How To Navigate a Virtual Campus Open House

By Heather Beaumont

Special to the Toronto Star

The Star took some of the guesswork out of what to expect when visiting college and university online open houses and virtual tours. I added the delightful picture book cover image to the post.

At this time of year, students who have applied to, accepted or are exploring post-secondary school options, are registering and logging on to attend virtual campus open house events.

Here’s a sample of what you can expect when visiting virtual open houses.

Ontario Tech University
Virtual Open House

Saturday, March 27, 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“The open house is more than just a Q and A,” says Joe Stokes, university registrar at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa. “It’s an opportunity to showcase our programs, our research, our facilities and all of the great things that come with being a student at the university.” Of the university established in 2002, he adds, “We are that nimble young university that focuses on technology and on being innovative.”

Student prospects and parents are advised to pre-register for the event but they can also log in when the event goes live.

Visitors can click on the Navigating Your Day link and will be shown how to navigate the website. “There’s also a navigation on the left side where students can find out what time presentations are running, what faculties have chat rooms and other services that are there to talk to students,” says Stokes.

Future students will be able to talk with faculty, admissions officers, awards and financial officers, support staff and current students.

Wilfrid Laurier University
Virtual Open House

Monday, April 5 to Saturday, April 10, 5 to 9 p.m.

There’s still time to learn about the Faculties of Human and Social Sciences, Liberal Arts and Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier’s Brantford Open House campus event. “Students are making a final decision at this time of year,” says Craig Chipps, manager, Canadian Student Recruitment, as the June 1 deadline for acceptance of admission offers looms. “Aside from buying a home, it’s the largest investment a family can make.”

Future Golden Hawks and varsity team supporters are encouraged to explore the university’s website and develop questions before participating at the event, including virtual campus tours.

Faculty and staff will address the mechanics of admissions, academic programs and experiential learning opportunities. Pre-recorded videos are also available to view. And an email campaign allows for continued engagement after the event.

Algonquin College
Virtual Open House

Wednesday, April 7, 3 to 6 p.m.

Postsecondary education is a big investment, says Anne Kalil, manager, Recruitment, Algonquin College. “We tell people would you buy a car without taking it for a test drive? You want to make sure it’s the right fit.”

Algonquin’s Virtual Open House event provides a customized menu of events and a recruitment team to guide them.

Pre-register for the event and learn about academic programs, credit transfers, residence life, financial aid, college applications, student services and experiences.  Faculty, students and alumni are on hand to answer questions. A virtual tour is available along with weekly, live virtual tours.

Humber College
Virtual Open House

Saturday,  April 10, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Humber College emphasizes career-focused learning for high school students and adult learners. Prospective students can choose to pre-register or register on the day of the live virtual open house event to join the session and ask questions.

Faculty members, senior teams and support services staff also answer questions about experiential learning opportunities, transferring credits and financial aid options that include bursaries, scholarships and funding.

Student ambassadors answer questions so prospective students can find out more about virtual learning or “what it’s really like to attend Humber,” explains Joy Borman, manager, New Student Recruitment and Advising.       

Future students can also access pre-recorded videos and information sessions from the previous virtual Fall Open House to get a sense of the college.

Centennial College
Virtual Open House

Sunday, April 11, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Centennial College’s Aaron Schoenmaker advises virtual open house visitors to prepare their questions and “ask the questions they might not have been able to get answered by viewing the website material.”        

This includes an Open House On Demand with video greetings from the college president, guidebooks, virtual tours, program videos and webinar Wednesdays. “We want them to ask questions so we know they’re making the best decision for them,” says Schoenmaker, acting manager, Recruitment.

Open house visitors do not need to pre-register. On event day, an accordion menu will announce the virtual open house, with times and links to individual sessions.

“There’ll be information on specific program areas and schools of study,” says Schoenmaker. “Visitors will be invited into breakout rooms to connect with coordinators and faculty members from individual programs.”

George Brown College
Virtual Open House

Saturday, April 17, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“This is going to be our largest Open House,” says Dave Scott, manager, Office of the Registrar. The college-wide event will involve faculty, program coordinators, support services, athletics and recreation staff, current students and student club representatives.

Visitors are encouraged to click on Zoom links to attend online presentations, talk with advisors and participate in the virtual campus tour.

“It’s a chance to interact with people who work at the college and ask about the experience,” says Scott. “We hope people will come out. It will help them make a decision.”

Pre-registration directs visitors to eventbrite.ca to receive an email link to the live presentation.

To learn more about events and programs at Ontario’s universities and colleges, visit OntarioUniversitiesInfo.ca and OntarioColleges.ca.

