“The new safety protocols will easily cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars”: What reopening looks like at five Ontario resorts
Travel is off the table for most Torontonians this summer, but not all is lost: many of southern Ontario’s charming destination hotels and resorts have opened up to overnight guests in the last few weeks. Toronto Life spoke to staff members at five popular resorts about their reopening plans, new safety protocols and more.
Chief operations officer, Pearle Hospitality (Elora Mill Hotel & Spa), Elora
“We made the decision to close March 15 and spent the next day planning what a closure would look like. When the news that we had to close came on March 17, we were forced to do everything much quicker than we would have wished. We laid off 220 people at Elora Mill alone. It was devastating and heartbreaking. The management team was here all night making phone calls—we didn’t want anyone to get the message via email. So many people had questions that we didn’t have answers for.
“We are a boutique hotel with 30 rooms and a luxury spa. Our restaurant and bar each have just over 100 seats. In our granary building, we have two beautiful event rooms where we host weddings of 80 to 200 people. We are just heading into our third year of operations, and we were set to have an extraordinary year. With the slow return of wedding business and the restrictions around indoors dining, we are anticipating to see less than 50 per cent of our budgeted revenue for the year. Our luxury condominium development is still on track—we were lucky as we were 80 per cent sold before Covid hit. We have had to hold back on building our planned glass pedestrian bridge, and we have also pushed back the opening of our wine cellar, tasting room and private dining area in the bottom cellar.
“The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy has been the saving grace for our reopening. With so many increased protocols and the decline in business, it would have otherwise been impossible. I know Restaurants Canada is fighting for an extension of the CEWS, and I can’t stress enough how much we need it. Corporate business that would normally return in the fall will not be there, and we are heading into our off season. We are a long way off from normal business volumes.
“We have brought back just over 100 team members. They’re all refreshed on health and safety practices and attend a reorientation session to help reduce the risk of prolonged exposure. We have given everyone masks and compact sanitizers and have all the necessary PPE. All guests will be required to wear masks in indoor public spaces as well. We have purchased ultraviolet light foggers for quickly and safely sanitizing guest rooms and soft seating in public areas, as well as thermometers, sanitizers, plexiglass barriers for the reception area and our manicure station, additional signage and more. We have additional staff members on for every shift who sanitize based on frequency of use. Costs associated to get this running with new protocols, if you were to include staffing and training, would easily be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“We reopened on June 18, and luckily outdoor dining was allowed by then in Wellington County. We’re planning to build a terrace between the mill building and the spa where we can serve a full menu al fresco. We have also put tables and chairs on our terrace rooms and in our larger suites so guests can enjoy a white tablecloth breakfast or dinner in the comfort of their own room. There is also dining on the pool deck, and our new to-go picnic baskets have been an incredible success.”
Owner and general manager, Ste. Anne’s Spa, Grafton
“We were closed from March 18 until June 12—we had to lay off about 75 per cent of staff. Four million dollars in cash flow just evaporated when we were closed, and our initial estimate is that we lost about $600,000 in net profit.
“We now have pre-arrival screening calls with guests, and we’ve eliminated any cancellation fee to encourage people to stay home if they don’t feel well or aren’t ready to travel. We do regular health checks with staff and much more sanitization, using PreEmpt and Saber Vert2Go disinfectant and sanitizing products. We clean high-touch surfaces throughout the day, and sanitize common areas nightly with a Health Canada-approved Clorox Total 360 machine. We strongly encourage mask use indoors and other areas where social distancing is not possible, and masks are required in the spa.
“At this point, our indoor dining room remains closed unless there is bad weather and our steam rooms and saunas are closed. We’ve had to drop or adapt a number of spa treatments: services that took place in our Hydro Rooms, for example, are not available, and those that previously involved a steam-room visit now include a warm shower rinse. We are hoping that many restrictions will be dropped or scaled back later this month.
“Dining options currently available to guests include patio service, takeout, picnic baskets and room service. We’ve also introduced new outdoor activities for guests, such as yoga and meditation sessions, with physical distancing standards in place. We are currently at 95 per cent capacity. Demand has been very high.”
VP of operations, Millcroft Inn & Spa, Alton
“The Inn closed on March 25. We could have stayed open as an essential service, but we decided to shut down temporarily for the safety of our guests and staff. Some team members stayed on to clean and update the property while it was closed. When we reopened in June, in-room dining was the only option for the first few weeks, but people wanted to get away from home so they enjoyed it. The Millcroft also offers many outdoor activity options like hiking, bike trails and beautiful scenic views, so guests were happy to be back.
