Check In at the Modern Historic Hotel

While the iconic Fairmont Royal York will never forget its storied past, Edwin Frizzell is leading it toward the future

Edwin Frizzell on the Fairmont Royal York's 19th floor, the Executive's Floor. Photo by John Hryniuk

A leader in the global hospitality industry, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is a celebrated collection of more than 70 distinctive hotels, including the famed, historic Fairmont Royal York. Edwin Frizzell serves as both the general manager for the latter and regional vice president for Central Canada, overseeing four additional Fairmont properties in Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Calgary.

When the Fairmont Royal York originally opened in downtown Toronto in 1929, the iconic building was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth. Over the course of the next eight decades, it continues to be a symbol of pride and allure.

In 2014, its ownership announced a large renovation of the property, with Frizzell a main component of leading change and innovation.

“Innovation is one of our three key pillars in terms of what we look at in terms of how we evaluate decision-making around any aspect of what we’re doing,” Frizzell says. “So whether that’s looking at how we deliver a service experience from arrival to departure or delivering a special guest request to how we book and analyze our meeting space and what conventions align well with the hotel, pretty much everything that we do is touched by technology and innovation.” The challenge of the repositioning was having the hotel stay true to its historic roots while utilizing modern technology.

“Even though the Fairmont Royal York is one of the most iconic and historic buildings in the city, we’re also one of the most technologically advanced and one of the newest luxury experiences that you can have,” Frizzell says. “Our vision is about innovation, about elevating our experience, while inspiring people to be at their best. We know that if we take great care of our colleagues, they’ll take really great care of our customers, and the business will take care of itself.”

“Even though the Fairmont Royal York is one of the most iconic and historic buildings in the city, we’re also one of the most technologically advanced and one of the newest luxury experiences that you can have”

One of the first implemented changes was in the way guests checked in, which for 30 years followed the tried-and-true measure of people walking up to the front desk.

“We’re one of the first hotels to fully deploy an iPad check-in experience where, because we already know in advance of your arrival—and all of the things that you’ve told us like what type of room you want, and what your preferences are—our front desk agents can actually interact with a guest for the check-in experience anywhere in the hotel,” Frizzell says. “So whether you’re sitting on a sofa in the lobby or whether you’re coming into the restaurant and doing it table-side, we really believe in finding ways to make the processes of interacting with our customers easier so that we can spend more time actually personally connecting with our guests and helping fulfill our Fairmont service promise, which is turning moments into memories.”

The hotel is also launching the next generation of the MICROS food-and-beverage point-of-sale system called Symphony 2 in all of its restaurants, allowing its servers to better meet the demands of customers. Fairmont Royal York has also completed renovations on almost 1,000 of its nearly 1,400 rooms in the new Fairmont-Luxury-Room style, which includes an automated mini-bar system, media panels that allow a guest to connect content from their iPhone or mobile device onto the television screens, and the latest in wireless connectivity.

“We are also working on the public areas in terms of modernizing some of those iconic spaces—like the concert hall and the ballroom, which is an amazing space with historic trompe-l’œil ceilings and incredible moldings—and of course our Imperial Room, which is one of the most famous event spaces in the city,” Frizzell says. “All of those spaces are currently being redesigned with a plan to complete this restoration project later on in 2016 and early 2017.” Frizzell’s team is also working on a newly-designed Fairmont GOLD experience for its best customers, which will launch in early 2017.

He notes that although every move won’t sound “sexy and cool,” there are many changes that will improve the client experience. For instance, the hotel is launching a new door-locking system with the latest in radio-frequency-identification and environmental-control technology.

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Frizzell posing for a selfie at the hotel’s 2015 holiday party, which this year was a casino night. Photo by

“The ability to be able to make it easier for our customers and our teams to change room keys and make them work more effectively and do all those things is very significant. It’s a multimillion-dollar project,” Frizzell says. “There are lots of hotels out there that would love to be doing something on that scale and just don’t often get the chance to do it.”

The hotel also recently installed a new preventative-maintenance tracking system for all of its engineering work called Synergy MMS. “We have over 29,000 pieces of equipment alone in this building that require preventative maintenance on an annual basis. Managing that manually is virtually impossible,” Frizzell says. “Today we use technology and software programs to help us be able to execute this in a way that allows our engineers to be working on the right thing and our support teams to be proactively ensuring that our customers don’t encounter mechanical or engineering challenges when they arrive at the hotel that perhaps we weren’t even aware of.”

The historic aspect of being in a grand-luxury hotel is more important than ever, and Frizzell notes that at Fairmont Royal York its teams take that history seriously. “We know that we can’t improve the experience with technology to make that interaction more efficient without always understanding what the intent is: to give our colleagues more time to make those experiences memorable and fulfill the Fairmont service promise of ‘turning moments into memories.’”

While people like to think of Fairmont Royal York as a somewhat old-fashioned hotel, Frizzell shares that the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We are an iconic, historic building,” Frizzell says. “We are historically protected in terms of the Heritage Society, but what really drives the heartbeat of our team is the fact that we consistently want to find ways to make this building better for the future and create exceptional and memorable experiences for our colleagues and guests. We are all writing our current chapter of the history of this hotel, and when people look back on that, I’m hopeful that they will see that this was a time of innovation and change and that we enhanced the overall image and perception of the hotel.”