Fairmont Château Laurier gets the first female general manager

A day when Geneviève Dumas reflects on her life filled with pinch-me-moments, she will have remembered that fall afternoon from a few weeks ago when she drove to the Fairmont Château Laurier for an important meeting.

As she approached the hotel in the center and spotted its fairytale towers and the steep copper roof, she was struck by a tidal wave of excitement. This historic building, she realized, was where she would work every day. She was its new daily manager.

“I had goosebumps,” she said during a phone interview. “I thought, ‘I can not believe I’m actually GM for that property.’ For me, it’s the most beautiful, iconic hotel in Canada.

“I knew it was where I wanted to be. Ottawa is such a big city. It’s a big city, but it still has that charm.”

On Monday, AccorHotels announced the appointment of Dumas as the new GM for the Fairmont Château Laurier.

She writes hotel history by becoming the first female CEO of the 109-year-old landmark. “I’m really proud of it and I hope I pave the way for other women hoping to get there.”

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Arial image of the Fairmont Château Laurier in downtown Ottawa, next to Parliament Hill.

Dumas, 50, has worked in the hotel business for more than 25 years. She brings her new job with ten years of experience operating Fairmont’s Le Château Montebello in western Quebec, located between Ottawa and Montreal. Under her leadership, the rustic hotel and resort complex recently began a year-long $ 17.5 million renovation of half of its rooms ahead of its 90th birthday. “It’s beautiful,” she said of the world’s largest log cabin, which was built with more than 10,000 red cedar trees for its grand opening in 1930.

Dumas was born and raised in Laval and studied hotel and restaurant management in Montreal before landing at the Fairmont Tremblant at the age of 25. She realized almost instantly that she wanted to become a hotel director. She found out what skills and qualifications she first needed and set about acquiring them. “I knew I could be the kind of leader who motivated people to do their best.”

She quickly learned the ins and outs of running a hotel by running the various departments including food and beverage, housekeeping and sales. “I did it all,” said the practical boss, who has stripped and made more beds about than she can count over the course of her career. “When I can, I help. Two weeks ago, I did valet parking.”

While working full-time and raising a young family, she also earned her MBA from the School of Management Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (ESG UQAM).

Dumas has had progressive leadership roles at the Fairmont Tremblant, Fairmont Empress, Hilton Homewood Suites and Marriott Residence Inn. Her career has also taken her across the globe, to the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

In 2020, Dumas was named the Extraordinary Woman of the Year by the Gatineau Chamber of Commerce. She was recognized in 2021 by her Quebec-based peers as one of the most influential people in her industry. She is currently chairing the Outaouais Tourism Board.

Dumas said she hopes to build on the progress the hotel has made in recent years to offer visitors a destination that is fun and exciting. Its outdoor terrace restaurant La Terrace, for example, has become a perfect choice, she said. “I want people to come to the hotel and say, ‘Wow, that’s great.’ I want them to have the same feeling I do when I walk into the building.”

Her official first working day is on Monday. This will coincide with the launch of the hotel’s annual Trees of Hope for CHEO. Employees from local businesses and organizations gather that afternoon to decorate 33 trees, which will remain on display in the hotel’s public spaces throughout the holiday season as part of a fundraiser for the regional children’s hospital. The exhibit will include a 20-foot artificial Christmas tree, sponsored by Terlin Construction, in the main lobby.

Dumas said she is stepping into the new job, just as her industry is showing signs of improvement. “The business is up and running. We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re all bringing them back to their jobs and moving forward. It’s exciting.”

The role of Château Laurier brings Dumas closer to his daughters, who are both students at the University of Ottawa. Marie-Pier Millette, 24, is in medicine, while Makaelle Millette, 20, is studying law. Dumas returns this weekend to the family home in Montebello, where her husband runs a business.

It has been a tradition in her family to go ice skating together on the Rideau Canal. With the canal located just steps from the hotel, Dumas said she is looking forward to getting on the ice this winter. One thing that may change now that she lives in Ottawa is her loyalty to the Montreal Canadiens. “I may have to start cheering on the Ottawa senators.”

caroline@obj.ca

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