Westmont Hospitality aiming to step up their game food and beverage game

The Westmont Hospitality group got its start in the early 1970’s. It was formed by leveraging friends’ and family resources to acquire local hotels in Canada and the US. In 1978 Westmont Hospitality group was awarded their first Holiday Inn franchise. By 2003, Westmont created InnVest, one of the largest Hospitality Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT) listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Today, Westmont is a global player with many of the sector’s top hotel brands in their portfolio. Whether it is a Marriott, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Weston, or Sheraton, you have probably stayed in one of their properties.

We had a chance to speak with Westmont’s Salim Mukadam, Senior Vice President of Operations, Canada. Mukadam admitted that COVID-19 certainly took its toll on the group. However, they were able to survive based on quickly adapting and looking for alternative revenue options. Substituting as a COVID solve for extended care and retirement home strains, or student residencies, helped Westmont maintain cash flow for survival.

Looking forward, Mukadam is positive about 2023. Although Q1 of this past year was tough, the rest of the year has been very positive.

“This recovery has been driven by domestic travel and is mostly rate driven. To date, there has been little pushback on rate increases we felt were necessary. There is a lot of pent-up demand. Canadians faced some of the harshest lockdowns and they are now on the move. Plus, people are sitting on cash.”

Mukadam noted that in the past, just half of travel tourism was domestic. “Today our guests are 90% domestic travelers. Canadians and sports teams are traveling again, and we are expecting a record-high in December across many properties.”

One of the key factors for Westmont’s success and positive outlook has been their “doubling down” strategy for staff training and retention. Mukadam outlined this shift in Westmont’s thinking.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we hired 1,100 people and 400 left each month. That is not a sustainable business model. We want to be fair and equitable with respect to compensation. We realized that we needed to put some fun back in it, as we are in the hospitality business!”

High performers that were selected from various hotels were dispatched back out to train staff on key service levels that Westmont wanted to deliver across all their properties. It was a significant investment, and the Westmont group is starting to see it pay dividends.

Taking a holistic approach, the group moved staff as necessary across the country to help during peak events. This cross-training experience helped build morale and staff retention.

“We also want our GM’s to be focused on local market development which requires effort. We use best practices from across the country to help them. We need them to be plugged into the local Hotel Association, the Chambers of Commerce, and other governing bodies in order to help drive growth.”

Westmont has employed displaced Ukrainians during these challenging times and could do more if the government would speed up the processes. Missing two years of immigration has had a significant impact.

For 2023, Mukadam is making a big bet on food and beverage (F&B) sales and restaurant operations.
“The restaurant is usually treated as a separate entity. And our salespeople don’t focus on it. Why not? That is the question we are asking? We want to elevate the overall guest experience. That will require completely different training. That is why we are looking to Foodbuy for help. We are expecting to bring in our top F&B staff for additional training, menu design, and optimizations in an effort to step up our game in this area. Foodbuy has a wealth of resources available that we want to tap into to ensure our success.”

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