Featured Hotelier: Madone Pelan

By: Cinda Chavich

General Manager, Oak Bay Beach Hotel

It’s construction season at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and General Manager Madone Pelan has added hard hat to the many hats she wears.

In the short mid-winter gap between big holidays, renovation projects are underway. New brick pavers are piled on the drive at the front of the historic waterfront property, there’s a new covered patio being carved out of a rock garden for their popular Neapolitan pizza parlour, and The Snug Pub, a local institution, is getting a flooring facelift.

Pelan is juggling all of these many moving parts, whether it’s hotel hospitality and the needs of the early-bird pub crowd, now relocated to the lobby bar to enjoy their pints and ploughman’s platters, or the minutiae of building budgets and schedules.

“I love all of the details, pouring over the numbers,” she admits, “but I also love being that link to visitors and their travels, whether they’re here for business, to see family, or for a bucket list vacation.”

Pelan has managed the award-winning boutique hotel since 2020, after five years as director of sales and marketing. When she took the reins early that year, all of the annual plans were already in place, but then everything went south—and Pelan had to lead her team through the firestorm of COVID-19.

“Two weeks later I had to shut the hotel down,” she says. “It was difficult, but it allowed a different lens on things, and it ended up being very successful.”

“The COVID-19 shutdown allowed a different lens on things.”

The hotel closed to guests for two months, but Pelan and her management team quickly devised a new plan to keep staff working—a temporary online food and grocery delivery service, repackaging products from their suppliers, and using hotel vehicles to deliver them.

“We decided to focus on a thing we could control,” she says. “We have a lot of seniors and vulnerable people in Oak Bay, and we wanted to do something for the community.”

“The point was to keep people employed and stay relevant,” she adds, noting their online grocery offered over 200 food items, from milk, butter and flour to fresh vegetables, family-size lasagna, and other prepared meals.

“We wanted to stay connected, instead of just turning the lights off. It allowed me to keep all of my executives working plus some of my other managers—the best team building exercise you could imagine.”

It’s just another reason why this independent hotel has such a loyal customer base.

The Oak Bay Beach Hotel is an iconic Victoria property, first built in 1927 and completely reimagined and reopened in 2012, with 100 guest rooms and 20 privately-owned luxury condo suites.

“The Oak Bay Beach Hotel is recognized as the #1 Hotel in Canada by Conde Nast.”

With its Boathouse Spa and destination dining—including The Snug, the elegant upscale Dining Room and the stylish FARO pizzeria (successfully launched during the pandemic)—the Oak Bay Beach Hotel is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike, and has received many awards, recognized as the #1 Hotel in Canada and #19 in the World by Conde Nast, Readers’ Choice awards, 2021, and a Top 1% Hotel in the World by TripAdvisor in 2021.

These accolades have come under Pelan’s watch, along with the 2022 Employer of the Year award from 4VI (formerly Vancouver Island Tourism), a nod to her work to support and retain hotel staff over the difficult pandemic period.

Pelan grew up in Vancouver and started her hospitality career travelling the world with Princess Cruises. She worked at the Sutton Place Hotel and came to Victoria in 2002, spending 11 years in group, corporate and leisure sales management at the Fairmont Empress Hotel. That was a chance to travel widely to promote the city of Victoria, and led her to many of her volunteer positions, including terms as president and vice president of the BC chapter of Meeting Professionals International, Chair of the Oak Bay Tourism Committee, and board member of the British Columbia Hotel Association and Destination Greater Victoria.

Managing a luxury hotel in Oak Bay means upholding standards for guests, planning events, hosting meeting and incentive travel groups, while respecting the hotel’s local history. In a small hotel, with a single ownership group, there’s less middle management and no big corporation to slow local management down, and Pelan seems endlessly nimble.

“It’s really allowed me to see the bigger picture and allowed me to be involved in so many decisions,” says Pelan, who continues to find ways to improve this special property and keep it relevant. There’s now a welcome ambassador to greet guests, the neighborhood pub has a new covered deck with spectacular ocean views, and Pelan has her sights on a future rooftop cocktail bar.

“Her goal is “building depth” in her team.”

Overseeing renovations is just one of the many jobs that fall to the manager of a busy hotel. But Pelan is quick to note that her goal is “building depth” in her team, to spread the responsibilities and rewards.

“My job is to facilitate everyone doing their jobs—being a service to my leaders, removing roadblocks and supporting them,” she says. “It’s a big picture role, having everyone’s best interests at heart.”