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Go Above and Beyond with Antares*

For busy professionals, young singles and couples, who prefer the convenience of affordable downtown living, Antares Luxury Suites
is one of Winnipeg’s top spots in the rental, retail market.

“There’s a huge need for apartments in the downtown core and we offer competitive pricing,” says Ekeen Saad, Westcorp Properties’ leasing manager.

The pet-friendly rental suites are part of Westcorp’s two-phase conversion of the Place Louis Riel Suites Hotel, located at the corner of Smith Street and St. Mary Avenue.

With condo-quality finishes, the elegant suites include granite countertops, four appliances (fridge, stove, dishwasher and microwave), drapery and window treatments.

Residents are just steps away from Winnipeg’s growing sports, hospitality and entertainment district (SHED).

In nice weather, rental occupants can forget parking hassles and walk to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, City Place Shopping Centre, the University of Winnipeg, the Forks’ vibrant markets, and the MTS Sports and Entertainment Centre – home to the Winnipeg Jets.

In colder temperatures, they can stroll the neighbourhood through the Winnipeg Skywalk.

In this keyless building, residents will experience the best in state-of-the-art
technology once the final phase is completed by year’s end.

Occupants use their smartphones (Android and iPhones) to check on the availability of washers and dryers with a laundry app, connect with neighbours as they pick up a latte in the residents’ lounge, exercise at the gym, and take professional cooking classes in the chef’s kitchen.

Residents also have access to a well-appointed business centre with complementary iMacs, PCs and Wi-Fi. Many of these services will be accessible around the clock.

Westcorp Properties’ leasing team, maintenance staff and concierge work hard to create a first-class experience for the Antares Luxury Suites’ community, Saad says.

“Our customer service is the best. We offer the personal touch. It’s part of the Westcorp values. We go above and beyond what’s expected.”

Established in 1980, Westcorp Properties is committed to developing great spaces.

Antares Luxury Suites range from 425 to 812 square feet in a 25-storey, 315-unit building. Studios rent from $870 a month; for $1,595, corner penthouse suites include walk-in closets, heated bathroom floors and
two-person showers.

*Archived Content

Copyright 2015 – 2021

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Light Fingers Squeeze Store Profits*

“If there’s a weakness in your system somebody’ll get you-whether it’s a shoplifter or internal,” says Jack McKinnon, regional director/east for Lansing Buildall in Toronto,. His views echo those of many industry members, when he says retailers have to watch for both light-fingered customers and dishonest employees.

Shrinkage owing to consumer or employee theft and paper error is costing Canadian retailers about $2 billion annually, sending store owners in search of better security methods and hardware. Securing merchandise can be as simple as posting signs warning that shoplifters will be prosecuted or as sophisticated as close-circuit television, dummy cameras, electronic article protection tags, surveillance cameras and computerized inventory control systems.

“There is a trend out there that says retailers are realizing how much shrinkage is costing. Once you get to three, 4 ½ percent, you’ve got a problem on your hands,” explains Art Good, director, Retail and Distribution Services, Ernst & Young, Toronto. “There’s always got to be some shrinkage but if you can get it under one percent you’re in good shape.”

How do retailers reduce shrinkage? By creating employee awareness programs and informing both staff and potential shoplifters that they will be prosecuted. Good suggests that retailers deal with the culture and develop employee awareness training on an ongoing basis.” He advises retailers to get a shrinkage department, then use consultants for input. Finally, let employees know that theft will not be tolerated—even senior staff.

In many ways, a retail organization’s loss prevention strategy is dependent upon its employees’ honest and ability to detect dishonest behavior among coworkers. According to a Canadian Retail Hardware Association training videotape, called Counterattack: Strategies for Loss Prevention, dishonest staff members steal up to five times as much as shoplifters.

Caught in the ever-tightening squeeze of the recession, combined with frozen wages, many employees feel underpaid and turn to theft. Often they rationalize that their company can afford the loss. They may even steal merchandise simply because they’re mad at their boss.

Pat Delesalle, managing director, retailing at Lumberland Building Materials Ltd. In Burnaby, B.C., says his company has a lot of shrinkage in the yard.” Internal theft has been a big problem in the last year,” says Delesalle, whose family owns 18 stores and employs about 1,000 people.

All stores are alarmed and, in some locations, there is camera surveillance. Yet, DeleSalle says customers have often notified management to watch someone who “didn’t ring it in properly, left the money outside the till or “asked if I wanted to buy the product for 50 cents off the dollar.”

