A recently opened independent boutique hotel in Edmonton, Canada, is positioning itself to be the city’s leader in entertainment and unique experiences.
EDMONTON, Canada—The new owners and operator of the Crash Hotel have set their sights on turning the hotel back into the entertainment hub the property was when it was first built more than 100 years ago.
Originally known as the Richelieu Hotel when it was built in 1904 to take advantage of the nearby train station, it provided the city with live music and a café, said Jon Sharun, managing partner at Venexo Corp., which owns the hotel. Since then, the property has seen its shares of challenges and successes, he said, as it was in a tough location across the street from a Greyhound Station when his company closed on the property in 2012.
“We wanted to go with the original hotel’s purpose, as a central hub for travelers from afar and locals,” he said. “Be local and be merry.”
A new life
The Crash Hotel is situated near about 3 billion Canadian dollars’ worth ($2.3 million) of development, Sharun said, including the new Edmonton Oilers hockey arena, three large office towers and a large amount of residential space.
When Venexo considered purchasing the property, he said, it saw the hotel as a new kind of “non-cookie cutter, authentic experience” where the hotel industry is headed. Edmonton is going through a recession with gas prices at their lowest in a long time, he said. The city’s hockey team has been a strong performer, however, he said. Crash Hotel is one of the only operators in the area, he said, both as a hotel and entertainment venue.
The company operated the property as the existing hotel until it closed the property in the summer of 2016 to work on the rooms. The company phased in its renovations, he said, focusing first on the hotel pub, Denizen Hall, which brought people back to the neighborhood.
“Through that, we got recognized by more financiers,” he said. “The city saw we were starting to clean up the neighborhood.”
When setting out on the project, Sharun said, people asked why the company didn’t bulldoze it and then build a tower. The city is known for demolishing and rebuilding, he said.
“That’s not what we do,” he said. “We saw the cash flow opportunity of the hotel, to maintain the history and bring it back. My team, we’re re-investors. We go in and like to repurpose old buildings.”
The hotel will have 75 guestrooms after all renovations are complete, Sharun said, but in the four months since opening, the hotel has made 30 available. Those rooms opened to view when the company threw a New Year’s Eve launch party on 31 December 2016, he said.
To spread the word about the Crash Hotel officially opening 1 January 2017, the hotel threw the “biggest party this town has seen in a decade,” said Al Gothjelpsen, director of operations at Urban Sparq, the property’s management company.
The property has become synonymous with entertainment in Edmonton, he said, and the hotel and pub have been heavily involved in music festivals, in which the hotel is the venue of choice.
“It plays into the overall vision of what (the) hotel should have been,” he said.
A unique experience
Each of the rooms creates a different experience for guests, Sharun said. Some of the rooms have bunkbeds, he said, and some are showcase suites with a minibar that’s almost like a mini-store of goods in each room. One of the rooms has an entire wall made up of “old-school suitcases,” he said, and another has some old, big speakers. There’s also the Star Wars-themed room with a hipster spin that has Stormtroopers wearing suit jackets, he said.
“We created a unique talking point per each room,” he said. “They get traction from millennials on social media.”
Over the past four months, some guests have become familiar with the available rooms and preselect the room they want to try, Gothjelpsen said. The hotel also has a guestroom selection policy for the front desk associates, he said.
“They try to figure out what room will match the person if they haven’t preselected a room,” he said. “It has worked out really well.”
There’s a lot of community experience in the hotel, Sharun said. The goal is to move guests to the main retail part where they can explore, meet people, sit at common tables and feel at home.
The goal was to fit the hotel into the niche of inexpensive to stay but still providing an amazing experience, he said. The target demographics are millennials and Generation Xers who are looking for something beyond the normal hotel, he said.
“They want to feel like it was their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity again and again and again,” he said.
These types of guests tend to go for Airbnb-type accommodations, he said, so it’s important to have a unique, boutique experience out there. The hotel isn’t necessarily looking for families or individuals who will spend $2,000 on a bottle of wine at dinner, he said. They’re looking for tech travelers, entrepreneurs and students traveling afar.
Recently a family of four visited Edmonton for a hockey game, Gothjelpsen said. The parents stayed at one of the larger brand hotels in the area, he said, but their 19- and 20-year old kids booked their own rooms at Crash Hotel.
“They wanted an experience away from the traditional branded hotel experience,” he said. “The parents came to visit and are now booking all of them in our hotel next time. They realized how much more fun the kids were having here rather than staying a block down in a traditional hotel.”