Victoria’s iconic Fairmont Empress hotel reopens for business
VICTORIA -- The 112-year old Fairmont Empress hotel welcomed its first guests in more than three months Friday.
On the heels of B.C. Premier John Horgan announcing Phase 3 of the province’s COVID-19 restart plan, which endorses travel within the province, many hotels and tourism operators are beginning to open up again.
There seems to be cautious optimism in the air of Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
“Today is a really important day for us,” said Indu Brar, general manager of the Fairmont Empress.
After the hotel closed its doors due to the pandemic, it has taken a lot of work to get the massive facility ready to welcome guests again.
Cleaning up the grounds, restocking kitchens and installing physical distancing items were some of the many tasks that needed to be completed.
The first high tea will be served Saturday, June 27, at noon and all the hotel’s bars and restaurants are up and running.
Although the hotel is open, nobody at the Empress is expecting a banner year.
“Everyone will be challenged and we know it,” said Brar. “We know that typically our summers are full of a lot of international guests and a lot U.S. business … We’re not going to see that this year.”
Down the road, the Hotel Grand Pacific opened up its doors again on Sunday. As expected, business is slow.
“We were between five and ten per cent this week,” said Reid James, general manager of the Hotel Grand Pacific.
That’s not a great start, but with the transition to Phase 3, there are now reasons for optimism.
“As soon as that was announced, we knew that our phone would start to ring more,” said James. “And that’s what it did.”
Paul Nursey is the CEO of Destination Greater Victoria. He says this summer is going to be tough for all tourism operators.
“You have to understand that just because a business is open, doesn’t mean they’re profitable,” said Nursey. “Many of our tourism operators are actually going further into debt to stay open, but at least this is a start.”
Another Inner Harbour staple is also set to reopen this weekend: Tally-Ho Carriage Tours.
“It’s an extremely limited capacity for us, but we’re going to give it a go,” said Donna Friedlander, owner and operator of Tally-Ho Carriage Tours.
The company will be operating on a weekend-only schedule, but if there is enough demand, it would like to increase that capacity.
“Best-case scenario for us is that we have enough business to get out more than that,” said Friedlander.
It’s early days and time will tell if businesses can make a go of it, but Victoria’s Inner Harbour is once again beginning to show signs of life.