Robert Pratt, President, Coast Hotels Ltd.

Arriving with a rich history of tourism and hospitality experience, Coast Hotels president Robert Pratt is ready to expand and connect with the community.

Robert Pratt, Coast Hotels Ltd. | BCBusiness

Arriving with a rich history of tourism and hospitality experience, Coast Hotels president Robert Pratt is ready to expand and connect with the community.

Robert Pratt’s ascent to president of a hotel chain was a long time in the making. Starting with a summer job at the Sword and Anchor Inn in Chester, Nova Scotia, Pratt moved up the ranks to become a general manager at Westin Hotels & Resorts, president and COO of SilverBirch Hotels and Resorts LP and eventually COO of Westmont Hospitality Management Ltd. Finally, in October 2011, he was named president of Coast Hotels Ltd., a Vancouver-based chain of 45 hotels ranging from Alaska to Hawaii, and with sites up and down the coast and into Alberta. Bringing to the job a wealth of experience, and an intense passion for tourism, Pratt is excited about the future of the company and the industry he’s spent his career exploring.

You joined Coast Hotels & Resorts in October 2011. What’s your overall impression so far?

I love it, it’s great. I’ve been here six weeks now. It’s a company that I know, because when I was working at SilverBirch – I was there for 11 years – we were a franchisee of Coast Hotels, so I was familiar with the company and a few of the people. It’s a company that I’ve always been attracted to, so it’s very fortunate for me that this opportunity has come up.

Were you looking to make a career move?

Not really, because I had just made a career move. I was at SilverBirch and then there was a change of control and everybody left so I was looking for the right place in Vancouver for a few months. I took an opportunity with a company called Westmont Hospitality; they had asked me to come and be their chief operating officer. Originally we’d said that this would be a job I could more or less do from Vancouver, but when I got there I realized very quickly that the job was in Toronto. So that caused me to commute every week from Vancouver to Toronto. I wasn’t looking, because I had made this commitment, but frankly when Coast approached me initially, I knew then that what I was doing wasn’t sustainable. One thing led to another and Coast asked me to come and be their president, which I’m delighted with.

Most of Coast’s hotels are in B.C. and Alberta, with some in the western U.S. Is expanding east something that you see in the future?

It is. We do have excellent coverage in the west, but there is still room for us to grow in the west. But absolutely we want to move east. We’d like to double our size, so to be able to do that we’re going to have to make our way across the Prairies and into Toronto, and ultimately across the continent. We are in the U.S. and we believe there’s potential to grow across the U.S. too. We’re a regional brand right now, but we hope to be a continental brand.

Coast Hotels is very community-minded. 
Is that important to you?

It’s one of our values, and it’s certainly something that’s important to me. That’s why I think Coast is such a great fit for me. When I look at the culture, and I look at the values of the organization, I say, “You know what? This is absolutely me.” I identify so closely with it, it’s almost as though I created it. Now that my focus is mainly in the west, I’m going to be able 
to become much more involved at a 
local level.

You started working in the tourism industry in your teens. What is it that’s kept you invested in it after all these years?

I think it’s that it’s such a people-intensive business. I’m a social animal and I love engaging and interacting with people of all ages and all levels. In our industry we are given that opportunity every day. I know it sounds a bit cliché, but I love people. The other thing is that the hotel industry is so interesting because there are so many moving parts. It’s always something new, something challenging and something interesting.

How has the hotel industry changed in recent years?

I think the essentials of providing services to guests is not that different; what has happened in that area is that the bar has been raised. I think we’ve gotten better, from a service standpoint, and a product standpoint. Where we’ve really seen change though is in the amount of information available to potential visitors. The way that the services, within tourism in general, are sold is very different. People now go on the web to research a trip, and they ultimately often book it online too. 

How important is tourism to B.C.’s economy? 

It’s hugely important. Tourism’s GDP in 2010 was just under $6.5 billion. Mining and oil and gas extraction was $4.5 billion, and forestry was $2.5 billion. So it’s looking like tourism is the big fish. Tourism revenues had a 6.2 per cent increase in 2010. When you look out into the future, say to 2016, we’re looking for roughly five per cent year-over-year growth. Which is, I think, pretty promising. When you talk about employment, there are nearly 18,000 tourism-related businesses in the province, and they employ over 127,000 people. So I think tourism is very well positioned to be a growth industry.