From the first moment we spoke, it was obvious that Jared Sissons knew a thing or two about hospitality.
Sissons, the general manager of Executive Suites Hotel and Resort in Squamish, had quickly turned a request for an interview into an opportunity to invite me for breakfast, graciously turning business into pleasure in a way only the best in the field know how to do.
And when I arrived, he greeted me with a warm smile and was eloquent in his answers to questions about tourism in Squamish and the potential of the industry here. It was the day after the LNG protest, so he adeptly handled a question about the proposed liquefied natural gas plant’s effects on tourism.
Sissons, now 46, was only 17 when he started working in the hotel industry in his hometown of Winnipeg. He landed a job as an elevator operator at Hotel Fort Garry, a former CN hotel.
“I used to take people up. It was an old-style elevator with a handle,” he recalls while sipping coffee Monday morning. “I discovered I really liked working in a hotel environment, that I loved the interaction with guests, that I loved to make guests happy and give the information they needed to have a really good time.”
At the time, he was a student at University of Winnipeg and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English. He said the BA has served him well. “I think the arts give you a good indication of how to present things in a very professional way. It certainly helped with marketing…. The approach to marketing is always polished.”
At Hotel Fort Garry, “I got hooked on the industry, but I did not get hooked on the climate. I wanted a warmer climate, so I moved to British Columbia.”
He landed in Vancouver, where at night he worked the front desk at the Holiday Inn on Howe Street. During the day, he was a student at Douglas College, earning a marketing degree and studying hotel and restaurant management. “So I was pretty busy at that time,” he remembers.
Later, he moved to Toronto, where he worked in marketing for two large hotels.
“But I missed British Columbia,” he says, noting he took a marketing director position in Vancouver with the Hilton chain. By the time he was working as general manager at The Executive in Vancouver, he had already discovered Squamish and moved here with his partner while he commuted to the city.
“I knew this would be the place I would eventually end up. I loved nature walks and hiking the trails and quiet times.”
He also enjoys riding ATVs, walking their Havanese dog and helping lead Squamish’s tourism industry into its future. Sissons is on the board of Tourism Squamish.
“I was chair at one of the most exciting times, when the gondola was being built. I want to say I helped Squamish take the next step in becoming a tourism destination. I don’t want to take all the credit, but I think Tourism Squamish was very instrumental in new developments and new attractions.”
Squamish is uniquely positioned as a true Sea to Sky destination where you can enjoy both the mountains and the ocean, he says. The town continues to appeal to adventurers such as rock climbers, but 90 per cent of visitors are regular folk who simply want an escape into nature from city life, says Sissons.
“I am excited about where Squamish is going, the development of the waterfront… that is the next vital component to tourism in Squamish.”
In the past four years since he arrived to work here, occupancy at Squamish hotels has doubled, to 60 per cent.
Will the LNG plant, if built, affect tourism here? Sissons puts down his coffee and is careful in answering this question, as Woodfibre LNG has a corporate account at the hotel.
“No. Take a look at Stanley Park, for example, and look out on English Bay. You see 14 or 15 tankers and it has no effect on Stanley Park. It’s important to have industry in a community because it creates jobs and it creates tourism dollars as well,” he says.
“Is my business point and my individual point the same? Not necessarily. But I really don’t believe, in my gut, that it’s going to affect tourism that much.”
But he urges the company to “be conscious of sight lines and of working together with the adventure businesses” in Howe Sound.
Executive Suites Squamish won two major awards last year, Executive Hotels Brand Champion for North America and Business of the Year from the Squamish Chamber of Commerce.
“It means I am doing something right, definitely, but it made me very proud of my team, that we could all work together to achieve excellence,” says Sissons. “Our guests really appreciate what we are doing here.”