Ontario Restaurant, Hotel, and Motel Association – Mississauga, Ontario

January 31, 2023

Ontario Restaurant, Hotel, and Motel Association

facilitating its members to offer a first-class tourist journey


With a renewed agenda and an increase in tourist numbers post-COVID, the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel, and Motel Association rises to meet the demand

For Tony Elenis, President and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel, and Motel Association (ORHMA), living and breathing the hospitality industry is all in a day’s work.

Starting his journey in the industry as a humble dishwasher, he, like countless other success stories in the hospitality and tourism sector, carved out an enviable career path.

“I was going to school at the time and I had a part-time job as a dishwasher in a brand new hotel that had opened up and I needed some extra cash,” Elenis explains. “I ended up staying with the industry until now.”

As Elenis worked his way up through the industry ranks, he kept learning and remained inspired by a sector that offers endless opportunities for those that are willing to roll up their sleeves and learn the trade.

Never losing his enthusiasm for the field that nurtures his soul, Elenis is thriving in his current position with the ORHMA and never loses sight of the issues and concerns of the members he represents in the field that he truly loves.

“I would not have joined this association [ORHMA] because it was just an association. I joined because it was an organization that related very closely to an industry I fell in love with. I am still here,” Elenis describes.

As Elenis explains, the ORHMA dates its roots back to the 1920s.

“The Ontario Restaurant Association and the Ontario Hotel and Motel Association operated as two separate entities. In 1999, they merged and became what we call the ORHMA which is now the largest provincial hospitality Association in Canada made up of 4000 plus members representing over 12,000 businesses, both independent and brand or chain affiliations across Ontario,” Elenis outlines.

Elenis also highlights the sheer diversity of the sector the association represents, and points out that it is a business that relies on meeting people, making deals, and making contacts. With the pandemic hitting hospitality so hard, the very way that business has always been conducted was temporarily severed.

The channels of communication and in-person events that have always been utilized to carry the business forward suddenly became off-limits as restaurants, hotels, and motels shut down throughout the province and restrictions made ‘business as usual’ an impossibility.

“Those attributes really came to hurt us during the pandemic because the climate was to stay away from meeting people and shaking hands so we were very vulnerable. Hospitality businesses were the first to experience the negative impact of COVID and we have been the last to recover,” Elenis stresses.

As the constraints and devastating impacts rippled through the hospitality sector, ORHMA worked diligently to carry out its usual agenda, pivoting as much as it could to address specific pandemic-induced concerns.

As the leading advocacy, educational and regulatory body for the hospitality sector the association kept in very close contact with the provincial government to help its members weather the COVID storm,

“We have always been under the regulatory framework of all three levels of government,” Elenis says. “It’s probably the most regulated industry out there and we have always had challenges and advocating issues to deal with before COVID-19 hit us.”

“During the pandemic, the number one task was to manage the inquiries from our members concerning relief programs, understanding the food and health protocols and were initiated by the government and how to deal with cancellations which was the first big issue,” Elenis reflects.

The association was able to handle the bulk of the inquiries by phone, and email and by setting up a website for its members to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for the members to go and find out about various updates to health rules.

The ORHMA also helped to educate its members through webinars during the pandemic on relevant topics ranging from employer and employee relations and regulatory conditions by connecting members to lawyers that the association had lined up to aid its members.

Although there were specific concerns related to the pandemic, in general terms the ORHMA rests the majority of its work on several important pillars which include, lobbying all levels of government on the needs of the industry as well as informing its member on any new government changes to regulations, advocacy, education, and cost-cutting strategies,

“We were always reducing what we can call some of the chronic expenses and after COVID we are still focusing on the recovery road which relates to what our members have to pay for now,” Elenis details.

“Our member’s expenses have increased and they are paying a lot higher food pricing, there is inflation and labor and the whole supply chain has gone up to it is going to go up even further, especially with the war that we have seen in Europe and the rise in the price of oil and affects packaging deals and transportation which affects every product or service that comes through the hospitality doors.”

Over the years the association has fought very hard on behalf of its members on other issues including the cost of hydro as well as employee health tax.

“We have fought for the last 10 to 15 years on hydro and global adjustments. The province did end up taking some portion of it and paying from their own funding which has reduced it,” Elenis recalls.

“The Employment Health Tax was also something that for many years we were trying to create success with. The tax has been geared toward everyone but small businesses over the years were paying higher wages and the threshold was around $450,000 with anything below not required to pay it. Now the threshold has been increased to a million which represents a success for our industry.”

Another huge area of concentration for the ORHMA pertains to the employment shortage that has hit other sectors across North America post-pandemic.

“Workforce was the biggest issue for the industry before COVID and COVID made it more severe. Baby boomers have been retiring and are set to retire and COVID has accelerated that,” Elenis outlines.

“Many of them come from immigrant backgrounds in the hospitality sector and immigration policies are not friendly to this industry. We need complete reform and that is something that we have been advocating for the whole industry across Canada for some time.”

“Key positions need to be filled, especially room attendants and cooks, culinary folks in our kitchen and we are now starting to see a supervisory managerial level being affected. We have as an association a campaign strategy to start going into schools and talk to youth about our industry and the career paths available,” Elenis offers.

As all travel restrictions have been dropped as well as any cross-border restrictions, the hospitality industry is looking towards a clearer road ahead. Elenis does caution, however, that there are still hurdles to overcome; namely, the need to expand the collaboration between Canada and the US on trade issues as well as the need for more openness when it comes to global trade.

Despite the hurdles and the climb back to pre-pandemic levels of business that lie ahead for every area of the hospitality sector, Elenis remains very positive about the future of his much-adored industry.

“I see this industry, just judging from the visitors for example making reservations and going to restaurants that there is an appetite across the globe for really traveling, experiencing, visiting and just being out there and now, the industry, I believe is going to be more successful than even before COVID

“Our industry is going to be in the position to be really successful, period,” he concludes.

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Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association

What: The advocacy and educational body representing hospitality members across Ontario

Where: Mississauga, Ontario

Website: https://www.orhma.com/


January 2023 Business View Magazine cover

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