(l tor) Sean Hogan, director of Food and Beverage & Social Marketing; Perry Vashee, president and Jeff Waters vice-president of Operations

Perry Vashee says guest experience is more than just a tailored hotel term for customer service. When financial value plays a role in whether travellers will choose a property, the founder and president of Opal Hospitality says taking guest experience to the next level will ultimately ensure guest satisfaction and repeat bookings. For Opal Hospitality, it’s their number-1 priority.

“We’re driven by creating experiences for [our guests],” says Vashee. “We know people are looking for something unique and different, so we cater to that.”

Leaders in the development and management of hospitality spaces, Opal Hospitality has been led by Vashee since its inception in 2018. Previously, Vashee was the director of Asset Management for Silver Hotel Group. He was also the director of Operations at Northampton Group for more than a decade, developing several award-winning hotels across Canada, including Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Ottawa and the first-of-its-kind Aloft Hotel by Marriott in Montreal. Vashee also sat on the owner’s boards for Holiday Inn and Sheraton Hotels & Resorts.

Today, Opal Hospitality’s team of experts also includes Jeff Waters, vice-president of Operations; Jay Mori, project manager; Sean Hogan, director of Food and Beverage and Social Marketing; and Reema Padia, controller. Together, they deliver a full range of services: hotel management, asset re-positioning, brand-product development, strategic
consulting and project management.

In just over three years, Opal Hospitality has grown its portfolio to include four casual-luxury hotels and one restaurant, including DoubleTree by Hilton and its onsite restaurant The Little Sparo in St. John’s, Nfld.; Canvas Moncton, Tapestry Collection by Hilton in Moncton, N.B.; The Walper Hotel in Kitchener, Ont.; and The Insignia Hotel in Sarnia, Ont. The company also has two properties currently in development.

“We’ve seen a significant change in the hotel industry over the last two decades as more guests are in tune with design and technology,” says Vashee. “When we look at developing a hotel, we don’t necessarily go for whatever the latest design is. We look at form, functionality and community.”

“Our hotels are community oriented,” says Waters. “They’re popular amongst people that live in those areas, and that makes them more interesting to stay in for those visiting from out of town. It allows tourists to experience the cities they’re in as if they’re locals.”

Opal Hospitality honed in on the growing demand for localism for the significant investment and development of its east-coast properties. In fact, DoubleTree by Hilton was Opal Hospitality’s first purchase and re-positioning. In spite of COVID-19 setbacks, the hotel opened in June 2020, giving the company the opportunity to capture local business. Located on the waterfront near St. John’s downtown core, the property embraces the province’s prolific fishing grounds in its design, from wall vinyl blueprints of dories (traditional fishing boats) to refrigerators resembling lobster cages.

“DoubleTree was completely gutted, right down to the bare bones,” says Vashee. “Our design lends itself to the island’s fishing industry without being overly done. [We wanted to create] a chic and upscale environment.”

Then, in October 2020, The Little Sparo restaurant opened at DoubleTree by Hilton. With views of the harbour, The Little Sparo offers an array of Italian cuisine — such as beef carpaccio, squid-ink bucatini and squash risotto — curated by executive chef Tony Mackenzie.

“We look to see what’s happening in the community and design food-and-beverage programs that complement that,” says Hogan. “Another big focus of ours is the finer details on how we deliver F&B, from decor and atmosphere perspectives to the type of products offered, and the level of service and experience that’s provided. That’s a big thing that attracts local clientele to our spots.”

Hogan continues, “We’re really focused on the onsite dining experience and ensuring people feel comfortable and safe. But as restrictions started loosening up, naturally, people want to be out more, so we have also adapted to extend the guest experience off-site to incorporate ourselves in other adventures, [like our on-the-go hiking lunch concept, for example.]”

Canvas Moncton, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, on the other hand, was a new build. It was announced in November 2019 as the first Canadian hotel in the Tapestry Collection by Hilton. Colliers Hotels recently negotiated a joint-venture transaction between FiveFive Queen Developments and Opal Hospitality, which will co-own and manage Canvas. Focused on artistic luxury, the hotel has been re-imagined as a vibrant social hub, with plenty of dining experiences and daily events to spark guests’ interest. Its coffee-to-cocktail bar has proven to be a successful concept, offering consumers the best of both worlds. Its on-site restaurant, Gahan House Pub & Oyster Bar, also doubles as a brewery.

“We have an incredible partnership with 55Queen group in Moncton to develop Canvas hotel. They’re a visionary group that saw the potential and need for a lifestyle hotel in Moncton and supported the idea,” says Vashee. “Together we’re constantly assessing how we can continue to be a truly community-driven hotel.”

At both DoubleTree and Canvas, Opal Hospitality delivers a multi-sensory experience upon arrival. Resto-bar concepts occupy lobby spaces, emerging as the focal point of design and inducing positive moods. “Our check-in desk is off to the side because we wanted the bar to be the centrepoint of the lobby,” says Vashee. “It’s a high-energy space, and that initial feeling when someone enters the hotel is critical to us. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is.”

Vashee says the hotels have performed relatively well despite ongoing pandemic-related challenges plaguing the industry. While DoubleTree by Hilton’s performance was hindered by some of the toughest travel restrictions in the country, forcing its closure for a few months, Canvas remained operational.

“St. John’s was more difficult because the island was closed off to the rest of Canada, but it re-opened in July 2021. We’re still penetrating the market as a new hotel, but we’ve seen good results from August to September,” says Vashee.

Since the onset of the pandemic, Opal Hospitality has been laser-focused on establishing a social-media presence for its properties, which has become a lifeline for engaging its communities in the darkest of times. “We’ve been strategic about how we position ourselves on social media,” says Hogan. 

“I always knew utilizing social media was valuable, but we’ve really been able to turn on business by telling our audience, whether it’s on Facebook or Instagram, about the things we’re doing and offering,” says Waters. “We’ve been able to strike the right cord, and [our audience] relates to those things. We’ve seen great success utilizing our social media to tell stories that people find appealing.”

Opal Hospitality’s approach to its guests extends to its staff, too. Its social media taps into the history of its properties and expresses genuine interest in the staff they hire, demonstrating company values to potential travellers who, in turn, will feel good about their accommodation choice.

“We’re lucky to have such incredible teams at all of our hotels,” says Vashee. “Labour is a challenge right now, so we’re focusing on our people. [However,] in Moncton, we’re finding that people are actually seeking out work at Canvas because of our social-media presence and the perception of the property. Job satisfaction is a huge consideration in addition to pay scale, and housekeeping is difficult to attract and retain, so we’re working on providing flexible hours. We’re going to be spending a lot more time and energy working with our staff to create a positive environment.”

In 2020, Opal Hospitality was awarded the Hilton New Developer of the Year Canada award in recognition of its work accomplishments and has hit the ground running in 2022, with new developments and projects already underway. The team is currently working on Bloom Hotel in Mississauga, Ont., a Tapestry Collection by Hilton featuring a destination restaurant and unique event space, as well as The Wellington Hotel in Prince Edward County, Ont. with multiple F&B concepts and a spa. Both hotels are set to open this year.

For hotel owners, managers and developers that will be forced to navigate a fourth wave at the start of a new year, Vashee offers some advice. “There’s a fine line between cost-cutting because of the times we’re in and penalizing the customer that is coming to the hotel. We still have to let those customers know that even though other people aren’t travelling, they [aren’t receiving anything less.] They should be given a true experience and feel as though they have spent their dollars on something that mattered. It’s a fine balance, a very fine balance.”



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.