Although Lumberland uses outside people to shop the staff, an alert customer recently informed management of a cheating cashier. It turned out that she had helped herself to $50,000 over the course of a year. Charges have been laid against the individual who began stealing within a month of being hired.

At Eves Do-it Center in Newmarket, Ont., owner Ron Sarjeant admits to feeling betrayed by employees who steal.

“I give them a very good purchase price on product but I also make them put that through on a charge account. Then I can keep track of what they’re buying to discourage theft.

“We’ve got wage cuts and people aren’t as satisfied now , as they once were, with getting increases every six months,” he adds, aware that the economy has affected retail employees’ spirits.

A disgruntled staff member is more likely to take advantage of any opportunity to steal, so it’s important to screen employees for honesty in the interview. After the employee is hired, management should train that individual to watch for pilferage.

“Our biggest thing is just keeping the staff alert to theft and to be on the lookout for it,” explains Sarjeant, when he’s asked how he deters shoplifters. “I believe that’s the best way to keep everybody aware of it and be on the lookout.

“We know that it’s happening,” says Sarjeant, “and we’re not catching them, because we find empty packages around the store—small hardware items, packaged plumbing, electrical packages.” The store’s 22 full and part-time employees are taught by supervisors to be on the lookout for suspicious or shifty-eyed individuals and strangers carrying a bag or large coat.

However, Delesalle at Lumberland says even the familiar faces have to be scrutinized. “Our floor walkers catch more regular customers than anybody else. They know our system, our weaknesses. They rationalize it and say they don’t get enough of a discount.”

Meanwhile, Good at Ernst & Young believes the only way to combat shrinkage is to constantly work on it and respond to suggestions. “People don’t steal if they’re being watched–and when they know the company won’t tolerate it.”

Jim Flewit of Jim Flewitt & Associates, a security mirror supplier, believes with the trend toward warehouse-style retailing, consisting of “larger buildings and not a lot of staff–security mirrors create an awareness. You don’t’ find the staff you used to, so the mirrors are filling for lost staff.”

Mel Fruitman, vice-president of the Retail Council of Canada, says mirrors are ubiquitous in retail stores, yet “You never see (retail employees) glancing up at the mirrors to see anything.” He suggests that employees “look in those things occasionally, particularly if you’ve noticed someone go down that aisle and can’t see them. Just glance up there and see what they’re doing.”

Says McKinnon of Lansing Buildall: “Security people go both ways on mirrors. Usually the thief watches for blind spots in them and that’s where they head with merchandise.”

At Eves Do-It Center, employees keep an eye on the mirror in the hardware area of their store’s 8,500 square foot space. “Ours is an L-shaped store and there’s an area that’s a blind spot to us from the service desk,” says Sarjeant. “We have to keep wandering through the area.”

Greenwood Home Hardware is located at Halifax’s largest mall. The store has low ceilings, so owner Gordon Squires doesn’t rely on security mirrors to catch shoplifters. Customers enter through a turnstile—where they are always greeted by a staff member—and exit via a cashier. Employees count on good service to deter thieves.

Squires’ advice on handling shoplifters? “Help them to death.” A suspected shoplifter in Greenwood Home Hardware quickly discovers that down every aisle and around every corner yet another eager and friendly salesperson is waiting to offer assistance. Squires laughs, “You either have a ticked-off shoplifter or an impressed customer.”

With shrinkage amounting to less than two percent, Squires hopes to reduce paper worker errors when he installs a computerized inventory control system some time next year. To further discourage shoplifters, Squires has wired his tools to an alarm system.

“Our displays are all open with an electronic alarm set up. It’s physically impossible to take them more than six inches away.” Squires lost two, $200 drills before installing the wire that secures the tools,

Although retailers often secure merchandise such measures can have a negative impact on sales. “Some people kept the power tools displayed behind the glass case,” says Mike Dorschner, national accounts manager, Milwaukee Electric Tool (Canada) Ltd. “Then you have some people, and I’ll use Aikenhead’s as an example, who are more hands-on oriented. They want people when they come in to try a tool before they buy it.”

Dorschner adds, “Our tools are the kind of tools that if you can feel them hear them, see them, touch them, smell them—that kind of thing—you know you have a quality product in your hands. It’s hard to convey that message to a prospective customer when it’s caged off or behind the counter.”

Yet, in the long run, a secured power tool may offer more protection from shoplifters than a timid staff member. Says McKinnon of Lansing Buildall: “It’s hard for employees to play police officer. They don’t want to get involved. They see something but the majority of them will never say anything.”

Police Constable  Ed Przbylo forMetro Police, 14 Division, in Toronto says, “You have the right to stop shoplifters and hold them for the police. Once people are caught they’re pretty passive. “But he advises personnel to be on their guard. The shoplifter may be armed.

