The sudden halt to the economy due to the coronavirus pandemic has led to layoffs in the thousands at one of Canada’s biggest privately owned hotel and restaurant companies.
Northland Properties Corporation of Vancouver continues to employ hundreds to operate its Sandman Hotels and Sutton Place hotel chains and Denny’s and Moxie’s restaurants for take-out and delivery.
“We’ve been hit as an industry, deep and severe,” senior vice president of corporate affairs Taj Kassam said in an interview.
Kassam declined to specify how many of the company’s 12,000 employees were let go and how many remain.
“We are a major employer,” he said. “We basically looked at how to keep the company in a position where it can come out of this dire state.”
Senior leadership took 40% pay cuts, bonuses are suspended and they are working longer hours. “There’s a lot of dedicated senior leaders in this company, this is a family-owned company with a lot of family values and we’ve maintained that all along.”
The family is the Gaglardi family. Patriarch Bob Gaglardi was ranked 15th on the CEOWorld magazine list of richest in Canada last year, with an estimated $3 billion fortune. His son, president Tom Gaglardi, declined an interview request.
“We were, on a Friday, talking about some business strategies and, by Monday, the world had changed,” Kassam said, referring to the pivotal final weekend of winter. “It came very quickly, we have reacted accordingly.”
Mass-cancellations and legislated closures came on the cusp of what was expected to be a busy spring break and Easter period with favourable conditions at its ski resorts, Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Grouse Mountain. Instead, they are like ghost towns after public health officials and politicians implored citizens to stay home.
In the company’s hockey division, Kamloops Blazers laid-off about a dozen staff. The rest of the Western Hockey League season and playoffs were cancelled, as was the Memorial Cup. For the Dallas Stars of the National Hockey League, the rest of the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs are both in limbo. Commissioner Gary Bettman told NBCSN April 7 that it “may not be possible” to complete the regular season.
Stars president Jim Lites and general manager Jim Nill both took 50% pay cuts.
“The Gaglardis have been really good to us, they’ve always said yes to us on things we’ve needed to do to build the franchise,” Lites told the Dallas Morning News.
The economic crash came on the heels of major resort acquisitions: Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links in Dublin last October and the January purchase of Grouse Mountain from Chinese concern China Minsheng Investment Group (CMIG). Northland has not revealed what it paid, but Portmarnock was offered for the equivalent of $76.35 million, while Grouse’s asking price was $200 million when CMIG bought in 2017.
In February, Northland also bought two blocks in Dallas on the north and west sides of the Stars’ home rink, American Airlines Center, with plans to build a hotel and a conference centre. The company also has hotel projects on the go in Saskatoon and Halifax.
Tourism Industry Association of B.C. said member hotels saw occupancy drop to below 10% at a time of year when 60-70% occupancy is normal. Kassam said some of Northland’s downtown and airport hotels dropped to 10-15% occupancy, but those in northern B.C. still enjoy blue collar guests.
Is the company capitalized to withstand the storm?
“We intend to get through this, that’s the reason we’ve taken the measures we’ve taken, we are committed to get through this,” Kassam said.
“At this stage, when we look at the horizon, we don’t have [sale of assets] on our horizon. With all the help the government has done to make sure our employees are well-protected and looked after, we have a plan in place.”
Restaurants Canada estimates 800,000 foodservice jobs were lost nationwide since March 1. It jointly lobbied the federal government for relief, with Hotel Association of Canada and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. Part of the $107 billion federal plan includes deferred GST and HST payments until June, loans, credit and the 75% Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. The latter program is for employers that suffered a plunge in monthly revenue of at least 30%, on a year-over-year basis.
“We’re in trying times and I hope we get through this very quickly and put everybody’s lives on track again,” Kassam said. “So we are certainly diligently working towards making sure that we as soon as we can bring our employees back.”
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