In search of hotel excellence: ARC The.Hotel

Colin Morrison
Colin Morrison

ARC The.Hotel is located in downtown Ottawa, Ontario (Canada’s capital city). With 112 rooms, this boutique property is ideally located for leisure and local business.

But what’s most appealing about the property is its distinguished quality of guest services. The staff is particularly friendly and ceaselessly helpful. I had the opportunity to discuss this with Colin Morrison, the general manager, to dig down to the roots of the property’s continued success.

Larry Mogelonsky: How did you get into the hotel business?

Colin Morrison: My introduction to the industry was somewhat accidental. I was raised in Montreal and was involved in scouting as a teen. In 1972, my father also started a steakhouse as a hobby in the Laurentians area in northern Canada. I had gained an interest in hospitality through my dad, but wasn’t thinking of it as a career. 

Through scouting I had the opportunity to meet Reg Groome, then the vice president of Hilton Canada. I remember having a conversation with Mr. Groome in his office in Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel and asking him, “If I was interested in hospitality as a career, what would I have to do to earn this office?” That conversation started a mentorship, which spanned several years. My first “official” hotel job was with Hilton Hotels in their Management Training Program at the Queen Elizabeth. That was back in 1982 when I was fresh out of university with a business degree, and I’ve haven’t looked back since.

LM: I have seen the TripAdvisor recounts. Guests love the property. What’s the secret?

CM: There is no specific “Special Sauce” for it. ARC The.Hotel offers more than a bed, bath and a meal. You can get that anywhere; we offer a unique experience in Ottawa. The experience is one of being pampered — from the greeting at the door to a glass of sparkling wine and Belgian chocolate as you check in; from the signature cocktails in the Lounge and inspired menu creations in our dining room to the daily turndown service featuring Granny Smith apples on your bedside and chocolates on your pillow. In short, we care, and to that end, I respond to every TripAdvisor review of the hotel. 

In addition to the unexpected creature comforts, the feeling is created by the team, who works tirelessly to maintain the experience. The selection process for new team members is also quite different. Our questions focus more on the individual and less on what they have done in the past. It’s more of a conversation than an inquisition. We are looking for a personality that is outgoing and friendly but calm when faced with pressure. We can train the job skills, but not the personality.

LM: How do you stay innovative with your food and beverage programs? 

CM: We are very fortunate to have a young talented chef who is dialed into the Ottawa food scene. He has established personal relationships with local farmers and producers to ensure only the best products arrive at our loading dock. Fresh ingredients and a progressive culinary team can achieve fantastic results. Equally important to the F&B experience is a service team who is passionate about the product and colorful in the presentation. Their ability to verbalize the menu is very important in creating the desired experience regardless of the time of day that our guests are dining.

LM: With new staff joining each year, how do you imbue the spirit of guest service excellence?

CM: In addition to the hiring process, we request that new team members experience the hotel as a guest. This allows the incumbents to see the hotel through the guests’ eyes and experience the service as a guest would. They are generally “wowed” by the experience, which makes a lasting impression. I have found that while this approach can be expensive, the benefits far outweigh the costs. An orientation program and position shadowing are also employed to ensure continuity to current standards. At the end of the training period, there is a one-on-one with the department head, and when time allows, the GM. We ask the new team member to be critical of their training and identify the areas where the training fell short, providing a venue for continued improvement.

LM: What lessons can you give other mid-range properties striving for improvement?

CM: A hotel is a business first. We all need to make the right business decisions to ensure the financial success of the operation, all while never losing sight of the guest experience. We all offer a clean room, a comfortable bed and a hot shower. What is it your property does differently from your competitors? Determine what your point of differentiation is, then focus on it. Talk about it to your team to get their buy-in. Talk about it with your guests to get their buy-in. Talk about it in public and create a buzz. Embrace social media and tell them about it. Make it your passion. You’ll be amazed by what follows. Energy flows where your attention goes.