Experiences at Lumberland in B.C. confirm the officer’s warning. Pat Delesalle says violent situations appear to be increasing. “Our security people have been punched, knives have been drawn and when you get a ring of people stealing merchandise for resale to buy drugs, these people are not at their best.”

Delesalle claims his company’s full-time security team enjoys nothing better than to catch a thief: “We have two security people. One’s an ex-policeman and one’s a certified private investigator. “They’re like Wyatt Earp, to them it’s like making a big sale.”

Employee Screening

Would you Hire This Person?

It’s possible to separate the bad apples from the good in an interview situation simply by checking all your information.

Bob Thomas, national manager, Resources Protection at Sears Canada Inc., says job applicants have been known to lie about their educational training and even conjure up a non-existent address for their resumes.

Thomas suggests that employers use pre-employment screening, which, he says, is as simple as “looking over the application for vague information and time gaps–they could have been in jail or fired from their job.

“You should always call the previous employers and ask, ‘Would you rehire this person?” That’s basic, basic stuff that’s so important to do.”

At Lumberland Materials Ltd., Pat Delesalle, managing director, retailing, says job candidates are given a voluntary integrity test. This questionnaire, known as the Reed Test, is designed to gauge the subjective quality of personal integrity. “It’s important that we have honest people on our staff,” explains Delesalle. “Dishonesty breeds dishonesty.”

Applicants aren’t told the test’s purpose and according to Delesalle, most people aren’t aware that they’re filling out an honesty test. “The cost of getting rid of people is so expensive these days—you might as well put the money up front,” he reasons.

“Honesty testing isn’t widely used in Canada,” says Thomas at Sears. “Because our legislation is different, our questions have to be framed differently. Management is leery of going that far.

Assessment testing has been around for almost 2,000 years, according to Marijane Terry, director of assessments at The Toronto firm of Geller, Shedletsky & Weiss, where industrial psychologists have conducted assessment tests since the late ’70s.

Applicants are screened to help establish the skills and behaviours needed for the position and other job-relevant criteria.

“Through interviewing and a questionnaire,” says Terry, “It’s possible to determine how the person sees themselves and their achievements.”

Btu she is dubious of the effectiveness of honesty screening. “None of that works,” says Terry. “We haven’t been satisfied when they’ve provided validity.”

But Ann Frech, an account manager with London House, a Macmillan/McGraw-Hill company in Rosemont, Ill., which specializes in human resource assessments, disagrees. She reasons: “These tests impact shrinkage and turnover rates and save the company a lot of money.”

The tests are said to have an accuracy rate of over 80 percent and according to Frech, they’re used by large retailers across the United States and in Canada.

*Archived Content

Copyright 2015-2021

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Musician Steven Page to speak at A Mental Health Morning

The songwriter will discuss his struggles with depression and mental illness to help raise funds for mental health and addiction programs at St. Joe’s.

On Oct. 7, a virtual breakfast featuring a keynote address from Music Hall of Famer Steven Page will help to raise awareness and funds for St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton’s world-class mental health and addiction program.

“I feel a kinship to the speakers,” says Angela Jaspan when reflecting on the Mental Health Morning keynotes she’s heard over the years. Jaspan lives with schizoaffective disorder and says, “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, it’s really helpful for everyone to hear from someone of that fame and stature and to learn from their experience with mental illness. It helps to show that mental illness can affect anyone.”

Now in its eighth year, A Mental Health Morning will take place from 8 to 9 a.m. Donations will go toward providing continued, first-rate care in the Mental Health and Addiction program at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, the regional lead in mental health and addiction care.

Before COVID-19, tickets to A Mental Health Morning event ticket were $50. But this year, individuals can attend the virtual event for free.

“We wanted to do something to show the community that we understand the physical, emotional, social and economic impact the pandemic has had on the mental health of all Canadians,” says Sera Filice-Armenio, President & CEO, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation. “A Mental Health Morning is about creating an accessible event and a dedicated time when people can take a moment to care for their own mental health.”

Over the years, the Mental Health Morning event has raised nearly $300,000. This year, by inviting attendees to consider a donation to the Foundation in lieu of the cost of their event ticket, St. Joe’s hopes to raise $50,000. Funds go directly towards mental health and addiction patient care and programming at St. Joe’s.  

Individuals, community and corporate groups can register to attend and/or donate until the evening of Oct. 6 at

 www.stjoesfoundation.ca/mentalhealthmorning.

Corporations are invited to sponsor tables of eight for $750. Colleagues can still connect, in Zoom chat rooms, during the event. 

