Change and innovation are, perhaps, the only constant we can rely upon, which has resulted in a seemingly endless search for the “next big thing.” However, as we move farther into 2018, it appears ‘boutique’ and ‘lifestyle’ will remain key hotel-industry buzzwords as the latest wave of new concepts seek to reel in social media-obsessed millennials and savvy, experience-driven travellers.
THE JUNE MOTEL
Inspired by the motel revival taking place in the U.S., April Brown and Sarah Sklash purchased a dated motel in Prince Edward County, Ont., formerly known as The Sportsman Motel. The pair spent six months renovating the more than 50-year-old property before relaunching it as The June Motel.
Sklash describes the renovation process as a balance between keeping an authentic motel feel “while updating it and making it cool and stylish.”
The 16-room motel was designed with the millennial traveller in mind, with a focus on “great communal spaces,” check-in at the lobby wine bar and Instagram-friendly design — including funky wallpaper, splashes of millennial pink, neon signs and retro Solair chairs.
“Millennials are social-media obsessed, so we paid a lot of attention to digital experiences,” explains Brown. “When you pull up to the motel there are bright pink doors; you walk into the lobby and there’s a neon sign; walk into your room and there’s the statement wallpaper. Everything is designed to be a photo moment, so it’s a really interactive, shareable experience when you’re staying with us.” This focus on social-media compatibility has paid off for the young moteliers. “We launched our brand [in] March of last year, we opened the doors in May and by the middle of June we were pretty much booked out for the rest of the summer…every single person is saying, ‘I came across you on Instagram,’” says Brown, who attributes The June’s Instagram success to a combination of its aesthetic and its story. “People hear the story of Sarah and I buying this dingy motel and just love [it] and love that we put a lot of work into it ourselves.”
Due to the seasonal nature of Prince Edward County tourism, the motel currently operates seasonally — having shut down for the winter in early December and set to reopen in late March — allowing Brown and Sklash to recoup from a busy year while looking to the future. “We’re incredibly ambitious people…one is great but we’d really like an entire empire of motels,” says Brown. The pair note they’re keeping an eye on up-and-coming vacation destinations across Canada, but suspect their second location will be in Ontario.
PANGEA POD HOTEL
Russell and Jelena Kling are set to launch Canada’s first pod hotel in Whistler. B.C. this spring — Pangea Pod Hotel. The design-focused concept will offer 88 private sleeping pods arranged into eight suites.
The project was influenced by the couple’s own travel experience, which revealed a notable lack of affordable accommodations for active solo travellers who have reached the point in their lives where hostels are no longer an appealing option. “Whistler is a really fantastic example of where that gap exists,” says Russell. “It’s a pretty massive gap between a hostel that’s a 20-minute bus ride outside of town and something reasonable in the village, like a three-star hotel…[which, in peak season] can be a six-night minimum at $800/night.”
As Russell explains, Pangea is built on four key principles: location, design, privacy and price. “The key differentiating factor is [what] we call key elements of privacy,” he explains. “The idea is, when you get into your pod, you feel like it has been brilliantly designed and [contains] everything you need.”
To this end, each pod features lockable storage areas for valuables, an individually controlled fan for air circulation and white noise, hooks, hangers and a shelf, as well as a cable restraint to secure luggage. The hotel’s suites add an additional layer of privacy, as each suite is only accessible to the guests staying in it. Female guests can also request to stay in Pangea’s all-female suite. Each suite features its own bathrooms, which are broken down into four separate components — showers, washrooms, change rooms and vanities — to help cut down the likelihood of having to wait in line.
Beyond a place to sleep, the hotel also features The Living Room, featuring a café and bar, and a rooftop patio. The Toy Box ensures guests who have come to Whistler to play have a place to store their gear and accessories, as well as a place to dry wet ski suits. With their Whistler location set to soft launch in May and officially open in late June, the Klings have big plans for their fledgling brand. Russell says the pair have set their sights on international expansion, although the second (and possibly third) location will likely be in B.C. as well. He notes that they “have a short list of 100+ locations where the product would slide in perfectly — most of those are outside of Canada and outside of North America…really anywhere on the globe is fair game.”
Opened in late December 2016, the Crash Hotel in downtown Edmonton brought a new type of hotel experience to the city. “We wanted to make a different hotel — a hip spot in the centre of downtown where you could eat amazing food, take in an event at the arena, check out the [pub’s] live cover band, enjoy some amazing cocktails and then crash in one of our themed rooms,” says Dan Crerar director of Operations, Urbansparq Hospitality. “A hotel that was just not a pillow to crash on at the end of the night but one that offers an experience from start to finish.”
To realize this goal, the company renovated the more than 100-year-old hotel — most recently the Grand Hotel — across the street from the Rogers Arena. “We are located right in the heart of downtown Edmonton and wanted to be a part of the downtown revitalization. Our hotel was built in 1904 with great bones and history,” says Crerar, noting the hotel honours “the classic look from the 1920 with a modern twist.”
Currently, 48 of the hotel’s 74 rooms are open to guests — including 17 newly opened in February — with the remaining rooms set to open this summer. The guestrooms and suites focus on unique themes and artist designs, including a selection of hostel-style rooms with bunk beds. Themed rooms include the “Traveller’s King Corner Room,” which boasts a wall made from suitcases from the 1900s.
The boutique hotel is designed to be a multi-faceted social hub, with vintage-themed lobby bar, on-site pub (Denizen Freehouse) and vintage arcade games throughout the hotel. The lobby bar also transforms during the late-night hours “with DJ’s, casual wine dinners, burlesque shows and much more,” Crerar explains.
THE ANNDORE HOUSE
Although Silver Hotel Group is not new to the hotel scene, its newly opened boutique hotel is. The Anndore House, located in Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood, was designed to be “Toronto’s new living room” featuring an in-house restaurant, lounge, barbershop and cafe.
“We took [our hotel] to more of a home-grown local feel,” explains Anthony Campaniaris, the hotel’s GM. This includes offerings from local experts, including a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant helmed by chef Craig Harding and an outpost of Kensington Market-based barbershop, Crows Nest.
“The Anndore House is in a very residential neighbourhood, just one block south of Bloor Street and, in that neighbourhood, there are so many brand new condos, but these are small units, so we actually want those people to be able to use our restaurant and our lounge space like an extension of their home as well.”
The hotel is housed in a 1950s building that was once The Anndore Hotel & Apartments, home to some of the city’s most eccentric personalities and famous faces. And, as Campaniaris points out, the property’s coveted location certainly lends extra clout to the hotel. The hotel’s team is passionate about ensuring its guests experience the best of the neighbourhood during their stay.
“We really looked for people that know the city, but [also] live and breathe the neighbourhood and are actively involved in it, so they can give truly authentic experiences to people that are coming to this city — you won’t find typical suggestions coming from us,” the GM adds.
Though Toronto is home to other boutique hotels, Campaniaris says his hotel offers a distinct experience. “The Anndore House is not the place you would go to party at on a Saturday night; it’s the place you come to have an escape — like you’re at home while you’re in a city that you’re unfamiliar with. That’s why we decided to call it house as opposed to hotel, because truly, when you come into this property, you are part of our family,” Campaniaris says.
To achieve this homey feel, the guestrooms, which were designed by Toronto-based Cecconi Simone Inc., feature living room-like sitting areas with leather club chairs, coffee tables and area rugs, as well as Bluetooth-compatible record players and a curated collection of LPs.