TORONTO — More than 100 hotel executives and hospitality students gathered at the Toronto Region Board of Trade, to learn about hotelier Christiane Germain’s long pathway to success. The event, which took place on March 28 was part of Kostuch Media’s Icons and Innovators series, and was led by Hotelier editor and publisher, Rosanna Caira.
As the co-president of the Montreal-based Groupe Germain, and head of operations for Le Germain boutique hotels and Alt Hotels, Germain didn’t originally plan on a career in the hotel business. Instead, the bilingual Quebec native worked in the restaurant business in the 1970s with her brother, Jean-Yves, who currently heads the development, financing, and construction for Groupe Germain.
Inspired by a visit to the New York City-based Morgan hotel, the siblings switched gears from restaurant owners to hoteliers. The pair’s first project was an $8-million conversion of their father’s office building into the 126-room Hôtel Germain des Prés in Sainte-Foy, Que. “It was 1986 and we didn’t know about boutique hotels,” said Germain. “We started thinking we could expand across the country in the mid ‘90s,” Germain explained.
Today, the Groupe Germain empire has grown to eight hotels — including five Le Germain boutique hotels spanning Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto and Calgary; and three Alt Hotels, a new “affordable-chic” focus-service brand currently expanding to Halifax, Winnipeg and Montreal. “We saw an opportunity in the three-star segment to create a concept [focused] on design, where you have a $150 [price range] to get great design and a comfortable room,” she explains. In fact, Alt Hotels’ unique fee structure means guests pay $150 a night, regardless of the time of year; however, she admitted the price point needs tweaking. But, she says, she plans to keep the price-per-room the same for each hotel, while prices vary by city.
Germain shared her recipe for success, including reinventing her offerings, and giving personalized service. “We talk a lot about innovation these days, and this is something that is really important in our family,” says Germain, who explained the importance of continuously innovating a hotel space. For example, when the company opened its Hotel Le Germain in Toronto’s Maple Leaf Square,adjacent to the Air Canada Centre, it decided to add a personal touch by featuring art of famous athletes wearing gym gear. She also credits her success to her people-focused approach, from hiring employees with a “can-do” attitude, to offering personalized, non-scripted service.
Wrapping up the breakfast, Germain, who received an honourary doctorate from Ryerson University last summer, was adamant on never forgetting the hospitality side of the brand. “This is a people business: give them what they want, and give them what they don’t know they want.”