Hugo Germain, Director of development at Group Germain Hotels, is always on the go. You see, his job is to flair the next cool place to build Alt, Alt+ and Le Germain Hotels. We asked him all about his work, his favourite places and his challenges.
You travel across the country to find development opportunities for Le Germain, Alt and Alt+ Hotels. What are the main things to consider when opening a hotel?
First, our goal is to develop a network of hotels from coast to coast. The first objective is to find prime real estate in the key markets of each Canadian province. Once these targets are identified, it’s important to understand the economic ecosystem of the cities in question. To understand where growth is going, the generators of economic activity, the big employers, the main transportation routes, etc. It’s often said that location is everything and we’re taking our time to identify sites that will be the right ones for decades to come.
A hotel must also be located near businesses that offer services that are complementary to the property. We want to make a good argument for why guests should choose our hotels. Whether it's food, entertainment, or shopping. For example we opened an Alt+ Hotel in Quartier Dix30 last April. In this case, in addition to offering a really cool place, we’re able to offer our guests dozens of restaurant options nearby, bars, shopping, family activities, etc, etc. ... and all within walking distance of the hotel. This environment is very difficult to replicate and consequently, is a great way for us to stand out from our competitors.
What major trends have you seen in hotel development in this country? In North America?
We often hear about mixed-use projects. In many growing markets in Canada, we’re seeing an increase in land values, which has an impact on the viability of our projects. Mixed-use projects allow us to share land acquisition costs or air rights with another use (commercial or residential). These "partnerships" often allow us to carry out larger projects, while maintaining long-term financial sustainability for our projects. For example, we’re about to complete a project in Saskatoon on an exceptional site where we have set up a partnership with a Toronto condo developer. In this case, we’re sharing the site with Urban Capital to develop around 130 residential units and 156 hotel units.
Do you have a favourite city in Canada? A nice surprise?
A great discovery in recent years is undoubtedly the city of Saskatoon. I really like the sense of hospitality and the dynamism of the city, which has experienced substantial population growth over the last ten years. The presence of the river in the heart of the city centre gives a European feel to this Prairie city and the long summer days are more often than not very sunny. This slightly makes up for the intense cold in winter because although summer is generally beautiful and warm, the winter here is probably one of the harshest in Canada. You have to try and walk down 2nd Avenue with a headwind in the middle of January to understand what I mean. It’s a real experience.
What do you think would encourage Canadians to travel more within their country?
We’re working on that. Of course what Canada has in terms of accommodation and food is changing and it's really exciting to see new products being developed across the country by local entrepreneurs who are showcasing and making the most of regional products. Whether it’s Newfoundland-and-Labrador, Saskatchewan, Alberta or somewhere else, all these places have elements that make them a unique destination.
With the ability to instantly share information, it’s now much easier to showcase lifestyle experiences across the country that are a little out of the ordinary.
We also put a lot of emphasis on the places we discover in our newsletters, magazine and social media to inspire our current and future guests to get out and explore them.
In Canada, I’d highlight the example of Hooké, a lifestyle brand that focuses on outdoor and fly fishing activities. In its own way, this organization makes hundreds of followers visit places that ordinary people would never be aware of by posting absolutely exceptional images of a hobby (in this case, fly fishing) via social media and its community.
We’re fortunate in Canada to be able to count on a myriad of resources and environments that allow us to participate in activities each more unique than the last, it’s about having the passion and the creativity to show this.
What city would you love to open a hotel in? In Canada? In the world?
In Canada, we’ve been working for a long time to open up a hotel in Vancouver. The conditions there are really not easy economically speaking but one day we’ll get there.
In the world, I must admit that even at a very young age I dreamed of opening a hotel in Barcelona. The conditions there have changed somewhat, so maybe it's a bit of an impossible dream...but I like to think that nothing is impossible.