It’s probably safe to say that few people, if any, know more about the inner workings of the Brookstreet Hotel than Nyle Kelly.
The new general manager of the luxury Kanata resort has been employed at the facility since it opened in 2003, starting out as executive housekeeper before working his way up the ranks to assistant GM. Last month, he took over for longtime chief staffer Patrice Basille, who announced his retirement earlier this year.
Mr. Kelly, 46, recently chatted with OBJ about his career trajectory so far and his future plans for the property he’s come to know so well. The following is an edited and condensed version of the interview.
OBJ: What’s the transition to general manager been like so far?
NK: I’ve been working here since day one. I’ve been Patrice’s right hand for many, many years, so the transition into the role hasn’t been that difficult in the sense of having to learn anything new about the operation.
OBJ: What advantages does that give you?
NK: I’ve seen a lot of our successes the last few years, so I can keep a lot of those things moving forward. I’ve been a part of creating the strategy of the organization for many years. We’ve really kind of shifted gears the last two or three (years), focusing more on our leisure market. Let’s face it – when we opened the hotel back in 2003, we were going to be a corporate, business hotel doing some high-end conferences and things like that. Well, the market changed. It changed very quickly, and after Nortel and some of these other large organizations disappeared, we had to change our focus and we’ve done that over the last eight years.
OBJ: How successful has that transition been?
“What used to be our quietest night of the week – Saturday night – is now our busiest night of the week. We’ve got specific market segments that we target, but our leisure business segment has been the highest growth for us in the last five, six years.”
NK: What used to be our quietest night of the week – Saturday night – is now our busiest night of the week. We’ve got specific market segments that we target, but our leisure business segment has been the highest growth for us in the last five, six years. Right now, we’re probably looking at about 30-40 per cent of our (guests) coming from (the leisure segment). That’s going to grow. That used to be a very small part of our business.
OBJ: What are some of the other markets you’re trying to target?
NK: We’ve got three main segments: your conference business segment, which includes all of your conference type of events, trade shows and other large activities. The corporate business segment would be all the businesses and the 10,000 employees who work here in Kanata North and the corporations they work for. That’s a big chunk of our Monday-to-Friday business. And then our leisure business segment would be all the different activities that you can do here. Because it is truly a resort at the end of the day. We’ve got a spa, we’ve got golf, we’ve got lot of activities for families – indoor, outdoor pools. We’ve added a lot of games. We put ping-pong tables out this year, and we’ve got a musical park where kids can go and play music on different instruments outside in the park in front of the hotel. I’d argue there’s not another facility in the city that has all the things that we have to offer ... with the amount of conference space we have and of course the spa and golf and leisure activities that we have here.
OBJ: At some point down the road, the plan is for the Senators to vacate the Canadian Tire Centre. What impact do you think that will have on your business?
NK: That’s the first I’ve heard of it. (Laughs.) I get that question a lot now. The reality of the situation, I think, is that we’re looking at at least a minimum of five years before something happens. The difficult part of this question to answer is what is the building going to be (used) for at the end of it all. I’ve heard everything from water parks to event centres to weekend garden markets and different things. Until that question’s answered, we don’t know what the full impact will be. At the end of the day, (hockey-related cliente) really is a small portion of our overall business.
OBJ: What are some of the ways you’re trying to drive new business?
NK: One of the things we’ve really invested a lot of time and money and effort in is our marketing machine. We’re an independent property; we don’t have a large corporation to do a lot of our marketing, so we do it all in-house. We’ve partnered with some great online digital marketing partners; we’ve just redone our website; and we’re really active in social media but also in putting new promotions out there to bring people in. That’s where we’ve really kind of grown that leisure business. The Marshes (golf course, which is part of the resort complex) and the Brookstreet are one organization now as far as our operations are concerned. We’re really working hard to package different things for our guests, like golf packages and bringing our marketing efforts together with the golf course. We also have some really cool things happening in the west end – the equestrian centre at Wesley Clover Parks has really started to develop and bring a lot more events to the west end of the city as well. We just had national and international equestrian and horse jumping events that filled our hotel for two weeks. There’s a lot of activity on that site, so that’s been bringing in more business for us.
OBJ: Do you ever find that being located away from downtown is a hindrance?
NK: We do benefit when the downtown core is busy. There is compression, and it pushes (business) outside of the downtown core. But we don’t really try to compete with the downtown hotels. We have a really different value proposition here. If you’re coming to the Brookstreet, you’re coming either because you’re doing business in the west end, you’re coming because there’s a conference here, you’re coming because you’re looking for a staycation or a weekend getaway or you’re coming to the city for a wedding or a family event.
OBJ: Any major renovations or other changes in the works?
