CONTI Evolution in the Media

BUILDING CONNECTIONS: Walid Salem, SilverBirch Hotels

Colby Harder - Wednesday, February 11, 2015

This month we're excited to be launching the first edition of our "Building Connections" online interview series, featuring interviews with a number of prominent business leaders and CONTI Evolution Clients. We're very pleased to have Walid Salem as our first guest.  Walid is the Vice President of Technology for SlverBirch Hotels & Resorts. 

SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts is one of Canada’s leading hotel management companies and manages a large portfolio of full-service, focused service and extended stay hotels across Canada. Walid and his team have been a client of CONTI Evolution's for several years and we have overseen the development and rollout of integrated audio video solutions within their SilverBirch Conference Centres concept. Our project has seen us complete projects in Regina SK, Edmonton AB, and Halifax NS, with more to come in 2015.

Here's my interview with Walid Salem.

Q. Walid, you're very passionate about technology and its effective application on business.  Tell me about where this passion for technology came from?

A. It really started since high school.  I have always been drawn to technology and the way people use it.  My interests have morphed over the years from the physical aspect of the technology, to the usability, and return on investment.  I'm currently looking into various aspects of technology and process innovation frameworks that can be deployed in our organization to ensure innovation is not done in a vacuum.

Q. Your SilverBirch Conference Centre (SBCC) concept has really taken off in your properties across Canada.  What makes the SilverBirch Conference Centre so unique?

A. SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts is pioneering an all easy, all affordable and all-inclusive meeting concept in Canada.  We are responding to today's meeting planner and customer needs:

- Customer do not want to be "nickeled and dimed"

- Booking a meeting for 20 people with basic audio visual in a traditional way is very cumbersome and difficult: Explaining the food & beverage needs to multiple people, spending too much time on choosing menu items that fit the budget, often not getting what your attendees want, and then receiving bills that are hard to read and often end up being more expensive than anticipated.

We want to ensure that our customers spend their valuable time on the content of the meeting, to deliver innovative, productive, inspiring meetings, and not having to adjust their schedule and breaks to accommodate the hotel's structure.  So our concept includes one price per person per day that includes everything:  The latest built-in  Audio Video systems, a distraction free and ergonomically designed meeting room, Wi-Fi, all breaks and a buffet lunch.  It event includes gratuities and service charges.

All you need to tell us is the date of your meeting and how many people you will be hosting and the bill at the end is exactly what you budgeted for.  The average time of one of our customers planning a meeting at a SilverBirch Conference Centre is less than fifteen minutes.

What makes our SilverBirch Conference Centres so unique is that our customers can have their breaks at whatever time suits them with our Connections Café, a centralized break area encompassed in every SilverBirch Conference Centre. 

- A modern café look with free Wi-Fi to allow guests to stay connected while on a break and an all-day great variety of snacks.  Guests can break at their convenience and use the cafes as many times during the day as they want.  It is all included in the per person meeting price.  No more interruptions by a knock at the meeting room door and someone noisily wheeling in some cookies or stale Danishes and Coffee.  The flow of our customer's meeting is never interrupted! 

- Our concept is:  "What you want, when you want it"  Our offering includes filtered water, espresso  beverages and a wide assortment of cold drinks.  Each chef customizes and embraces our culinary program that includes home-made indulgences in small portions, foods that are organic, fresh, and local, and energizing products like soya milk, rice milk, fresh smoothie shots, modernized comfort foods and calorie counting menu items and gluten free options.

Q. Your Audio Visual systems are one of the hallmarks of the SBCC.  What sort of user experience did you want to create when you undertook the design of audio visual for the SBCC?

A. We want to create a "Plug & Play" experience.  Our customers do not have to worry about what kind of AV equipment they need, what fits into their budgets, and they don't have to come in extra early to oversee the setup.  All of our SilverBirch Conference Centre meeting rooms feature the latest equipment, all built-in, operated by easy touch screens.  The best part: It's all included in the all-inclusive per person price - no more lists to peruse and no more bills to check!

