The hotel industry has faced its share of challenges the past two years. When travel, conferences, meetings and events were virtually non-existent, hotels almost exclusively promoted staycations and dining for locals.
Now, for the first time in two years, Edmonton hotels are focusing on welcoming travellers and reviving the tourism economy. “We want people to come and see our great city, see the attractions, stay at our amazing hotels, and really get a chance to be immersed in everything that Edmonton has,” says Peter Ogilvie, executive director of Edmonton Destination Marketing Hotels (EDMH). In collaboration with Explore Edmonton, Edmonton International Airport and Oilers Entertainment Group, EDMH promotes Edmonton as a tourist destination. Through the Edmonton’s Best Hotels brand, EDMH offers consumers — both locals and travellers — a rewards program in exchange for staying at any of the more than 50 member hotels. “These hotels contribute towards the tourism ecosystem and are working in a collaborative framework, and are proud to showcase and support Edmonton,” Ogilvie says.
Major local events — including concerts at Rogers Place, K-Days and the Great Outdoors Comedy Festival — are key to attracting visitors and promoting stays at member hotels. “The pandemic recovery is still front and centre for our hospitality industry, and we’re taking very aggressive steps to get back out into the consumer marketplace,” Ogilvie says. “Meetings and conventions are slowly recovering, but it will take a number of years to see that kind of business travel coming back. Our focus right now is really aligning with sporting and cultural events, and really driving that tourist economy back into the city.”
Local entrepreneurs Henok Kassaye and Tommy Kalita are betting that hotels will play an important role in attracting tourists in a post-pandemic Edmonton. Kassaye recently purchased the Union Bank of Canada Building— home to the Union Bank Inn — downtown. Property manager and operator Kalita’s job is to revive the Union Bank Inn.
Kalita also plans to open a new hotel, tentatively named Corduroy Suites, in Scona Garage within the next year.
Despite the fact that the hotel industry is in a significant period of recovery, Kalita is optimistic about plans for the two hotels. “Union Bank Inn and Corduroy Suites are small — 40 and 20 units respectively — so we can be more agile, do interesting things, and offer a creative hotel experience that really speaks to what Edmonton is,” Kalita says. “I think there is a market for something outside of the norm as travellers return. I think it’s a very good time for these boutique options to happen.”
Kalita says the Union Bank Inn will be revitalized with “tasteful upgrades” to the furniture, decor and overall appearance. “It will still be a very classic, but slightly more contemporary, style of accommodation,” Kalita says. The hotel will feature a new bar and restaurant, local art, local coffee and toiletries in the rooms, and a retail component.
“We’re hoping this hotel can contribute to telling the story of Edmonton, and regardless of where people are visiting from, they can see what we have to offer,” Kalita says. “Locals will be the main audience for the updated food and beverage offerings. We want to position ourselves as something different from hotels that are currently out there. The goal is to make this a space that is just as popular with locals as it is with people travelling to Edmonton.”
The new all-suite hotel in the Scona Garage building will likewise focus on local suppliers and art. “We’re working with as many local designers as we can fit in,” Kalita says. “We’re working with different groups on art program activa-tions, projections, lighting, and of course to supply in-room products. It will have a comfortable, casual luxury vibe with vintage early ’80s, late ’70s aesthetics,” Kalita says. “It will be a little less formal than Union Bank Inn and a different hotel experience, but at the same time really showcase what is unique about Edmonton in a way that doesn’t rely on stereotypical imagery.”
This article appears in the June 2022 issue of Edify