Halcyon hotel days in Kamloops
In November of 2011, a traveller who landed in downtown Kamloops would have had to put more than the normal amount of effort into finding a bed.
Two Victoria Street hotels had closed for renovations during the shoulder season. On St. Paul Street, the Coast Canadian Inn had shut its doors permanently, its owners citing financial issues.
Fast forward 12 months and the downtown hotel scene has stepped up its game.
At Hotel 540 on Victoria Street, a doorman greets guests in a sleek new porte-cochère.
Down the road, the Plaza Heritage Hotel has overhauled its decor and is angling to bring in locals and tourists alike with a new restaurant general manager Shatha Al-Reihani has called Kamloops’ “premier steakhouse.”
The Coast Canadian building, too, is on its way back, with a new name.
In September, city council approved a development permit for a multi-million-dollar renovation that will see the hotel converted into a Doubletree by Hilton — a brand that is best known for its practice of presenting guests with a warm chocolate-chip cookie on arrival.
While Bob Mandair of Blue Light Hotels, which owns the vacant building, was light on details in a conversation with KTW, he said more news on the hotel’s future will likely come in the spring of 2013.
Meanwhile, on Lorne Street, the $25-million Sandman Signature Hotel continues to rise across from Riverside Park.
The six-storey hotel, which will boast more than 200 rooms, retail space and a sports bar and cafe, is also styled as a higher-end version of the chain’s usual offerings.
“I think it’s the market opportunity,” hospitality consultant Bryce Herman said of the industry’s recent construction boom. “Kamloops is continuing to grow and, as cities grow and more demand is there, that’s what sparks it.”
At Hotel 540, renovation plans began when new owner National Hospitality Group took over the property in 2007 — though a fire stalled the upgrade.
General manager Bryan Pilbeam said the former Executive Inn was a hotel with a great location and plenty of potential, but was a “neglected asset” before renovations.
The revamp, which began in 2009 and is ongoing, was done with an eye to turning the hotel into a business-class operation.
“The first five or six rows on an airplane, it’s that level of service,” Pilbeam said.
Guest-room upgrades were first on the list, along with electrical upgrades and replacement of the entire heating and ventilation system that have helped it earn a top environmental rating from the Hotel Association of Canada.
An exterior renovation came next, Pilbeam said, because “we’ve done all this work, a $10-million upgrade, and nobody’s noticed unless they’ve come inside the building.”
That work at Hotel 540 wrapped up earlier this year and comes complete with a new computerized coloured-light display and a covered entryway — porte-cochère, in the hotel’s parlance — with doorman and valet parking.
The final round of construction is set to begin this month and will see the hotel add a fitness centre, pool and a viewing terrace on its second floor.
“A big miss for us, what we didn’t have and people expect, is a nice pool area that people can enjoy in the summer, and a fitness room,” Pilbeam said.
“People, whether they use it or not, they often bring their workout clothes, their running shoes along and they choose a hotel that has those facilities, whether or not they use them.”
While he’s aware of other upgrades in the downtown, Pilbeam said the sudden rash of newly renovated rooms and new services is, at least in part, because many hotels in the downtown area were at the end of renovation cycles that are standard in the industry
“I think it just became time,” he said.
Pilbeam also attributes some of the changes to increasing demands from travellers, who are accustomed to pillow-topped mattresses, fresh linens and fancier tiling.
“People’s expectations are growing, whether it’s Kamloops or Vancouver, Calgary or Kelowna,” he said. “I think people expect to have high definition and a flat-screen TV. You can’t get away with a 20-inch tube TV any more.”
As more hotels are “pushing the bar,” the pressure is on for others to step up.
That higher standard in turn brings a more-seasoned tourist to the city, Herman said — and, if frequent travellers choose to visit the Tournament Capital on a more regular basis, it could lead to another round of construction in the city’s core.
“I would be willing to say that you’ll see higher-level hotels have a good, serious look at coming into this market,” Herman said.
“Once the tourist knows they can get that kind of product here, the need for it is going to increase, so it’s going to open up opportunities for four- and five-star hotels.”
Lee Morris, CEO of Tourism Kamloops, is also enthused about the round of renovation and construction, but pointed out the investment renaissance is not confined to downtown hotel properties.
“I think it’s a very good sign of the health of our tourism and hospitality sector in Kamloops that there are as many properties actually investing in renovations and upgrades,” she said. “And, that’s happening at properties at moderate levels, as well as the downtown properties.”
Tourism Kamloops tracks hotel stays in the city based on revenue received from the hotel tax, with Morris noting revenues in 2012 are up three per cent over 2011, when they rose by 10 per cent over 2010.
Hotel makeovers extend beyond downtown
While the downtown core undergoes a hotel renaissance of sorts, in other areas of Kamloops, hotels are not content to stand pat.
After all, Kamloops is indeed a destination, with more than 100 tournaments bringing tens of thousands of visitors to town each year.
In Aberdeen, the Coast Canadian Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre has been undergoing extensive renovations, with more than $4 million already invested in the south wing and its 105 rooms.
Work will continue through the winter on redesigning and updating the north wing and its 98 rooms, while renovations and upgrades to the conference centre space are anticipated to be done by 2013.
In North Kamloops, the arrival in 2010 of the Holiday Inn & Suites Kamloops helped kickstart a major revitalization of the area, which now boasts myriad new developments — finished and ongoing.
Just last month, the hotel received the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) 2012 Torchbearer Award, the company’s most prestigious award.
The Holiday Inn & Suites Kamloops is the only recipient in Canada and one of only 102 properties within the Americas chosen from the IHG system of more than 4,500 hotels for achieving the highest levels of excellence in all aspects of operation — from quality to customer satisfaction.
And, there are plans for more hotels to rise in Kamloops, from an 80-room Ramada in the Gateway Travel Centre in Dallas to a 230-unit Marriott Hotel in Aberdeen, at Pacific Way and Rogers Way, at the former Home Hardware site.