LITTLE CURRENT— With two years under its belt, the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre and its board of directors, comprised of representatives of the six First Nation shareholders, have made the decision to hire a hotel management firm to oversee the day-to-day operations of the fledgling hotel.
“We’ve had some growing pains and challenges,” admits hotel board member Kevin Eshkawkogan. “We’ve hired a hotel management firm. We didn’t do that at first, but decided to revisit it in our business plan.”
On top of being self-sustaining, Mr. Eshkawkogan explained that the goal of the hotel was always to grow the greater Manitoulin economy and tourism business. To see these goals fulfilled and to have the hotel achieve its full potential, the decision to hire Liberty Hospitality, a company based out of Barrie and Ottawa, was made.
The new management team, comprised of Stella Gan and Jennifer Sansford, are on-site now, acclimatizing themselves to the new hotel and meeting staff.
“We’re letting them, the experts, run the hotel,” he continued. “Right now they’re assessing what exactly needs to be done.” Mr. Eshkawkogan noted that one issue that was brought forward immediately was the layout of the bar and restaurant, which is temporarily closed.
He assured that the restaurant “was not going to be closed forever,” but that the search was underway to find a right fit for the hotel.
“We’re still doing the catering side,” he added, noting that there are numerous weddings booked for the summer.
There have been some rumours that the hotel would soon be franchised into a Days Inn. “That’s not necessarily true,” he said. “We have been exploring franchises since day one. We’re always open to options, franchises and what they offer.”
Speaking in his other capacity as chief executive officer with the Great Spirit Circle Trail (GSCT), he noted that having the hotel in operation means that the ceiling for GSCT business, which, among other things, sells experiential tourism packages, including accommodation, has been lifted.
“From a GSCT perspective, we’ve seen growth to close to triple digits in travel business (since the hotel’s opening),” he added. “And our GSCT tours have grown substantially. We’ve already booked seven motor coach tours for next season, with stays at the hotel.”
He urged those thinking of booking the hotel and conference centre for this fall and winter to do so quickly as bookings are coming in.
Ms. Gan, the sales and marketing person with Liberty Hospitality, who started with the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre last week, told The Expositor that when her organization was approached, it was their smaller size and hands-on approach that was appealing to the board.
“No one would dispute that this is a beautiful building, a beautiful hotel,” Ms. Gan said.
She noted the lack of management experience the hotel has seen, and the rate of turnover, adding that no one had done a bad job, just that there was insufficient training.
“Our mission is to get it to where it should be,” Ms. Gan said. “The blessing is they have great staff. The team here really, really cares about the hotel and the operation. It makes our job that much easier.”
Prior to coming to Manitoulin, the Liberty Hospitality team opened a 60-room Days Inn in Sioux Lookout and so got a sense of the trials and tribulations of a Northern Ontario hotel.
“We treat our clients’ properties like our own,” she said.
Ms. Gan explained that there is a minimum five-year plan, but Liberty Hospitality is “here indefinitely.”
“I want to see the hotel into the global market. Right now, it’s not even visible in the global distribution market,” she added. “We would also like to see the meeting rooms filled all the time and, in turn, benefitting the Island.”
“We need all the necessary bodies and staff in place—training, delivery and standards all need to be raised,” Ms. Gan said. “We will for sure be adding more staff.”
To make a reservation or a booking at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre, call 705-368-9966 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.