Bonnie Strome is a hotel manager’s hotel manager. He is passionate about going to work every day, even after 29 years in business, the last eight as the general manager of the Park Hyatt in Yorkville.
The hotel first opened in 1936 on Bloor and Avenue as the Park Plaza Hotel, and has been a landmark ever since, hosting prime ministers, royalty, members of the local literary and artistic community, and international luminaries who flocked to the mass to Yorkville when the Toronto International Film Festival made its home there.
In those 85-year history, the hotel has undergone some major renovations, but none as big as its most recent remodel, which saw the doors closed for nearly four years. “I can be the general manager during the most exciting reopening in town,” says Strome. Part of the remodel involved reducing the size from 346 guest rooms to 219, to create larger spaces that Strome refers to as “just the right size for luxury.” The remodel also added 65 rental apartments and the return of the legendary bar, now called Writers Room (formerly Roof Lounge).
Strome’s entire career prepared her for this once-in-a-generation high-pressure project for one of Toronto’s most recognizable hotels, even if she didn’t realize it at the time. He hadn’t planned a life in the hotel business. Having studied travel and tourism on Sheridan, Strome envisioned working on an exotic island. “In fact, I never entered the tourism space,” he says. “I had an internship at a hotel and I never left.”
Strome, whose first job was working a front desk at Delta Meadowvale in Mississauga, found that this career matched her passion for creating memorable guest experiences. “It’s a very supportive industry and it gets a bit in the blood,” he explains. “It is 24 hours a day. You never say, ‘The office is closed today, we’re all headed home.’ It gets addictive and I have noticed it for the last three years when I have not had a hotel in operation. You quickly forget how much energy it is to be in a hotel all the time. And I missed that. ”
It’s impossible not to hear Strome’s excitement as he talks about the reopening, which was officially on September 15. The closing was an emotional moment for her, and the team said goodbye with a big party in the hotel lobby. “That was one of the pinnacles of closure,” he says, “to see everyone so excited and proud of what they had accomplished.
“What really drives me is the team,” he adds, “and you learn along the way if you’re leading well because the team will tell you. When people are happy to come to work, it makes a huge difference to our success. ”
During the closing, the team worked with interior design firm Studio Munge, which drew inspiration from the seasons and landscapes of Canada for each element of the renovation. “The architecture and design are impressive,” he says. “It’s not something anyone can expect in Toronto.”
Canadian art is now a focal point, including pieces by indigenous artists and a large tapestry that welcomes guests from artist Shannon Bool. “The entrance has beautiful metal panels on the ceiling that make it look like a starry night,” says Strome. “When the guest walks into the lobby, it feels like they are in a world-class art exhibit.”
It’s been a lot of work for Strome, but you can see his efforts throughout the hotel. Knowing that little details matter when it comes to elegant spaces like this, she spent her time perfecting them, from helping select room accessories to choosing dinnerware and glassware. “I was able to participate in a lot of these design and build elements,” says Strome.
Strome, who was personally involved in the hiring process for each position on her team, is passionate about advocating for the hotel business, which she says needs support now more than ever. She is a volunteer with the Greater Toronto Hotel Association (where she previously served as president) and Destination Toronto, which focuses on recovery and promotes the city’s cultural offerings for both visitors and Toronto residents.
“People miss out on the opportunity to get together and socialize,” says Strome. “Being able to meet in hotels and interact with others is (something) that people will be able to enjoy as we see the hotel industry start to recover.”
Another driving factor for Strome is her position as a woman at the helm of a full-service luxury hotel. She says it’s getting more common to see female CEOs, but that was not the case when it started. She advises both men and women within her organization, but often, she says, “I feel like I have a different responsibility to work with our female leaders who want to aspire to different roles.”
For Strome, occupying a prominent position in such a well-known hotel has also been a great example for her two daughters. “When I became a GM,” she says, “I didn’t realize how proud I was that my daughters saw that their mother had achieved this milestone in this industry. That was the first moment that I really realized it. I took on the role of general manager and said, ‘Wow!’ ”
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