For people who’ve been to a hotel and wished they could live there, Bellstar Hotels & Resorts Ltd. has just the solution.

While this privately held Canadian company provides third-party hotel-management services to traditional hotels, its specialty is the condo-hotel sector, a unique slice of the lodging pie that distinguishes itself from its conventional counterparts for not only the way it’s occupied, but the way it’s managed.

The units in a condo hotel — or condotel — are sold whole or in fractions to buyers who have the option to stay in them or rent them out as hotel rooms for a share of the profit. When the owner is not in residence, the hotel-management team oversees its rental — along with its repairs, maintenance and general operation. In Canada, Bellstar is one of the few hotel-management firms that specializes in this management model, which sees it taking on the risk, says Ian M. Thorley, Bellstar’s vice-president, Sales & Marketing.

Bellstar’s first foray into this territory was in 2003, when CEO Dale Hodgson was so charmed by the beauty of Canada’s only desert in Osoyoos, B.C., he decided to build a resort there. Once Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort was up and running, Hodgson and a partner assumed its management and became acquainted with the challenges of balancing the fiscal expectations of property ownership with the appreciation for the tourism cycles of a hotel’s management. Four years ago, Bellstar — the company established to oversee the resort — decided to get out of the former terrain altogether and made a commitment to third-party management.

Today, Bellstar manages six destination resorts across Western Canada. Its most recent addition is the Royal Kelowna, a 70-unit all-suite hotel that backs onto Okanagan Lake and joins other Bellstar resort standouts in Alberta and B.C.’s Rocky Mountains.

In a typical condo-hotel agreement, the owner gets half the revenue, leaving half for management to fund the hotel’s operation, maintenance, housekeeping, accounting, marketing and so on — and make a profit. This is a far cry from a standard hotel deal, where management takes five per cent and is thus well-buffered against down years. The trick to succeeding in this higher-risk arrangement, says Thorley, is efficiency. Bellstar’s centralized accounting and marketing, which relieves individual properties from keeping these professionals on site, is part of that. So too is a system of well-oiled processes and procedures and a strong record of employee retention.

The latter could be thanks to Bellstar’s commitment to sustainability, an important feather in its management cap. Most of Bellstar’s portfolio is made up of resorts — sprawling luxury spaces in stunning natural settings. Because guests visit a destination first, and then identify a property within it, the company’s respect for the destination is paramount. In 2019, Bellstar introduced Stay Well, a branded experiential program designed to both get guests into the environment — with maps for hiking, biking and stargazing, as well as by providing gear such as binoculars, snowshoes and beach umbrellas — and fund local initiatives that support it. For example, when the Town of Golden in southeastern B.C. recently undertook to light a trail, the resort helped fund it.

Up next for Bellstar is a plan to penetrate eastern Canada. “The resorts in southern Ontario, in the Muskoka and Georgian Bay areas, are high on our list,” says Thorley.

Written by Laura Pratt


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