In his keynote, singer/songwriter Page, formerly of The Barenaked Ladies and now a solo musician and theatrical artist, will discuss his struggles with depression and mental illness with both candour and humour.

A passionate mental health advocate, Page will talk about how songwriting assisted him on his journey toward improved mental health. The multiple Juno award winner will also share his talent with songs and his acoustic guitar.  At the end of Page’s keynote, guests will have an opportunity to ask questions. 

Mental Health Morning guests will also be inspired when they learn the stories behind the Spirit of Hope Award nominees and recipients. Their impactful contributions in the field of mental health or addiction or the obstacles overcome by these youth, individuals, groups and organizations, will further help to destigmatize the public’s perception of mental illness.

The deadline for award nominations is Aug. 31. Click here, for more information.

“I’m still challenged by the illness at its core,” concedes Jaspan. She was honored with an Individual Spirit of Hope Award of her own last year for her work as a part-time peer support counselor at St. Joe’s, and for addressing the public to destigmatize mental illness.

“In a way, St. Joe’s created me,” she says. “Their services nudged me into this role.” She became involved with the hospital’s Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program and worked in the Colours Café at the West 5th Campus. “They believed me, gave me opportunities, helped me with life skills. It’s very typical of St. Joe’s. They want to see you succeed.”

Global News’ Radio’s Ted Michaels’ hosts this year’s event. The AM 900 CHML afternoon news anchor has also received recognition for his efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness. 

Mental health and addiction affect people of all ages, income levels and ethnicities. In Canada, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental illness or addiction. And that illness or addiction will significantly impact their family and the wider community.

All too often, people with mental illness and addiction issues experience stigma and barriers to social integration. But with the help of public awareness events like A Mental Health Morning, change is on the horizon.

Connect with St. Joseph’s Healthcare on Facebook and Twitter.

Copyright 2015-2021

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Charge Up Energy Conservation Sales*

“It’s a win-win situation,” says Gordon Dunn of Dunn’s Pro Hardware in North Bay, Ont. He’s talking about energy conservation promotions that save customers dollars in these environmentally-conscious times. “If the sales reps can get the best of their products across to us, the consumer wins, we win and the manufacturer wins.”

Across Canada, fall energy saving ideas initiated by provincial utility companies and Power Smart Inc., a consortium that includes international and 18 major Canadian utility companies, that enable retailers to sell weatherstripping, insulation, interior sealants, energy-saving light bulbs, motion detector lights, storm windows, thermostats and low-flow showerheads, faucet washers and aerators.

The promotions are geared toward the DIYer. Summer’s heat and pesky insects make homeowners more aware of drafts and gaps around doors and windows. By the fall, they’re ready to tackle small reno jobs to winterize their homes.

D.H. Howden & Co. Ltd. , in London, Ont. distributes flyers to promote energy conservation programs from August through to November. “It makes for a good promotion for our dealers to tie into,” explains Bill Wilson, vice-president, merchandising. Howden has 450 Pro Hardware and Do-it center franchise dealers involved in the conservation promotions.

“As you’re going into winter, it really is part of our major selling campaign. And if you look at something like caulking, it’s a major time of the year for sales, so you can do some extra promotions to make it work.”

October is Power Smart Month at Power Smart Inc., which was founded by B.C. Hydro several years ago. Creative marketing campaigns provide about 3,000 stores across Canada with topic-oriented promotion packages, POP signage, displays and information material to inform customers about energy conservation products.

“Our flyers drive customers into the stores…and when the consumer gets in there, if the store is merchandised properly, it works very well,” says Wilson. Stores, he continues, “use up to four feature-ends to display product, wire banners, POS signage. But some use strictly product. They use the whole area and in their signage they try to convince the customer of the benefits of saving dollars with energy-wise products.”

As consumers become more energy conscious and are exposed to co-op ads, media, and in-store signage that talk up the benefits of energy conservation, retailers recognize that they need to be more aware of product features.

Dunn, his co-owner wife, Audrey, and their 11 full-and part-time staff offer customers a wide selection of merchandise in different categories. They carry seven different energy-conservation timers, all recommended by Ontario Hydro and displayed in the 48 feet they devote to energy conservation in their 5,600 square foot store.

“We have this rack right in the middle of our aisle for anybody that’s interested. We inquire what their needs are, what they want to do with the bulb and then we steer them over to the right brochure. And then, instead of the normal spotlight, we say that we also have a Capsylite or halogen or Supersaver bulb that’ll give the same results, but using less energy.”

