Housing & Residence Life

Working for the Summer: Housing’s Hotel Operations

This article was co-authored by Shaun Ono & Valerie Bruce.

When you think about Housing and Residence Life (HRL) at Ryerson, what are your first thoughts? Hopefully your answer is “on-campus living for Ryerson students”; perhaps you think about residence life, student leaders, or those buildings on campus where students happen to live. One thing that may not come to your mind is our summer accommodations operation.

When you tell people that you work at a university, they often get the impression that you get the summer months off. For some folks, that might be true. The summer is a time reserved for reviewing the past year, planning for the future, and some recharging in between…

…but not for Housing.

Summer is, surprisingly, one of our busiest times! Housing is a 12 month business: from September to April we focus on student residence, providing homes for Ryerson students, and from May to August we operate two of our residence buildings (International Living Learning Centre and Pitman Hall) as a hotel to provide accommodations for short-term guests. Our clientele range from conference and school groups to tourists visiting Toronto and beyond. We provide 24/7 front desk services, rooms with full set-up including linens and toiletries, deliver daily cleaning to most of the rooms and assist in selling parking and meal options—not to mention offering a hands-on work experience for students interested in customer service and hospitality & tourism, leveraging our bed space to offset costs to our operation and programming throughout the school year, and continuing to deepen our connection to downtown Toronto itself.

The summer accommodations operation is something HRL has been running for the past three years. Once students move out at the end of April, Facilities quickly flips over the buildings and performs housekeeping set-up while we start training 22 new student leaders to hold the roles of Guest Service Agent (GSA), Leads, Night Auditors, and Student Housekeepers, all the while prepping for our first set of guests by mid-May. Not to mention our continued work to be ready for the next batch of first year students in the Fall (e.g. applications, residence life planning, etc.).

For a number of university and college residences, their summer operation’s goal is just to cover all operating costs to keep open during the summer (as utilities and other expenses of operating the buildings continue throughout the summer months). Our summer operation is vital to Housing because it not only brings in enough revenue to offset the summer costs, but because of our high demand is enough that we can allocate funds to support programming done during the school year (like stress busters or academic field trips for residents). But it also provides a unique, hospitality working experience for students and staff.

Camaraderie at the front desk during the summer.

One of the biggest values our summer operation holds is the unique and challenging experience we’re able to offer our summer frontline staff. The job focuses on developing areas of customer service, finance, and teamwork skills in a busy and sometimes hectic environment. For the staff who work Residence Life positions during the school year, these are skills and interactions they may not be able to develop as a Residence Advisor or Academic Link. For those in the Hospitality & Tourism Management program, we’re able to offer an experience laden with responsibilities and hands-on experience that they may not find in other internships. It’s no easy job, but our goal is to make sure the students are well aware of the personal development that comes with the ups and downs they experience.

For many of the student staff, their favorite takeaway from working the summer ends up being the interactions and connections they make with visiting hotel guests from around the world. We encourage staff to genuinely engage with guests as part of the wholesome and comfortable stay we strive to create. We’ve had guests offer up their homes to any students travelling to their native countries, groups invite staff out to a social with them, and countless relationships that have lasted past the check-out date.

Being located right downtown, our operation also connects Ryerson to the cultural events that are making Toronto one of North America’s top summer destinations; we are consistently booked solid for Pride and Caribana. It’s a great feeling to know you are the starting point and first impression of Toronto for visitors coming in from across the world.

Future ideas include a partnership with our Hospitality & Tourism Faculty to utilize our summer operation as a case study and/or provide a cycle/internship element for first or second year students to gain necessary experience in the field before exploring opportunities outside the university. We hope to engage our student staff in evolving not only our administrative processes to fit better standards within the field, but to allow them the opportunity to learn and grow within our operation and apply some of their new found lessons to their academic year positions within our department.

You may not have thought “summer hotel service” when you thought “Ryerson Student Housing”, but it’s a valuable source of income for the department, it connects us to the cultural heart of the city, and it allows us the excellent opportunity to work with the academic side of Ryerson and provide Housing & Tourism students a chance for hands on education to compliment their in-class learning. It’s not just way to make money, but an important part of our departmental identity.

Welcoming visitors to Pitman Hall for their summer stay.

How We Do It

Something that may surprise you is the timeframe needed to  prepare us for the summer operation is the full 12 months rotation. That’s right—a yearlong process is involved to gear up for another summer of fun.  

Show time begins in May and concludes in August, but the planning process can be backtracked as far as October.

October: Planning Begins

  • The financial reports of the past summer are prepared and reviewed to reflect on the summer’s outcome.
  • Policies and procedures are reviewed utilizing the feedback from the past student staff team.
  • Rates are uploaded into our Hotel management system, while a competitive analysis is completed with various other buildings within the area.

November / December: If You (Open Your) Bookings, They Will Come

  • Consultations occur with various stakeholders within our summer operation.
  • Finalization of forms and procedures are completed to fit with industry standards and get the green light from Ryerson’s Legal team.
  • We officially “open” our on-line booking engine for guests to begin booking for the summer ahead.

January / March: Recruitment Is A Four Letter Word

  • Staff recruitment begins by connecting with the Career Centre, TRSM faculty, past staff, etc.
  • Check-in meetings with our campus partners (One Card Office, Conference Services, Food Services and Financial Services) to prep everyone for the summer ahead.
  • Summer Staff Hiring Carousels occur and we hire our summer team.

April / May: Full Operations… Engage!

  • As the academic year is wrapped up, a week long training occurs for our summer team.
  • Buildings are transitioned over to the hotel service as students move-out. Official opening is typically mid-May and we are into full operations mode!