Stagewest Hospitality

Bring on the frills

Stagewest Hospitality is not your typical hotel company. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Unlike other hotels that offer your typical pool, double bed and ice machine, Stagewest has made its living by entertaining guests with a unique blend of facilities and services, including dinner theatres, casinos, restaurants, water parks, and banquet halls. Not just a place to rest one’s head, Stagewest is the destination.

“It all started in 1944, when my father built most of the hotels up the Alaska highway,” says Howard Pechet, former Stagewest president and Guinness World Record-holder as The Most Prolific Theatre Producer. “He became a major hotel developer in Alberta; at one point, he had 14 hotels. I came to work for him in 1973 and then took over in 1980.” Today, the Alberta-based business operates Camrose Resort Casino, Stoney Nakoda Resort, Stagewest Calgary and Stagewest All Suite Hotel in Mississauga, and partners with Bellstar Hotels and Resorts in properties in Canmore and B.C.

“I have since retired, but my two sons, Jason and David, are now running the business—my eldest, Jason, is the president, and my youngest, David, is in charge of our casinos. They both took the hotel management courses at Cornell.”

Adding excitement

Stagewest Hospitality didn’t always offer the excitement it does today. It wasn’t until Howard came on board that things started changing. “We started going into the entertainment side of things in the 1970s, when we noticed a trend in the typical traveller’s routine,” Howard explains. “It used to be that people would leave on Sunday nights and come home on Friday, but travellers started to go out on Mondays and come home Thursdays, leaving Friday, Saturday and Sunday empty.”

This observation led to bringing in dinner theatres. “My father and I realised that taverns were going to be a thing of the past, so we decided to try out a dinner theatre,” said Howard. “In 1976, we built a 350-seat dinner theatre in Edmonton. It was so successful that we built more in Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary and Mississauga. Now, hotels are full-service conference and entertainment complexes, rather than just places to sleep.”

Attracting weekend business hasn’t been an issue for Stagewest in over 30 years. In fact, the Stagewest in Mississauga, Ontario, does 20 per cent of its occupancy on Friday and Saturday nights. “Name another hotel in Canada that brings in those kinds of numbers,” Howard challenges. “We book thousands of weekend packages, whereas other hotels have no entertainment and do nothing on the weekends.”

A slowing industry

Although there will always be a need for a run-of-the-mill hotel, such as the Holiday Inn, Howard sees franchises as a dying breed. “I think hotel franchises will continue to diminish in the future because it’s expensive to own a franchise these days,” he maintains. “You are looking at 12 to 15 per cent, by the time you pay all the fees. In addition to cost, franchises are becoming less of a necessity for an owner operator. Online services (such as Expedia and Travelocity) are where most reservations are coming from, as opposed to something like the Comfort Inn reservation system.”

Many Canadian hotels are suffering from low occupancies, particularly at a time when travel is being put off or cancelled altogether. “Our occupancies have dropped as well, but not nearly as much,” assure Howard. “In Mississauga, for instance, we have 13,000 season ticket holders for the dinner theatre. So even if rooms aren’t filling up, our food and beverage business is still doing great. It’s balanced. By having a range of services, a downturn affects only one part of the business.”

Muhammed (Mo) Huq, General Manager at the Mississauga All-Suite Hotel & Theatre Restaurant, can attest. “The customers are still coming in to watch the shows,” he says. “I feel like when economic downturns bring bad news, people want to get out for a little while and have a good laugh or hear good music. It’s a way to escape reality. We have brought in great shows, such as Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Grease, and its very own British Invasion.”
When asked what makes Stagewest such an anomaly, Huq said he believes it’s a combination. “We offer good shows, good food and good service,” he says. “It’s a fun place to be.” It must be doing something right, as it was the first independent hotel in the Greater Toronto Area to win Hotel of the Year.

 “We will continue to build these [entertainment complex] types of hotels,” Howard insists. “As third-generation owners, my sons are on board with this vision. In fact, Jason is negotiating for a similar complex in Edmonton to be built within the next two years; we also would like to see one in Calgary.” With a tradition of leadership, innovation and family legacy, the show at Stagewest will most certainly go on.