“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.
As travel restrictions slowly lift in Canada it is welcoming news to those in the hospitality industry, as they will get to welcome back guests more freely and frequently than they had in the last 15 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a study in the Financial Post, occupancy rates dropped to 33.7 per cent in 2020 from 66.5 per cent the year before.
“Especially when we can start having sports teams travel again like our high school and college and university and junior hockey teams as well as hosting weddings and conferences, it will be very welcoming to be able to get a return to this normal.”
But he says they have been keeping busy, as people have still been travelling out of necessity.
“When most travelling got shut down, we were still open for essential services,” says Dholakia.
“There were people that still had to travel for essential business, people in health care related work for example, they were concerned for their safety. They knew they were at risk and their number one concern was, ‘is a hotel going to be a safe place for me to go?’”
Dholakia says they needed to make sure that safety was their top priority.
“Our goal was to provide that measure of safety for our guests and let them know that we can make them feel comfortable and give them the confidence that we are a safe and clean place that they can trust,” he says.
That is when Dholakia launched an industry-wide program called the Clean Promise Initiative.
“What that does is help communicate to our guests the high levels of cleanliness that we keep in all public areas and in our guest rooms. We have world-class cleaning protocols. That way our guests don’t have to feel at risk when they are travelling and staying at our hotels. Recently our hotel team was recognized with the Spirit of True Hospitality Award, which is given to hotels that achieve excellent results in the health and safety aspects during Covid-19. That’s also a great part of my job is having the team get recognized for achieving these great results.”
And the focus is continuing to be on making their guests happy and providing an experience they trust and expect, even as more competition rises up in the form of Air BnB accommodations.
“It’s great to see folks that are passionate about the hospitality industry and using platforms like Air BnB to promote their own services,” says Dholakia.
“Holiday Inn Express is part of the Intercontinental Hotel Group and there are 6,000 plus IHG hotels in the world. They are there to provide a consistent experience throughout all our properties. That’s what differentiates our IHG hotels and what Air BnB provides. They are there for unique experiences and local experiences and there is a market for that.”
Dholakia continues, “But when people are travelling in groups or even just with their families and they want a trusted experience, they know there will be someone at the front desk 24 hours a day to take care of them, they know we have amenities like free breakfast, a swimming pool, a fitness centre, fast reliable, and secure WiFi, and especially during a pandemic when cleanliness is the top priority, there is just something about having that trust that develops with your guests. And they can expect that trust across the globe whether you’re at a Holiday Inn in North Bay or a Holiday Inn in Australia.”
Dholakia has been the general manager of several hotels across North America. Born in India and immigrating to Canada at the age of 8, Dholakia and his family settled in the Hamilton/Stoney Creek area before moving to North Bay.
He says going into the hotel and hospitality industry wasn’t something he considered until he was sold on a program at Canadore.
“When I was in high school I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a career,” says Dholakia.
“My guidance counsellor was recommending something in civil engineering or wood working and luckily I didn’t choose either of those because I don’t think I would have been very successful in those industries. Our family had just moved to North Bay and I saw that Canadore College was offering a hospitality program and I was looking at the course and it just sounded interesting and sounded like something I wanted to try. Within the first few weeks, I realized how much I loved it, and basically, since that point it’s only been hotels and hospitalities for me.”
Dholakia says the program offers a wealth of experience.
“There’s lots of different hospitality courses that are offered such as culinary, restaurant, hotels, tourism. The one that I took was called the Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Administration,” he says.
“That gave you an overview of the food and beverage industry as well as an understanding of how the hotel industry works, both on a theoretical level and a practical level. It was a three-year program and if this is an industry you’re looking to be in, that would be a great place to start.”
Dholakia says the program had a number of field placements that helped give students a first-hand look at working in the industry.
“In the three years I took that course I did two field placements. The first one was at the Muskoka’s at a golf resort and then I travelled to Lexington, Kentucky where I worked at a big Mariott Hotel, a 400 room resort. I got a great experience working in their front office there,” he says.
“That’s the best part about taking these courses is that not only are you learning in the classroom but you’re getting experiential learning at all these amazing places as well.”
Once his career started, Dholakia moved around through the United States to different hotels and found himself rising in the ranks of hotel management.
“After Canadore, I went to Southern New Hampshire University to further my degree and did another placement through that. This one was in Atlanta, Georgia at a giant conference hotel that had 1,600 rooms. It was this gorgeous hotel right downtown and so I was living there for about 10 months,” he says.
“After I graduated from Southern New Hampshire University, I got hired on as a sales manager for a Hampton Inn in Worcester, Massachusetts. So, I got this opportunity to join this company that wanted to train new graduates who would become hotel managers and general managers. They had an amazing training program where they teach you everything, they put you in responsible roles and they let you learn on the job and within a year of doing sales, I was moved to a conference and hotel centre in Iowa City, Iowa and became the General Manager there.”
Following that stint, Dholakia says he was brought back north of the border to work to be the General Manager of a Hilton Garden Inn in Edmonton, Alberta.
“That was a 160-room hotel right by the International Airport. I was there for three years and my parents were still in North Bay and they floated the idea out there of exploring some great opportunities here and so the Holiday Inn Express was looking for a General Manager and so I interviewed and it worked out and I came back to North Bay.”
Dholakia says his experience isn’t rare for people in the business, but it isn’t expected either.
“Companies don’t expect people to move around as much as that, but if a candidate is willing to move around that is a great asset to the company,” he says.
“If a hotel management company is in need of a GM or hotel manager in a different location and they have a good candidate that can be promoted, it’s a good opportunity for that person to learn quickly and grow quickly if they are open to moving around. I think you have to be flexible with your locations if you are looking to grow with a company.”
Dholakia says running the day-to-day operations of a hotel is a rewarding career.
“As GM you get to work closely with all the different departments of the hotels. That includes housekeeping, maintenance, sales, front office, guest services, food and beverage. You get to interact with all these different skillsets and learn how to keep everybody as a cohesive team. So that’s my favourite part of the job is building that team and keeping everybody focused on achieving excellent results.”
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