“Our team has been learning to operate under our new ‘Duty of Care’ program, which is designed to go beyond public health recommendations. Now all areas of operation throughout the property have been redesigned or altered to ensure that guests and team members can practice physical distancing. We’ve also limited our capacity in public areas. For instance, the loungers in our pool areas are now grouped into pairs and are separated by a minimum of six feet. We’ve also ramped up our in-room cleaning protocols. We’ve removed all of the typical in-room amenities; now they’re pre-selected by our guests and delivered to their room in sanitized packaging. Once the guests check out, their rooms are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, linens are laundered in high heat at certified industrial facilities, and then the room remains vacant for a period of time between visits.
“At the beginning of July, our pools opened with distancing in effect, as well as new protocols like a zone system and time limits. Our spa is open to overnight guests only, with a full menu of treatments, including couples’ massages. We’re hoping to offer spa services to day guests soon. In accordance with the guidelines of Ontario’s phase 2, we have temporarily suspended all facial treatments and face waxing. In addition, we have temporarily suspended hot stone treatments and our shorter 25-minute treatments to prioritize hourly cleaning and sanitation protocols. All guests and staff will be required to wear masks during services, and we’re pacing out treatments so everyone can distance and find peace of mind.
“Each hotel room has been fitted with a table and chairs from our fine dining room, Headwaters Restaurant. In addition, the dining room terrace is now open. The view is spectacular.”
Director of sales and marketing, JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka, Minett
“The resort was not required by law to close, but we decided to shut our doors in mid-March. A few leadership team members worked at the resort every day during the closure to keep the building and grounds secure. Once commercial construction was permitted, we renovated our guest rooms and prepared for post-Covid operating procedures.
“We reopened on May 29, offering just the beach, rooms and take-out food. Now we’re fully operational. Patio dining, Spa Rosseau and our swimming pools are open, although many spa amenities—like couples’ services, hot tubs, steam rooms, saunas, showers, the HydroSpa and relaxation lounges—are not available yet. We are seeing excellent demand for summer as so many people in Ontario are eager to escape to nature.
“Marriott requires all of its resorts to implement a comprehensive plan called Commitment to Cleanliness. We will be audited once a month. A risk assessment and temperature check is done before each employee’s shift, and our associates will be washing or sanitizing their hands every 20 minutes. Bicycles, canoes, stand-up paddle boards, art workshops, and the pool table—all these activities need a tailored approach to sanitizing. For example, bicycles are sanitized after each use, and lounge chairs on the pool deck and on our two private beaches are arranged and assigned to encourage physical distancing.
“It is our goal to provide a luxury experience while maintaining an extremely safe environment for staff and guests. Curbside check-in is easy with our new digital keycard app. And daily housekeeping service and valet parking have been suspended.
“Financially, it is more expensive to operate the resort under the new protocols than it usually is, because of the extra staffing and supplies that are required. Plus, in the short term there will be less revenue because the indoor bar, restaurants and spa are not operating at present. When they do open, their capacity will be reduced.”
General Manager, Langdon Hall, Cambridge
“On March 16, we informed our staff we would be closing our doors and laying off nearly 300 team members. We knew it was the responsible choice to make, but that did not make it any easier for us. It was very quiet around the property during our closure. Seeing the parking lot empty every morning was difficult. But we took the opportunity to do some interior design work in the spa, as well as keep up on general maintenance in the grounds.
“There were a few challenges for reopening, including securing PPE and sanitizing products, as well as staying up-to-date with the constantly changing safety guidelines. I’m proud of our incredible staff, who have worked hard to adjust to all the new procedures, especially during this summer heat. Through all the face masks and shields their passion for providing genuine hospitality shines through. We’ve all learned to smile with our eyes.
“We reopened our doors to guests on June 21, once our region entered phase 2. This allowed us to offer outdoor dining and limited spa treatments. We currently offer hotel accommodations, outdoor dining, and treatments including manicures, pedicures, Swedish massage, reflexology and reiki. We also welcome intimate celebrations—a few couples have eloped here already.
“We’ve put many new protocols in place. For example, masks and face coverings are required in all indoor public spaces across the property—and as of July 13, masks are mandatory indoors in Waterloo Region. We’ve added hand sanitizer stations in key areas of the resort, and are providing guests with a personal supply upon check-in. At our spa, high-touch surfaces are disinfected hourly, and physical distancing will be maintained through the placement of furniture, change-room occupancy levels, and scheduling of reservations.
“We’re currently only offering outdoor dining, and our breakfast buffet is not available, but guests have the option to order breakfast á la carte. Our guests have been understanding of all the rules. They’re pleased to be back. We’re able to provide a much-needed escape to many people coming out of lockdown.”