The staff at Ottawa’s Lord Elgin Hotel knows there are other hotels in the city and region that can top it when it comes to luxury or amenities at the five-star level or beyond. However, no other hotel in Canada’s capital city can offer the location, service and rich history that have become the Lord Elgin’s trademark.
The 355-room hotel, opened in 1941, is just a short walking distance away from Canada’s Parliament Buildings, National Arts Centre, Museum of Civilization and National Art Gallery. Because of its location, many of the hotel’s visitors are there on government business much like one of Lord Elgin Hotel’s most famous former guests: Winston Churchill, who stayed there during World War II, General Manager David Smythe says.
Churchill wasn’t the first top government official to grace the Lord Elgin’s halls. Former Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King took the lead in naming the hotel prior to its 1941 opening, Smythe adds.
King, a history buff, named the hotel after James Bruce, the Eighth Earl of Elgin, who served as governor general to Canada during the mid-19th century. Bruce is credited with attempts to bring the country’s then-two geographic areas together and giving the Canadian Parliament the ability to self-govern. The hotel retains a regular relationship with Bruce’s ancestors in Scotland, who frequently visit.
In addition to guests on government business, the hotel also serves the corporate and leisure markets. All of Lord Elgin Hotel’s guests can expect a high level of treatment, regardless of their status. “We are probably the friendliest hotel to stay in in Ottawa,” Smythe says. “We make everyone feel at home while they’re here.”
Smythe credits the hotel’s service-oriented culture to its status as a fully independent hotel. The Lord Elgin Hotel is owned by the Gillin family, which owns three other hotels in Ottawa and the province of Ontario, but is not affiliated with a multi-national brand.
“We operate as a fully independent hotel,” says Smythe, who also serves as director of operations for the other Gillin hotels. “We’re not pretentious, and don’t have a national ‘brand speak’ that all of our employees must use – we have our own culture that we train our staff in, and at the root of our culture is incredible, friendly service.”
Although Smythe’s title is that of general manager, he considers his role to be more of a coordinator, as he believes in giving staff autonomy to make decisions in the best interest of the hotel's guests, operating within the Lord Elgin culture. “We’ve broken down the internal barriers of management between employees and management,” he says.
The hotel’s size also gives it the freedom to be flexible to the needs of its marketplace. As an example, staff members recently received training on Chinese culture in order to better serve the needs of travelers from that country. Tourism from China is a growing segment of the Canadian hospitality industry nationwide. “We have the ability to change what we do here more readily to meet market needs than a branded hotel,” Smythe adds. “As an independent hotel, we are forced to be more self reliant. We steer our own ship and take complete ownership for our successes and failures. It makes for a very strong team.”
The hotel Lord Elgin Hotel may stand alone when it comes to training and culture, but shares one common challenge with its larger corporate peers. “The need to stay up-to-date and keep things fresh is ongoing in hotels,” Smythe says.
Recent investments include a $175,000 renovation of the hotel’s lobby with new furniture and fixtures including a new chandelier. This is only the beginning of a much larger renovation program. The hotel is currently in the design phase to renovate its corridors and guest rooms.
The hotel shares updates on its latest developments to travelers and potential visitors through its Web site and social media efforts. “We’ve worked hard to make sure we’re visible online,” Smythe says, noting that search engine optimization efforts are a high priority. “The Web is fundamental to our ongoing success.”
The hotel is proud of its successes over the past 10 years. “We have consistently outperformed our competition and have achieved over 112 percent market penetration without the contribution of a brand,” Smythe says. “Everyone at the hotel feels a unique sense of duty and pride to work in this beautiful landmark with its strong links to Ottawa’s past, and we are honored to be a part of its rich history and culture.”