Noralta Lodge provides accommodations to oil services professionals in northern Alberta that are a far cry from the utilitarian stereotype of remote lodging. “You can think of us as a hotel in the bush,” CFO Frankie Kim says.
Noralta Lodge differentiates itself from other companies that provide temporary accommodations by focusing on the total customer experience.
As opposed to the shacks and man-camps sometimes seen in oil regions, Noralta Lodge features high-quality manufactured suites, Red-Seal certified chefs, exceptionally clean rooms and many amenities. “We provide good rest, connectivity to family and great food,” Kim explains. “Guests who are safe and well fed are more productive and safer at work.” Noralta Lodge facilities provide gourmet meals with round-the-clock dining, private rooms, fitness centers and game rooms.
All told, Noralta Lodge facilities feature approximately 5,000 rooms. It is currently adding capacity, as well. To accommodate a customer request, the Grey Wolf Lodge is expanding to 769 rooms. This is the largest lodge size the company offers. The expansion is slated to be completed this summer, Kim says.
Business is starting to pick up for Noralta Lodge, which reports increasing demand for its housing. “There is a projected shortage of accommodation in the oil sands region,” Kim says. “With all the research that we’ve done, we agree with this projection.” Noralta Lodge has undergone tremendous expansion since it started with one lodge in 1997. Kim credits the growth to strong demand from customers.
Noralta Lodge seeks to ease the region’s housing shortage. But with the lack of infrastructure in the region, relieving the shortage is hard work. Although its typical installation might be “a hotel in the bush,” its remote location means it faces different challenges from hotels in more densely populated areas. For example, Noralta Lodge must truck in potable water and truck out sewage. It also manages maintenance, construction, cleaning and food in-house. Only security is contracted to an outside vendor for added expertise. This structure allows for optimal efficiency, Kim explains.
“It’s a massive operation,” Kim says. “We try to keep everything running smoothly so guests don’t notice the differences between staying at one of our lodges and staying at a hotel in a major center.”
In addition to operating such a complex business in a remote location, some of the other challenges for Noralta Lodge include the cyclical nature of its business, as well as weather, traffic, regulatory restrictions and the constant pressure to keep prices low. Noralta Lodge works with customers to ensure that any cost restrictions are passed down to the customers as the relationship between Noralta Lodge and their customers is a partnership rather than the typical vendor-customer relationship. “We understand the importance of belt tightening,” Kim says.
Noralta Lodge takes safety and security seriously. Noralta Lodge was the first lodging company in Alberta to obtain Certificate of Recognition designation through the Partnership in Injury Reduction Program of the Alberta Hotel Safety Association.
Noralta Lodge takes an aggressive approach to recruitment and just added 250 new team members. It offers top-tier compensation with a full benefits package for recruiting only the best, Kim says. Team members work 20 days on and 10 days off. They are flown home to Edmonton on a company-owned Dash-8 airplane at the end of their shift and back again for the start of their shift. This helps improve morale, keeps team members fresh and is a safer mode of travel.
By treating its team members like family, goodwill flows through to guests and improves the overall experience, Kim says. “We value our team,” he says. “This is a private company and a family-run business. We operate as a family.”