The city of Val-d’Or will be stepping up to the plate when it comes to offering accommodations and meeting spaces to clients from the north and abroad at the new Quality Inn and Suites, slated to open in January 2011.
On June 28, Crees from the Cree Regional Economic Enterprises Company (CREECO), various political representatives from Quebec and Canada, and Val-d’Or’s mayor Fernand Trahan gathered for a press conference at the L’Escale Hotel to discuss their rapidly developing new hotel project.
While the L’Escale was being pummeled by rain outside, deep within the hotel’s bowels was a room that radiated with sunny smiles and beaming pride from those who had worked so hard to get to this day.
Denis Lebel, Minister of State for Canada Economic Development, took the stage first to welcome an audience that included Crees from various communities, members of the media, Trahan’s political entourage and family and Quebec Aboriginal Affairs Minister Pierre Corbeil.
With pride Lebel announced the project, a 50/50 joint venture partnership between CREECO and Trahan, whose family has been in the hotel industry in Val-d’Or for generations.
Getting his first crack at the podium, Trahan spoke of the years that this project has been in development and the many years that the Crees have been doing business in the region. He spoke of his pride in being partners with the Crees and his delight in finally being able to show the fruits of a 40-year business relationship between the Crees and the business community of Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
CREECO President Jack Blacksmith then spoke, first in Cree and then in English.
Blacksmith too acknowledged the lengthy history of the Cree in Val-d’Or since they have been coming to the city for meetings and gatherings for several decades and just recently took over an entire hotel for the June Cree Youth Symposium.
With so many Cree businesses already established within the city, Blacksmith explained how this new venture is a logical leap economically, since they have this new opportunity to gain expertise from the experts.
“We are very strong in terms of the economic situation in this city and by participating in this hotel, we feel we are taking that next step in terms ownership of some of the companies in this city. But, as the mayor said, we are 50/50 partners and we partnered with these people because of their expertise and knowledge of the industry. On top of that, Mayor Trahan has always been a great friend to the Cree. So we partnered with them to steal some of their minds to give to our people so that we will know how to operate hotels,” said Blacksmith.
The hotel project was described as a high-end three-story hotel establishment with two high-tech, executive-style conference rooms. The facility will have 82 rooms, a fitness centre and offer an upscale continental breakfast service.
In speaking with Blacksmith just after the event, he described why the project will be beneficial for the Crees. In that the Crees bring a tremendous amount of money into the region, the creation of the hotel partnership will now see some of that revenue going back into the communities and address the economic leakage problem that has existed since the Crees began doing business in Val-d’Or.
Blacksmith said he is also feeling particularly confident about the project. “I can’t give you a dollar figure (on what the hotel is expected to bring in), but there will be 82 beautiful rooms and we are looking at a 60-65% occupancy rate and that is going to be really good. If you do the math, this is not going to be a money-losing venture,” he said.
Though Trahan is still involved with the L’Escale Hotel (across the street from the new project), Blacksmith explained the hotels will complement each other as there will be no competition with the restaurant and bar at L’Escale because the Quality Inn will not offer lunch or dinner service, a bar or video lottery terminals. L’Escale, which is undergoing renovations, will still be the hot spot in the region for gala affairs and major receptions.
The choice not to offer these services was explained as a means to keep with the healthier lifestyle ethic that is growing in the Cree Nation.
During the press conference, Blacksmith also made the announcement that one of the conference rooms will be named the Albert W. Diamond Executive room in honour of the late former Air Creebec President and mentor to many at CREECO. It was Diamond who had first envisioned the hotel project many years ago with Trahan.
Diamond’s widow, Janie, and many of his relatives were on hand for the announcement.
“I am very proud and I am happy that one of his dreams is finally being fulfilled today; we are very happy and overwhelmed,” said Janie Diamond.
Marc St-Gelais, the Franchise Development Director for Choice Hotels in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, welcomed the Crees and Trahan to the brand.
“We are very proud because this is the first Aboriginal group that we have ever worked with in Quebec and they are a very important group. They will be able to tap into a new market for us and this is incredibly important to us,” St-Gelais told the Nation.
In that Choice Hotels owns 6000 hotels in 35 countries around the world, St-Gelais explained the hotel will already be marketed through the hotel’s network and websites months before it is opened.
While the press event was one of excitement and pride, ultimately the most emotional moment belonged to Trahan when he returned to the podium to make his own address to those gathered before him.
While he discussed the many accolades of his new business endeavour with the Crees, Trahan also explained how he had in recent years retired from his role in the business community but had returned to embark on this specific project. It was in thanking his family for their understanding and support behind his decision to return to the business world that he broke down in tears of gratitude.
In speaking with him afterwards, Trahan described his own history with the Crees, having founded the Secretariat to the Cree Nation Abitibi-Témiscamingue Economic Alliance with former Grand Chief Ted Moses many years ago. Part of this he said was because he had always encouraged economic partnerships between the Crees and the business community in the region.
“Despite the good relationships I have had with the Crees, I have never had the opportunity to create one of these partnerships myself,” said Trahan.
It was during his reprise from the business world that Trahan said he began to discuss the hotel idea again with Blacksmith and Rodney Hester, CREECO‘s Business Development Coordinator, and it renewed his interest in the project and drove him out of retirement.
Trahan said he is excited about the project for a myriad of reasons, including the fact that he has negotiated exclusivity with the hotel chain for the Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Côte-Nord and Northern Quebec region. He was also thrilled that he will now have the opportunity to share his industry knowledge with those involved in the project from CREECO, namely Hester and Financial Analyst Tanya Pash.
Hester described the day as historic, saying that the event had practically left him speechless.
Hester said the Crees were feeling so optimistic about the project that they are anticipating paying back the $2 million financing contribution that Economic Development Canada has put up for the project. While the government has given them a decade to pay back the contribution, Hester said it might be doable in seven.
In becoming the first Indigenous group within Quebec to do business with Choice Hotels, Hester said, “It feels great. This is our time and we are going to do our very best and we will excel at this business.”
For Hester, this project will, like all CREECO businesses, be an opportunity for Crees to learn a new business and possibly create new employment for some Crees, employing only Crees is not the mission of the hotel project as it is a 50/50 joint venture. In terms of the hiring staff for the hotel, Hester said the goal will be to hire the most qualified individuals in order to offer the best service available to patrons to ensure the hotel’s success.
Looking around the room at the many individuals who were responsible for bringing the project to fruition, Hester said the hotel project was the result of a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication over the years.
“I want to recognize the people who made this day possible and did not take centre stage today,” said Hester. “I am referring to Tanya Pash, who is going to represent accountability for the Crees on this project, Albert Rondeau and the Board of Directors at CREECO. It is important that we recognize these individuals for the hard work they have done to make this project what it is and what it can be.”
Hester also expressed his gratitude towards the Diamond family, who gave its permission to name a conference room in honour of Albert Diamond, a man that Hester describes as a friend, role model and a hero. He said this was so important to CREECO because it was important for Diamond’s presence to be felt within the region so that he may never be forgotten.
For those interested, cameras have been placed around the construction site of the new hotel and its building progress will soon be viewable on CREECO’s website at: www.creeco.ca/Creeco/about_creeco_history.aspx