If a brochure is available, it’s used by staff members to generate interest in energy conservation and specific products. “You’ve got to marry the customer’s basic needs with their pocketbooks, especially during these times,” says Dunn, whose customers often enter the store with questions related to Ontario Hydro’s television ads. He advises retailers: “Show the customer how using that timer is going to save them money and fulfill the needs they never even thought about in the first place.”

Utility companies aren’t the only organizations that work hard to promote energy saving products. General Electric offers a $1,000 shopping spree to promote caulking, while some lighting companies also offer rebate coupons to sell energy-efficient merchandise.

The Nova Scotia Power Corp. put together energy conservation packages wrapped in hot -water tank insulating blankets. Staff at Hector Building Supply in Pictou, N.S. used them to help persuade customers to buy low-flow showerheads. By turning in their old showerheads those customers received a $5 cash rebate.

“We advertised quite aggressively using local print and in-store advertising. We sold around 300 units,” says store owner Allen Johnson, who discovered that customers were initially slow to respond to the energy saving programs.

Hector Building Supply devotes five per cent of the store’s 4,000-square-foot space to 300 energy conservation SKUs, not including windows. During the fall, the store promotes mini-packs of insulation, air exchangers with heat recovery, fibreglass and Low-E glass.

Dunn at Dunn’s Pro Hardware is another retailer who doesn’t waste opportunities to promote energy savings. “When you’re talking to them about weather stripping or lightbulbs, then it’s easy to say, “Well, what are you doing when you plug in your car or your Christmas lights? Have you ever considered using a timer to streamline the exact amount of hours that you want to use?'”

Like any smart retailer, Dunn recognizes that strong energy conservation promotions open the door to easier sales of related products–and long-term savings for satisfied customers.

*Archived Content

Copyright 2015-2020

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COVID-19 Uncertainty Reveals Tourism Industry’s Vulnerability

Royalton Blue Waters Beach, Montego Bay, JA

COVID-19 packs a dreadful punch on a number of levels.

The respiratory virus has led to emergency lockdowns that have left the global economy in free-fall. And travel bans have decimated the hospitality and tourism industry.

Initially, the messaging from the hospitality industry has recognized the value in reminding everyone to stay home, to regularly wash their hands and practice good respiratory hygiene.

When travel bans are finally lifted and people are ready to vacation abroad again, hotel brands will need to promote their properties with considerable sensitivity. They will want to remind us of what we once enjoyed about travel and our favorite destinations.

In the hospitality and tourism industry, staff regularly show empathy toward customers. Now, more than ever, hotel and tourism brands need to express genuine concern both toward and for the well-being of staff, guests, neighbors and the wider community.

Instead of a message of wish you were here, the hospitality and tourism industry needs to convey a different message: Thinking of you.

Many hotel and tourism organizations are already finding new ways to engage with, or entertain, people sheltering in place. Some properties are demonstrating concern for neighbors and community. While others are making efforts to care for the well-being of their staff.

According to the Jamaica Gleaner, management at Sunset at the Palms in Negril, Jamaica, expressed concern for staff and provided 115 laid-off employees with food packages and money. Staff and management are also connected through a WhatsApp group.

The all-inclusive https://www.thepalmsjamaica.com/ announced its temporary closure around March 20th. At that time, management floated a plan to reopen on April 17th. That date has  since become a moving target.

First, the date for reopening changed to May 1st. But air and sea ports remained closed past May 31st. The latest update? Management now plans to accept new arrivals on July 1st.

Royalton resorts temporarily closed The Royalton Blue Waters https://www.royaltonresorts.com/royalton-blue-waters on March 25, 2020 to protect guests and staff. At the time, they were unable to confirm a re-opening date.

I wrote about the destination wedding I attended at that all-inclusive in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in an earlier post. Unfortunately, I never read word of any food or monetary gifts being extended to laid-off employees.

Luxury properties like the Hari Hotel in Belgravia, London are doing their bit to make the lockdown a little less stressful for others. Neighbors looking for help with shopping and errands can contact https://www.thehari.com/usa-luxury-london/ for  assistance.

The Four Seasons New York is working to find housing for the valiant doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who are treating COVID-19 patients.

The Greece from Home website https://www.greecefromhome.com/  promotes Greek tourism with images of Greek archeology, museums, walking tours and cuisine to inspire site visitors to dream and explore the country’s offerings, the safe and digital way, until “we’re able to meet again.”

Copyright 2021

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Fun In The Sun At Royalton Blue Waters, Jamaica

Royalton Blue Waters’ resort entrance

An invitation to a winter wedding in Jamaica provided the perfect opportunity to trade heavy winter coats and boots for the sun’s caress.