Q. As a technology executive within a national company, what is your biggest challenge?

A. Information technology practices in the hospitality industry requires one to manage three distinct components of IT.  In this case, the hotel technology solutions, back-end business systems, and the IT infrastructure & user computing environment.  This challenge requires one to stay on top of IT developments, and look for ways to cross-pollinate investments.  It is perfect for me, as I need the challenge to keep moving forward, and there is never a dull moment.

Q. Your audio video technology rollout on this project was very involved.  What advice would you give to others undertaking such a project?

A. Finding the right partner of course!  As I mentioned, we have to rely on the partner's industry experience to ensure we are deploying the right solution for the intended purpose.  It is important for the partner to have the appropriate relationships with the technology vendors.  It goes without saying that project management is of the essence in a project like this one.  

Q. You've worked closely with our team at CONTI Evolution to provide the audio video advisory, design, and implementation services for the SBCC.  How did CONTI Evolution add value to your team?

A. The entire team at CONTI was very professional.  They add value to our team by being able to integrate well with our team, being highly organized, honest, and your team communicated very well with us throughout this ongoing project.  Open communication combined with high levels of expertise helped the entire collective team deliver real success on this project.

Q. You currently have 3 hotels with the SBCC concept in place in Halifax, Regina, and Edmonton.  Looking ahead, what are your growth plans for the SBCC concept?

A. Looking forward, we believe that small meetings are a significant growth area.  Especially small meetings that require technology to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and ideas.  SilverBirch is in a period of growth and expansion and one of our most exciting projects will be in downtown Calgary.  We are building the largest Residence Inn by Marriott Hotel in the world, including a large SilverBirch Conference Centre.

Q. What are the notable technology trends you see in conference centres in the coming few years?

A. Ah, that is our competitive advantage...  what I will share is that we will continue to increase the ease of use, available bandwidth, and interactive capabilities of our conference facilities.

Q. The SBCC is a very unique concept.  Of all the various aspects of the SBCC, which one are you most proud of?

A. We are most proud of our Connections Café and the all-inclusive concept.  In the words of one of our clients: "Why hasn't anyone thought of this concept sooner!  The variety of snacks and the availability of quality food all day long changed the thankless task of trying to choose a menu that will make most people  happy".

Q. What piece of technology would you like to see added to the SBCC concept in the future?

A. Touch screens that are intuitive to use, sound masking for meeting rooms, interactive technology to ensure increased audience engagement, meeting room booking apps, and more that is "Secret!". 

Q. You've worked with other audio video providers in the past, why did you choose to work with our team at CONTI Evolution?

A. It is important for SilverBirch IT to find partners in Canada, and support boutique type businesses.  Your organization's size and quality of your staff is what set you apart from the competition.  I look forward to continuing to deploy exciting new Audio Video systems at our forthcoming hotel properties.

Q. Walid, thankyou for taking the time to sit down with us today.  In closing, can you tell us how a business owner or meeting organizer can book a corporate meeting at a SilverBirch Conference Centre?

A. It's really simple.  Just go to www.inspiredmeetings.ca  or contact sales@silverbirchhotels.com

That concludes our interview with Walid Salem.  I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him for sharing their vision and insight for our interview.  If you'd like more information on the SilverBirch Conference Centre, you may also wish to watch this recent video feature from Canadian Business.


Be sure to check out our interview next month.  Our guest for March will be Wendy Tait, Managing Director, Design at Earls Restaurants.  She'll share her insights on design, project management, and building a successful restaurant chain.


Colby Harder is an entrepreneur, blogger, and the President of CONTI Evolution, an audio video advisory services firm that support audio video projects across North America for customers and brands including Earls Restaurants, SilverBirch Hotels, SAP, Nordstrom, and hundreds of regional and local innovators.