How one Kelowna hotel chain has handled the pandemic

The 'new normal' at hotels

Sarita Patel

The tourism industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic. But with the Okanagan summer now in full swing, many hotels are fully booked and juggling peak season and pandemic precautions. 

Stephen Dodwell, regional general manager for Pomeroy Lodging, says he’s just grateful to be able to bring back his employees. 

“Business was looking quite strong and quite literally overnight March came and the doors were closed. We laid off or put onto short term leave virtually everybody,” he said.

Along with the now-routine safety protocols like hand sanitizer, floor markers as reminders to stay six feet apart, Dodwell says they offer a grab-and-go option for breakfast and no more turndown service for guests staying more than one night. 

“They can request service, and we’d do it, but that tentatively has gone away. All the paperwork, all the information in the rooms, bibles, cleaning materials, all that stuff had to go,” he said, explaining they stripped the rooms down to the basics. 

The pool has now reopened but guests must book a one-hour slot online with a maximum of ten people allowed in at one time.

The hotel’s biggest business challenge is being unable to host any events, but they are adapting. 

“We had a little dinner last week. It was only for 20 people, but it takes an entire ballroom because they all have to be far away … it’s kind of weird to start with but you get used to it and it just becomes the norm.”

Dodwell said his employees adapted quickly to “the new normal.”

“I think it took a little bit to get back into the work routine, because Kelowna in the summer is beautiful, and think I’m enjoying my time off as much as I’m missing work, but everybody has come back and they just accept it.”

He says they have been able to bring about 80 per cent of their pre-pandemic staff back onboard.

“It’s hard for housekeepers. That’s probably the toughest job in this industry, cleaning bedrooms and cleaning up after everybody. We ensure they wear masks and they have extra cleaners, extra sanitizers, extra clothes and all that good stuff.”

For the customers, he says communication has been key. 

“Everybody’s been asking us for all the horror stories, but there really aren’t any,” he said, suggesting Canadians may be more accepting of COVID guidelines.

“It’s not fighting against any of our constitutional rights — it’s just a bit of a nuisance.”

The 97 St. Pub initially reopened, but due to the cluster cases in Kelowna after the Canada Day long weekend, it closed again. It hopes to reopen on Friday.

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