Our wedding party ranged in age from preschooler to senior, Senior.

For some, the event offered a first visit to Jamaica while for others, who emigrated from the Island years ago, Jamaica will always be home.

A sizeable, furnished balcony provided us with a breathtaking view of the azure-colored ocean along with about 1,500- metres of beach.

The  luxury, all-inclusive’s many amenities included 228 suites (ocean-view, swim-out and garden); a lazy river; private cabanas with plunge pools; three pools, seven bars, 11 restaurants and Kids and Teens’ Clubs.

Balcony View of the Lazy River and the resort property
Balcony view of the property

Our group of three adults spent very little time in the junior suite of 570 square feet. With new and extended family to connect with, there was lots to do and explore.

Ocean-view suite
A suite with a beautiful Jacuzzi

Aside from the wedding that brought us together, I’ll treasure times spent conversing or sitting quietly, surrounded by extended family as we each savored our individual Scoops’ self-serve soft ice milk. My favorite: The chocolate and vanilla blend.

Other wonderful moments include, quiet walks along the beach at dawn.

The day I waded into the cold water to perch on an underwater stool at Dips’ swim-up bar. And I enjoyed the novel experience, along with a second pina colada, made with far-too-strong, for me, Appleton rum.

Dips' Swim-Up Bar at dawn
Dips’ Swim-Up Bar at sunrise

The server at The Jerk Hut who was almost out of jerk chicken but kindly served me the last piece of the day. A lovely employee at the breakfast buffet, who noted my disappointment when I couldn’t find my favorite treat. She returned with a huge serving of banana bread for me. Many of the staff went out of their way to make the holiday a memorable one for their guests.

Most precious of all, one evening, I thrilled at my mother, who abruptly jumped from her seat to dance to the live band’s rendition of a Bruno Mars’ song.

The funny thing about vacations…just as I finally start to get into a rhythm and establish a routine, it’s check-out time.

After sampling the baked goods, I decided my daily breakfast treat (banana bread or bread pudding) and the hottest and fastest morning latte (at the hotel lobby bar) were an absolute must.

I also figured out that the exits at the side or back of the hotel, provided quicker access to the breakfast buffet.

How sweet life can be–in the Caribbean winter sunshine

According to Carib Journal, almost 400,000 Canadians visited Jamaica in 2019. The tourism industry is responsible for 25% of the Island’s labour force.

The Royalton Blue Waters’ resort opened in November 2016 as part of Sunwing Travel Group’s growth into resort management and ownership.

Guests at the Blue Waters’ location are invited to play at the adjacent Royalton White Sands property that opened in 2013. Three years ago, the White Sands received the Best Family Resort award from the Jamaica Gleaner.

The Royalton Blue Waters has received a number of awards: In 2019, 2018, the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence. In 2019, The Jamaica Gleaner’s Hospitality Award for Best All-Inclusive under 300 rooms in Jamaica and in 2020, 2019 and 2017, the American Automobile Association’s (AAA) Four Diamond Award.

Copyright 2020

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Neo Treats Delight

Neo Coffee Bar Displays Assorted Muffins and Pastries

I’m quite sure if someone had placed a muffin at the breakfast table, when I was growing up, my parents would have nixed the idea of cake first thing in the morning. 

Later, someone introduced me to bran muffins. Then I learned to bake blueberry muffins in what now seem like extremely small muffin tins.

I can’t remember when I last ate a blueberry or bran muffin. Over the years, the range of ingredients along with the size of the muffins in my life have dramatically expanded.  

Neo Coffee Bar makes one of my favorite muffins. Their Blackberry and Blueberry Muffin plays with textures with the surprise of a crunchy, cookie crown that blends cinnamon and oatmeal with the cake bottom. This is a big muffin. Sometimes I eat the crunchy cookie part and save the cake base for a snack.

Note the texture of the cookie crown and the cake base of the Blackberry Blueberry Muffin.

At Neo, the precision of French pastry-making is presented alongside gluten-free options and traditional Japanese ingredients. For instance, visitors can enjoy a matcha and aduki roll cake made with Kyoto matcha and organic red beans. Also on offer, matcha teas and coffees, espressos and drip coffees.

Pistachio Paris-Brest

Each month, Neo offers a dessert special. One month, I enjoyed the lightness of a delicate strawberry cream shortcake. I delighted in the elegant construction and flavors in a Pistachio Paris-Brest with strawberries.

The pistachio and white chocolate cream were surprisingly, not overly sweet. The strawberries and pistachio filling were complemented by graham cracker crumbs and choux (French for cabbage) rings or wheel-shaped pastry made from flour, water and eggs. Apparently, the pastry’s name and wheel-shape has a history.

