about 50 per cent of our part-time and some full-time employees who are on a leave of absence. However, our company continues to pay their entire medical/dental…they’re still supporting them,” Anderson said.

She said she’s “subtly optimistic” the hotel will remain open if there’s a second and maybe third wave of COVID-19.

“We see light at the end of the horizon, for sure,” Anderson said.

“We feel comfortable with our property and all of the protocols that we’ve put in place for disinfecting and going through and taking care of our team and our guests that it will impact us less the second time around if anything was to happen,” she said.

Anderson said the hotel is seeing a bit of an increase in weekday business and traffic as businesses in the oil and gas as well as agriculture sector begin to travel again. 

However, she said a lot depends on what will happen with sports and events like dance competitions.

“For us, where our biggest concern has been (is) that our property is very much weekend-focused,” she said.

“A lot of our business came from sporting events, dance competitions, conferences, weddings. And those are all things that unfortunately are still on the back burner.”

Stage 2 allows pools to reopen for recreation. Anderson said hotel officials will have to look at that carefully.

“With Stage 2 allowing for hotels to reopen their pools, that will probably help us with our weekend business because I believe families are just wanting to get out and go and do some fun stuff together,” she said.

“But there’s new protocols and legislation involved in reopening your pool. So that’s something that we’re entertaining right now and visiting how to do that.

“You have to have a full-time attendant in your pool area for every hour that it’s open moving forward and that’s not something hotels had to do before. So there’s an impact there, financially.”