Adjustments and opportunities
Residence Life and Hospitality Services began the 2019-20 period on track to deliver record revenues and services to the university community. Print Services and Concordia Stores also eschewed the status quo, rethinking and adjusting their models. Though the COVID-19 pandemic threw some Budget and Planning endeavours for a loop, it also provided opportunities.
“When COVID hit Quebec, we had to respond very quickly,” says Sabrina Lavoie, executive director of Budget Planning and Business Development. “Our Events team dealt with short-term pain, then worked on long-term gain — at least from the point of view of supporting our academic community. For many of them, events and conferences are essential to exchange ideas, share findings and establish new collaborations — internally and with those at other institutions.”
During spring 2020, the Events team gathered all available information on virtual conferencing options to prepare a new set of offerings, focusing on the needs of Concordians.
“The first major event we hosted was the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium. It exceeded the number of expected registrants as well as the projected revenue. We received very positive feedback and were able to further elaborate our offerings for more such events for the 2020-21 academic year,” Lavoie says.
From May 2019 to March 2020, Hospitality Services booked 15,648 spaces and oversaw 1,044 events — taking a lead role in planning 367 of them. The overwhelming majority of those were for internal community members — 95 per cent in the case of event bookings.
Among the largest in-person events were the 2019 AAMAS conference, with 647 registered attendees from across the globe; the ICPP4, with participants from 285 countries; and the Journées de la relève en recherche ACFAS, which brought together 200 students in different stages of their degrees.
Another success was Hospitality’s seventh edition of Taste of a Good Cause — a favourite event of those keen to try new dishes while contributing to the Student Emergency Meal Fund. The November 2019 edition brought in over $2,000, which was redistributed to students in need of assistance at the grocery checkout counter.
For events where food leftovers were likely, Hospitality partnered with La Tablée des Chefs in 2019. The initiative ensures that remaining — but untouched — food is delivered to Montreal shelters rather than the compost bin.
“Between the events that we oversaw and those organized by student associations, we managed to donate 869 kilograms of food to groups like the Old Brewery Mission, the Salvation Army, Solidarité Sawa and more,” Lavoie reports.
Kicking back at Concordia
During the 2019-20 academic period, Concordia Residences were at capacity again. The team kept students fed and sheltered, and provided community to those separated from family and friends. In May 2019, when most returned to their homes, tourists and conference attendees eagerly took their place for short-stay rentals.
“We welcomed over 6,000 guests in summer 2019. That provided a significant cash injection for the university to use for academic and other core activities,” says Lavoie.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything in spring 2020. Most students moved out after the government announced closures and were forced to leave behind what they couldn’t carry.
“Packing up and storing all their belongings was a considerable endeavour. It also meant working out a system to return items when restrictions were eased,” says Lavoie.
Dozens of students couldn’t leave right away because of travel difficulty or serious outbreaks in their home countries. They stayed in residence for many additional weeks. Staff made sure there was enough space between rooms and provided meals with minimal contact. They also set up a quarantine area in the case anyone became sick.
“We’re happy that no one needed that space, that none of our student residents fell ill with COVID-19. We’re also glad that we were able to help them through the crisis period,” Lavoie adds.
“In the best of times, we work to address the needs of individuals. But in the worst, we had to treat each case completely differently. Each student’s situation was truly unique.”