The Serendipity of History: Historic Buildings and the Hospitality Industry
By John Tess President & CEO, Heritage Consulting Group | November 25, 2018
A large segment of the hospitality industry today emphasizes authenticity of place and of experience. Done right, a hotel can create a particular vibe that feeds social media and word-of-mouth advertising, giving rise to success in an ever competitive marketplace and a healthy bottom line. Many of the major hotel brands have recognized this opportunity and developed specifically tailored product lines.
For the most part, though not exclusively, this product relies on new construction but with added attention to location and to targeting guest services to particularly local experiences. To the extent possible, a superior path to experience and authenticity can be found in vintage buildings. This includes the revitalized old grand hotels, but also well-located buildings adapted to hotels.
This notion of "experiential" hospitality is not all that new. The city builders of the 19th and early 20th century recognized that their legitimacy as a first rate city required a first class hotel. Bigger aspirations required hotels of more opulence and more luxury. The hotels are commonly referred to as either "Grand" or "Grande Dame." Once completed, the property was typically seen as the most important and renown hotel in the city, allowing that larger cities may actually have two or three competing for that title.
This grand hotel by definition is a landmark, a point of pride, and in many instances, defines the city's core. It is outsized for the community and architecturally as important as civic buildings such as a City Hall or Courthouse. Dining and guest services paralleled the quality of the space, and not infrequently, high-end retail shops were included in the building. The hotel becomes THE place for local events and over time developed a memorable story line. From small cities to large metropolises, the grand hotel was a unique, yet ubiquitous presence. In this context, experiential hospitality is turned inward where visiting and stay at the hotel itself is the experience.
Wonderful examples of these landmark properties are found north of the border. Beginning in the late 19th century, the hotel department of the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) created a magnificent string of hotels along its rail line. Most of these properties are still going strong: The Place Viger in Montreal, Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, the Empress in Victoria and Royal York in Toronto are products of CPR's efforts. CPR also built smaller versions in smaller communities as well as grand hotels in the remote wilds, such as Banff Springs Hotel.