NK: We are adding an additional 10,000 square feet of meeting space that will be open by the end of this season. We’ll have three ballrooms. Right now, we have one that’s 5,400 square feet. Our newest big ballroom will be 7,400 square feet, and we’ll be able to do gala events up to 500 people for dinner, a theatre-style setup for conferences up to 800 people, and we’ll be able to service over a thousand people a day in our banquet space. It’ll be over 30,000 square feet of banquet space, and that’s nothing like the west end has seen before. Some of the conferences that we weren’t able to go after because of our size, we can now. We’re starting to get at capacity now for our restaurant and some of our leisure space, so we’re looking at further developing that out. We’re very early on at looking at expanding our pool area. In 2018, we’ll start to explore the feasibility of more guest rooms here. I think our next challenge will be, once the conference space starts to fill, will we have enough guest rooms. (The hotel currently has 276 rooms.)
OBJ: What sort of trends are you seeing in the local hospitality industry as a whole?
NK: Being that we’re in a little bit of a different ecosystem here than the downtown hotels, I definitely see a trend toward more conference-type business. We do have a very value-conscious client (base) out there now with the ability to book online. I think we’re going to shift slowly away from that. People will be looking more towards overall value for the package – they’ll be willing to pay more for quality. 2018 is going to be a tough year to follow up from 2017, probably more so for the downtown hotels than it would be for the hotels in the west end. Our client base is different here than it is downtown. Just like we didn’t necessarily gain as much from some of these large (Canada 150) events, we won’t be affected (as much) by not having some of those large events as well. I think Ottawa Tourism is working hard on citywide conferences to fill some of that gap.
OBJ: What do you think of the job Ottawa Tourism is doing to boost the city’s profile?
NK: They continue to do a lot more online, digital marketing. They’ve invested in more data analytics and trying to get more useful data out of the online traffic and how people book and come to Ottawa. I think they’re doing a great job in that sense.
OBJ: Any areas where you think the city could bolster its marketing efforts?
NK: Again, it’s difficult to speak broadly in these terms because with regards to our property, our leisure business, we’re looking for (customers from) that two- to three-hour radius of the hotel, whereas a downtown property might be looking for (clients from) a larger radius, depending on which segment they’re targeting. Certainly, focusing on the U.S. market is key. I know there’s been some focus on the international markets as well, but I think the U.S. is still the biggest market available to us.
OBJ: What about the Brookstreet itself? What are your marketing priorities?
NK: I need to fill that (new) meeting space. That’s certainly going to be job No. 1. It’s an over-$12-million project, so it’s certainly something that we need to put all of our efforts into. Overall, I think we’ve done a great job at improving our marketing efforts. We really want to increase the volume for the property overall and the overall guest spend – not just in guest rooms, but the hotel, the golf course, the spa. I’ve been director of operations and assistant GM for many years, so my focus hasn’t necessarily been on marketing. So for me personally, that’s where I’m going to put a lot of my efforts. Also, getting out and networking a little bit more for me personally in the city, getting to know key players and just being more engaged in the community.
OBJ: You’ve spent most of your professional career at the Brookstreet. What’s kept you there?
NK: We have a lot of fun here. You know who our owner is (tech titan Terry Matthews), so this organization, it’s not your typical corporate hotel environment. I worked for Fairmont for the first five years of my career. Great organization – they gave me a lot of my really good initial training. But you were kind of structured in what you could and could not do in those environments. I think here at the Brookstreet, we can do a lot of different things. We’ve got the flexibility to make change as we need it. This organization values loyalty and commitment, and they’ve allowed me to grow personally and professionally. I was able to do my master’s at (the University of Ottawa) a couple of years back. They’ve invested back into me, so I think that’s why I’ve been so loyal to the organization. We’ve got over 30 people (out of about 140) from our small opening team who are still here after 14 years. For me, I feel like I’m at the start again. I’m excited to kind of drive the strategic direction of the organization. I think we’ve got some exciting things ahead.
OBJ: Your wife Melonea works at the Westin as an account director. Is there a lot of shop talk around the dinner table at home?
NK: A little bit. But we know how to put it away after all these years. We’ve got two young boys, nine and 12, and it’s a busy house for sure. We try not to talk business, because sometimes we compete for the same (clientele). Our trade secrets are kept quiet. (Laughs.)
Nyle Kelly's resume
Jan. 2016-July 2017: Assistant general manager, Brookstreet Hotel
Aug. 2007-Jan. 2016: Director of operations, Brookstreet Hotel
June 2005-Aug. 2007: Director of guest services, Brookstreet Hotel
April 2003-June 2005: Executive housekeeper, Brookstreet Hotel
Dec. 2000-April 2003: Account executive, Hostar International
July 1999-Dec. 2000: Project manager, Hostar International