By Katee Pederson
When Sky McLean lost a new job with a Calgary-based developer within a few weeks of joining it, she decided to take matters into her own hands. “I said, ‘that’s it. I’m going to start my own business. I think I should build a hotel.’”
She decided there was an important market niche that wasn’t being served as well as it could be and came up with her own spin — a purpose-built Airbnb concept.
“With typical Airbnb, people never know what they’re going to get. It could be an amazing basement suite or a complete dud,” she explains. “My idea was a to build a home away from home that would have all the things people want — from desk and towel services, to hot tubs.”
McLean had already dabbled in the space on a personal level. While working with real-estate developers in Canmore, she purchased two condominiums to rent out as Airbnb properties. “One was $219,000, the other was $165,000. I was leveraged to the gills and making $80,000 a year.”
Once she made up her mind to enter the market on a grand scale, she raised the $7.8 million she needed to open her first Basecamp Resorts property in 2017, a stacked-townhouse model featuring 32 units. “I did not have a wealthy background, so hit the pavement to raise equity and then got a bank loan.”
Unlike other ‘condominium-ized’ properties, this was in the form of a residential build. “Most develop land, build condos, sell the property, and move on to the next model. What we did was very unique and still is,” says McLean.
Since this first venture, she has never looked back. Within five years, Basecamp Resorts, Hotelier magazine’s Regional Company of the Year, was named Western Canada’s fastest-growing hospitality brand, opening properties at a pace of two a year.
Today, Basecamp Resorts owns and operates 11 properties in Revelstoke, Canmore, and Calgary, offering Airbnb-inspired accommodations along with the amenities and conveniences of a hotel. That number will reach 12 by year end with the completion of its latest acquisition, the current Days Inn in Revelstoke, which will be renovated and re-branded as Northwinds Hotel Revelstoke.
Half of the properties are new builds, and half are acquisition/renovation projects.
The newest addition, MTN House By Basecamp, a luxury, three-storey, 99-room hotel, officially opened in July 2023 in Canmore.
Given her background is in real-estate development and not hospitality, McLean took great pains to hire highly experienced hospitality and marketing professionals to join her team. “I’m very hands off on the hotel side, so I like to hire the right team and let them do their thing.”
McLean has also been strategic in choosing her markets. “Because I’m a big skier, biker, and outdoor person, I always travelled to places where there was nowhere to stay. I ended up either in a dodgy hotel or took a chance with Airbnb. No brand experience spoke to someone like me, who just wanted to stay somewhere nice and fresh where I could feel at home. Banff was tapped out, so areas like Canmore and Revelstoke were natural segues for developing properties.”
McLean’s action plan is to expand openings from two to three properties a year. “We’ve built a team, we have our templates established moving forward, and everything is running smoothly.”
Plans are to grow further into Alberta and B.C. “I would love to grow into Ontario and the Pacific Northwest area of the U.S., where there is a big mandate year-round for tourism, and proximity to outdoor adventure and airports. Moving forward, we will be working with the four prototypes we have developed.”
Those prototypes are Basecamp Lodge, a rustic, log cabin-style concept; Lamphouse By Basecamp, a motel-conversion concept; MTN (Mountain) House By Basecamp, a luxury concept with amenities; and Northwinds By Basecamp, a basic entry-level product.
Regardless of the style of property, the focus always has been and will continue to be on making guests feel good, says McLean. “Whether you are in the highest end or entry level, guests get the same service. I like to say we’re at three to four star with five-star service. That’s what sets us apart. Our success is very much about our staff and the empathy they provide to guests. The reviews on Expedia tell the tale.”
In keeping true to her love of nature and the outdoors, Basecamp Resorts has forged a partnership with One Tree Planted, a non-profit organization that focuses on global re-forestation efforts. Basecamp donates a percentage of each guest reservation. For every $1 donated, one tree will be planted in either Alberta or British Columbia, with the goal to plant 75,000 trees annually.
Many of properties are also BUILT GREEN to reduce their impact on the environment.
The fact the company started only a few short years ago provides an added advantage in the market, she believes. “Everything is brand new. We offer truly remote check-in where locks are programmed to the last four digits of the person’s phone when they make their booking. Our property-management system is the latest and greatest, because we’ve been able to build it from the ground up.”
COVID did slow down the momentum for two years, but now the company is back on track, she reports. “We’ve been open six years, but COVID took two full years from us, so we’ve really only been in business four years. Now occupancy rates are back to where they were.”
In fact, revenues grew 115 per cent from 2020 to 2022, reaching more than $34 million. (The numbers include the sale of a condo unit McLean had planned to develop into a hotel in 2020 but chose not to pursue).
McLean is especially proud of the fact that Basecamp Resorts is one of the only female-owned companies in the hotel industry. “There are only a few females leading real-estate development in general. I’m the only one in this sector at this scale as far as I know…and I have been looking.”
Being a female in a male-dominated sector made fundraising harder at first, she admits. “When you are a woman running around to people with a dream, they tend to laugh at you. Now I feel it’s almost an advantage because my track record is there. I have the evaluations. It’s not a pipe dream. Because I have done all this, suddenly my work has been validated in their eyes.”