royal york toronto

How Toronto's most historic hotel is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic

Built in 1929, Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel has been through a lot: it survived the Great Depression, World War II, 9/11, and 2008’s recession. According to its General Manager Edwin Frizzell, the hotel will also survive COVID-19.

While it's not busy with many customers at the moment because of travel restrictions and widespread quarantine measures, it's still mostly business as usual for the Royal York.

“It was important for us to continue to be at the heart of the community,” Frizzell said. Guests are still staying at the hotel.

The COVID-19 pandemic is something our hotel and the entire hospitality and tourism industry could have never expected. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Our Fairmont Royal York family of 1,100+ colleagues have devoted anywhere from two months to over forty years of their lives serving our guests and other colleagues. Due to the current circumstances, the vast majority of these colleagues have been placed on temporary layoff or have had hours significantly reduced. While there is government support and we are working with our teams to leverage these resources, we know that this will only go so far, as this crisis continues.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Fairmont Royal York colleagues are family and we want to ensure that their own families do not go hungry.⁣ ⁣⁣ Please join us in supporting our colleagues by clicking the link in our bio to donate today.⁣⁣ *100% of the donations from our GoFundMe page will go directly to employees who are facing uncertain personal and financial circumstances, including those in danger of losing housing and other essential resources.*⁣⁣ ⁣ In addition to this, Fairmont Royal York will match each generous donation made.⁣ ⁣⁣ Together we can make a difference and bring these hardworking individuals back to work mentally and physically healthy.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Second Photo by @tylersjourney ⁣ ⁣⁣ #FairmontLove #HospitaltyStrong⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣

A post shared by Fairmont Royal York (@fairmontroyalyork) on

“The few people that perhaps found themselves without a place to go or wanted, at the early stages of the crisis, to make sure that they were isolating themselves away from family members if they'd been traveling — we thought it was important to make sure that we continue to provide that place for anyone who felt that they wanted to seek accommodations.”

The hotel is taking on a few additional initiatives during this time not just to help out frontline workers, but also to assist its employees and to boost morale throughout the city.

The hotel is running a Rest Safe program, which allows frontline hospital workers the opportunity to stay as guests.

The Hospital Foundation for Mount Sinai, St. Michael’s Hospital, and the University Health Network have partnered with the hotel’s ownership group KingSett Capital to provide complimentary accommodations, Frizzell said.

The service provides doctors and nurses with “a place between their shifts, or in the event that they don't wish to do a commute, or that they want to have a quiet and restful place that they can get away from the hard work that they're doing,” Frizzell said. “We're happy to provide that safe and a comfortable place for them.”

To that effect, the hotel is following strict guidelines to remain clean and sanitized, providing PPE for its staff and guests as needed.

“We have a very heightened frequency of sanitization in” in high-touch areas such as elevator buttons, door handles for entrances, stair railings, Frizzell said.

The hotel is using chemicals that have been certified to manage this particular virus, he added. And when it comes to interaction between guests and staff, the hotel is following a no-contact model of service.

“We're doing all the right things to keep everyone safe,” he said.

In addition to the Rest Safe program, the Royal York is also providing support for its staff that have been temporarily laid off during this time.

Because the food and beverage and meeting facilities in the hotel have been closed for the duration of the pandemic, and because of low occupancy at the hotel, the majority of the hotel’s staff is on temporary layoff, Frizzell said.

“We're working with the staff that are at home to leverage all of the available assistance that's provided to them,” he added.

This means that the hotel is helping laid-off staff apply for employment insurance premiums and the COVID-19 emergency benefit being offered by the government, and it is awaiting instruction from the federal government on proper employment of the wage subsidy so that staff are able to come back to work sooner than later, Frizzell said.

They’ve also been working on assembling Easter food hampers — 400 will be issued to staff this Easter weekend, he added.

Additionally, there is an Employee Relief Fund set up on GoFundMe for staff. “It's not a typical thing for us to do as an organization, but the staff here at the hotel that are still working really wanted to do something to continue to find ways to provide support for our staff at home,” Frizzell said.

And then there’s the heart. Every night certain rooms at the Royal York are lit up in the shape of a heart.

“Early on in the crisis, it was a very dark and difficult time for everyone, everyone period,” Frizzell said. “But particularly for those of us in hospitality as we literally went from probably one of the busiest periods of the year [...] to having the hotel practically empty.”

Along with the subsequent layoffs, it was a grim time with spirits in the hospitality space dim, he said.

With the heart, “we wanted to send a message not only to our staff, but to the thousands and millions of people in downtown Toronto that are also being affected, and working from home, and in self isolation, [and tell them] that we've been the heart of the community for 90 years and we're going to be here after this is over,” Frizzell said.

Frizzell can see the heart glowing every night from his home, he said. “It warms my heart every night.”

Lead photo by

A Great Capture

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