With a little research, I learned that journalist, Pierre Giffard commissioned pastry chef, Louis Durand to commission the Paris-Brest to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the world’s longest bicycle road race. The 1,200 km. race stretched from Paris to Brest and back to Paris.

The wheel-shaped buttermilk choux pastry filled with praline cream was designed to sustain cyclists during the race. Established in September 1891, the first winner completed the race in 71 hours and 22 minutes. The Paris-Brest-Paris is the oldest cycling event in the world. Held every four years, the last Paris-Brest-Paris took place in August 2019. The event is the precursor to the world-famous Tour de France.

While I don’t have plans to enter a bicycle endurance race any time soon, I’m more than happy to indulge in another Pistachio Paris-Brest pastry.

Copyright 2019 – 2020

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The Bread That Makes My Day

Two slices of Baldwin Brown Sourdough Bread sit on a wooden breadboard alongside a knife and a sliced loaf.
Blackbird Baking Co.’s Baldwin Brown Sourdough

As a kid, I loved eating white French stick and Italian bread, especially the heel of the loaf.

Lately, Blackbird Baking Co.’s Baldwin Brown Sourdough has become my addiction. It’s an artisanal loaf made from unbleached whole wheat flour; red fife flour; sea salt and sourdough.

When I bite into the Baldwin Brown’s crust, my teeth initially meet resistance that yields to a chewy, tasty slice of bread.  I love to breathe in the bread’s tangy aroma when I pull the round, brown loaf from its tan paper bag. 

With its dense, chewable crust and light, tangy taste, this bread is great drizzled with olive oil and also, for soups and sandwiches.

The bread is beige in coloring from the wheat flour and spotted with air pockets.  One sourdough loaf doesn’t stay in my fridge for long.

After doing some research, I learned that sourdough is a starter that begins with flour and water left overnight to ferment and develop wild yeasts.

The sourdough’s simple ingredients enhance both the bread’s flavor, nutritional value and texture. The unique, vinegary sourdough or fermented dough, with its micro-organisms and lactic acid bacteria, over time, acts as a natural yeast and leavening agent.

While baker’s yeast dates back 150 years sourdough used as a leavening agent in bread goes back to ancient Egypt.  

If they’re fortunate enough to have it, starters are passed down through generations of families. The age of the sourdough starter enhances the bread’s flavor with a unique tangy flavor.

A sample of the Blackbird Baking Co.’s sourdough starter is housed in a temperature-controlled sourdough library in Belgium at Puratos where sourdough cultures from around the world are stored.

Puratos is an ingredient supplier for bakers, pastry makers and chocolatiers. Puratos sourdough librarian, Karl De Smedt, has the enviable job of travelling the globe in search of sourdough cultures and stories.

Check out the Puratos sourdough library:

Here’s a video of sourdough bread preparation in Mexico.


Copyright © 2015 – 2020

Words by HB

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Famous golden Oscar statuette.
The Internationally Famous and Much- Coveted, Oscar.

On Sunday, February 24th, when you’re debating whether to stay up late to watch the Academy Award category for Best Picture, Actor, Actress or Director, just pause for a moment.

Think about Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures president. Louis B. Mayer is the one who started what has become a tradition for so many.

It’s doubtful that he envisioned the impact his 1929 event would have on the film industry. The inaugural 15-minute ceremony for 270 people is now an international, live broadcast that runs for over three hours.

Mayer conceived an event to unite the five branches of the film industry: the actors, directors, producers, writers and technicians. But he also had another motive.

According to Wikipedia, when asked his reasons for creating the awards, Mayer is rumored to have said, “I found that the best way to handle (filmmakers) was to hang medals all over them … If I got them cups and awards, they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted.”

Mayer figured out that recognition and appreciation for good work motivates a lot of people. There are those who say awards don’t matter. But even they won’t deny that it sure feels nice to be acknowledged for good work.

Throughout my career, I’ve always enjoyed contributing to different award events. I’ve researched potential candidates; written successful award nomination submissions; developed communications and marketing products and assisted in producing live and broadcast events.

I’m always inspired by the genuine enthusiasm of the winners; their heartfelt or off-the cuff, acceptance speeches and their sincere desire to make a difference.

I’ve linked above to the Best Picture Academy Award winners since 1929 (courtesy of Burger Fiction and YouTube). If you have some time, I hope you’ll take a look.

As for me, I’ll be up late watching the Oscars on Sunday night until the end of the broadcast. Because for me, it’s tradition.

Copyright © 2015 – 2020

Words by HB

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