Empress Hotel eyes late-June reopening

The Fairmont Empress, Victoria’s grand hotel and most famous landmark, is expected to reopen in late June, but a specific date and the extent of service it will provide is still unclear.

Tracey Drake, the hotel’s director of marketing and public relations, confirmed Wednesday the Empress is being prepared to reopen. The 474-room hotel, along with its restaurants, bars, pool and spa and meeting spaces, was shuttered March 23 amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We are working hard right now toward a late June opening, but that is tentative,” Drake said in an email. “As with every hotel emerging from closure, our first priority is to ensure the hotel is set up to welcome guests and patrons back in a safe way and in compliance with provincial health orders.”

Several of Victoria’s larger Inner Harbour hotels are planning along similar timelines and strict safety protocols. The Hotel Grand Pacific announced last week it will start a gradual reopening June 21 of its 304 rooms and other services. The Inn at Laurel Point is accepting reservations for stays starting June 26.

Drake said initial plans at the Empress call for welcoming guests back for overnight stays and limited food services, including in-room dining and lunch and dinners on the hotel’s veranda.

“After all the time spent indoors, this will be a welcome spot for Victoria to enjoy the summer weather and take in the harbour views and activity,” said Drake.

She said only a select number of rooms will be available upon reopening. Exactly how many will be determined closer to the opening date and based on tourism in the city and consumer demand.

The Empress laid off about 480 staff in March, shortly after many of them ratified a new union contract. It isn’t clear when and how many will be recalled. “This will depend on tourism volumes in the city, consumer demand and hotel bookings,” said Drake.

The 112-year-old Empress has long been a symbol of pride for locals, who can often be seen strolling through the hotel. That will now be restricted to guests and dining patrons. Drake said entrances will be limited to follow provincial guidelines for social distancing and cleanliness. “To ensure the safety of our guests and our colleagues, the hotel will be open for staying guests and dining patrons,” she said.

The Empress is owned by Nat and Flora Bosa of Vancouver, who poured in more than $60 million worth of improvements over the past several years. It has been managed since 2016 by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, a unit of Accor Hotels, a French multinational hospitality company that has put in place its AllSafe program for enhanced safety and operational protocols in light of the pandemic.

AllSafe provides guidelines for the operation of every aspect in the hotel, from reservations and check-ins to guest rooms, public spaces, restaurants and check-outs.

Among the measures are mandatory screenings for all guests and employees, which might include temperature checks at least 48 hours before a room is occupied again, increased frequency of cleaning and disinfecting with a focus on high-touch points and extensive training for staff.

“Canada’s Castle on the Coast has been an iconic part of Victoria for more than 112 years,” said Drake. “Closing our doors was a sad day, and we are so looking forward to opening again and welcoming our local community back to the Fairmont Empress.”

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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