Sylvan Lake hotelier Bert Messier and his staff were looking forward to reopening the Best Western Plus closed since October.
The hotel was set to be the host accommodation provider for the Sentinel Storage Alberta Scotties Tournament of Hearts later this month.
Last Friday, Curling Alberta announced it was cancelling the provincial championships because of the state of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Both events scheduled Jan. 25-31 in Sylvan Lake, the Boston Pizza Cup Presented by Best Western and Tournament of Hearts were cancelled, along with the Alberta Mixed Doubles Provincial Championship.
Messier said on Monday that the cancellations were a “big disappointment” to staff, who had been looking forward to returning to work at the hotel on Lakeshore Drive.
“I don’t know yet when we will re-open until I meet with my key staff this week to assess what reservations may be on the books,” he said in an email.
Alberta’s hospitality industry has been hard hit, first by the lingering oil and gas downturn, then by the pandemic which is now in its 10th month.
The financial difficulties of operating a hotel full of empty rooms prompted Messier to look at other options.
Last week, the town’s municipal planning commission narrowly approved a recommendation to allow him to convert the 72-room hotel at 5027 Lakeshore Drive into 57 apartment suites. It was scheduled to come before Sylvan Lake council on Monday night for final approval.
Whether he continues to operate as a hotel or converts to apartments — a $2 million project — will depend on the economics, he said in an interview last week before news broke of the curling cancellations.
“At least we’ll have another option on the table depending on how things are going and where they’re at in the next month or two,” he said.
“I have to live in the world of options. If you’ve got your back to the wall I have to look and see what else can I do.”
Messier said the province’s hotel industry is in a “crisis situation” and he is critical of a lack of government support to help it.
“(We) feel like the blind are leading the blind, not knowing what will confront us tomorrow never mind next week,” he says.
“The curling tournament is a prime example of that. In the meantime, all the fixed operating costs need to be paid and like every other small business, many of us don’t know how long we can hang in.
Messier said it is a “very sad situation and many of us may not — or I should say will not — survive 2021.”
Dave Kaiser, president and CEO of the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association, said the industry is looking at other uses for empty hotels, such as creating more affordable and seniors housing. A hotel in Calgary is being converted to affordable housing for children, women and seniors.
“There could be more. It is something that we have actively promoting for the government to look at,” said Kaiser.
“Many places, quite frankly, have more hotel rooms than the market can support, not only for today but maybe for the foreseeable future.”
In Red Deer, 109 apartments will be created in the Baymont by Wyndham, formerly the Red Deer Lodge. The plan is to keep 125 hotel rooms on the west side of the building.
“The reality is the industry is just in survival mode quite frankly,” he said. “Red Deer is almost the worst city in Alberta in terms of occupancy and over-supply of rooms.
“Owners are certainly open to alternatives, and we’re starting to see it.”