Canadian hotels are tightening up their cleaning protocols and hoping to welcome some pandemic-fatigued guests desperate to get out of the house for a few days this summer.
Last Thursday, the Hotel Association of Canada and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) released joint health and safety protocols to help the industry adapt to new pandemic standards.
“We felt it was important to have a North American guideline at a time when both of our economies are reopening,” said Susie Grynol, president of the Hotel Association of Canada.
“These enhanced protocols might include [more frequent disinfecting] of common touch surfaces like door handles, light switches, remote controls, faucets. And in a room where we have surfaces that are difficult to clean, like throw pillows, bedspreads, the pen and pad of paper, the magazines — some of these items might be removed altogether.”
The industry is trying to find ways to reopen safely after being pummelled by cratering revenue and massive layoffs since the pandemic began.
“We had a large percentage of hotels that did shut down across the country in a matter of 10 days. We laid off 80 per cent of our workforce, which represents north of 250,000 job losses,” said Grynol.
Brookstreet is a Canadian-owned and independently-run hotel in western Ottawa. Before the pandemic started, it had 340 employees; it has since reduced its staff complement to 19. As the hotel prepares for a planned reopening on June 1, it has been slowly bringing staff members back.
“We hope to get back to about 60 employees and then we’ll continue to grow as services come back online,” said Nyle Kelly, Brookstreet’s general manager.
Brookstreet has 276 rooms and 30,000 square feet of meeting space. Its average occupancy in normal times is 75 per cent; Kelly said it’s expected to operate at less than 5 per cent capacity for at least the next two months.
“I see tumbleweeds flowing through the lobby,” he said. “It’s quiet. It’s a little eerie, I guess, to see the hotel empty like this.”
Kelly said the hotel sector has been crippled by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be one of the last sectors to fully recover — because many hotels rely on renting out spaces for meetings and nobody’s in a hurry to arrange meetings right now.
“We don’t expect that part of the business to come back for quite a long time. So everything from trade shows to corporate conferences, to weddings, to galas, to fundraising type events — that’s all pretty much cancelled,” he said. “It hurts us massively because that also represents a lot of our guest room bookings too, as they’re associated with the conferences and banquet business.”
And not all of the pandemic’s effects on the hospitality industry will be short-term, he said.
“We are also going to see a major impact on business travel,” he said. “I think people are changing the way they do things. People will start doing more video calls and those types of things. So we’ll see less business travel moving forward.”
Brookstreet only has a handful of reservations for the month of June. It’s already making preparations for those few guests.
“Even before you arrive at the hotel, we’re going to have new technology to allow a guest to check in over their devices. They’ll have their keys emailed to them in advance,” said Kelly, adding that guests can open room locks with their phones. “They touch their lock and they can go directly to their room.”
New rules for cleaning
Rooms at Brookstreet will stay empty for 48 hours at a time, he said. While empty, they will be cleaned, disinfected and inspected before accepting another guest.
The Hotel Association of Canada is recommending that, unless a guest requests otherwise, rooms be cleaned only once per stay — when the guest checks out — to limit possible exposure for housekeeping staff.
The joint health and safety protocols also recommend the installation of acrylic shields at hotel front desks, the provision of personal protective equipment to staff as required, clear social distancing markers on floors and sanitation stations in all public areas.
When restaurants in hotels are ready to open again, they’ll have to find ways to maintain physical distancing. Brookstreet is cutting the number of available tables in its restaurant by half; other facilities are spacing tables out. Some hotels will continue delivering room service by leaving the food at the guest’s door.
Many hotels, Brookstreet included, are also purchasing electrostatic sprayers for disinfectant.
Along with more frequent cleaning, mobile check in/key technology and the installation of UV lights at the entrance to disinfect keys and phones, the Novotel Toronto Centre has also purchased bedlifts to help housekeeping staff clean underneath beds.
The Hotel Association of Canada says all of these extra precautions represent a heavy cost for an already ailing industry. It’s calling on the government for financial help.
“One of our key recommendations to the government is that there would be forgivable portions of the loans that have been made available for amounts that have been paid toward capital investments to keep people safe,” Grynol said.
Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.
Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.
“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.
Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.
Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”
In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.
Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.
“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.
Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis
More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.
The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.
But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”
At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.
Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.
“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.
In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.
($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)
Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants
Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.
Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.
“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.
Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.
Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.
“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)