CHIC2024, PART 2: Development, breaking the mold and strategic capital deployment

The Canadian Hotel Investment Conference (CHIC) took place in April at the Westin Harbour Castle Toronto Hotel. With over 500 attendees, more than 30 speakers and trade show exhibitors, the 2024 conference brought together owners, leaders and experts in the Canadian hotel industry in an unparalleled learning and networking environment. STAY Magazine is proud to be the official media sponsor for CHIC.

In this instalment, we bring you takeaways from the CHIC 2024 plenary sessions “Development Disturbers - Projects and Concepts Breaking the Mold” and “Which Way Do I Go” on development, breaking the mold and strategic capital deployment in hospitality.

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Insights into current trends, strategies for differentiation, avant-garde approaches in times of turmoil and the future of hotel development.

Moderators and panelists:

  • Graham Marsh, National Director, Franchise Development, Choice Hotels Canada Inc.
  • Linnea Chamberlain, Principal, Chamberlain Architect Services Limited
  • Matt Davis, Principal & Founding Partner, DesignAgency
  • Aaron Laurie, Area Vice President, Development, Marriott International
  • Les Mallins, President, Streetcar Developments

Emphasis on Unconventional Projects: The panel opened with a focus on developing distinctive, challenging projects that break the traditional mold of hotel development. This involves quirky and hard-to-execute concepts, particularly those requiring unconventional zoning, rezoning, and regulatory approvals. These projects are characterized by their mixed-use, alternate-use, and adaptive reuse qualities, often paired with unique brand requirements. The idea is to engage in conversations that push the boundaries of typical hotel development.

Differentiation in Competitive Markets: A significant portion of the discussion was dedicated to how developers can differentiate their properties in crowded markets like Toronto. Panelists discussed the importance of establishing a niche—opting for boutique projects that offer unique architectural and cultural experiences which connect deeply with the local community. Examples include properties like the Gladstone House and The Broadview Hotel, which are integrated into their neighbourhoods not just as places to stay, but as landmarks and community hubs.

Adapting to Modern Travel Needs: In response to evolving traveller expectations, there was a strong emphasis on creating experiences rather than just offering accommodation. This includes rethinking hotel spaces to accommodate the modern traveller's desire for authenticity and interaction. The concept extends to designing communal spaces that encourage social interactions, thereby moving some traditional in-room amenities into public areas to enhance the guest experience.

Sustainability and Community Impact: The panelists highlighted the importance of sustainability in development, particularly through adaptive reuse projects that revitalize existing structures with historical significance. These projects are seen not only as environmentally beneficial but also as enhancing the cultural fabric of the community. Sustainable design elements that utilize natural resources efficiently and contribute positively to local ecosystems were emphasized.

Technological Integration and Operational Efficiency: Discussing the challenges of adaptive reuse and conversions, the panelists underscored the necessity of utilizing advanced design technologies like Revit to manage complex renovations efficiently. These technologies aid in ensuring that designs are operationally effective and meet modern standards, even when working within the constraints of older buildings.

Brand Strategy and Market Positioning: The conversation also covered the strategic use of branding to carve out market segments that current hotels do not serve. This involves creating distinctive brands or opting for soft branding solutions that allow for unique property identities while leveraging central booking systems and loyalty programs. Brand narratives are crafted to resonate with targeted guest demographics, emphasizing the importance of storytelling in marketing these unique accommodations.

Future Trends and Directions: Looking forward, the panelists were optimistic about the growth of non-traditional hotel formats, such as micro-hotels and properties that blend residential, office, and hotel functions. The trend towards smaller, more efficiently designed guest rooms paired with vibrant communal spaces is expected to gain popularity, especially in urban centres where space is at a premium.

Economic and Construction Considerations: Finally, the economic aspects of hotel development were discussed, with a focus on the challenges of construction costs and financing in the current economic climate. The potential of modular construction to reduce costs and streamline development was also touched upon, noting its successful implementation in Europe and the growing interest in North America.

The panel offered a comprehensive view of the current state and future prospects of the Canadian hotel industry, emphasizing innovation in design, sustainability, community engagement, and the strategic use of technology and branding to meet the changing demands of travellers.

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Exploring strategic capital deployment in the hospitality sector, emphasizing the robust opportunities and challenges in the current hospitality real estate market.

Moderators and panelists:

  • Zach Pendley, Real Estate and Hospitality Transactions and Valuations Lead, EY Canada
  • Amy King, Vice President, Luxury and Mixed-Use Development, Hilton
  • Matthew Opferkuch, CEO & Co-Founder, The Laundry Rooms
  • Alan Perlis, President & Chief Executive Officer, Knightstone Capital Management Inc.

Moderated by Zach Penley from EY Canada, the panel explored the various opportunities and challenges in the real estate market, particularly in the hospitality industry. The conversation ranged from development and acquisition strategies to the impact of economic factors on investment decisions.

Capital Deployment Strategies: The panelists discussed different approaches to deploying capital in the hospitality industry. They highlighted the use of key money for strategic growth and the shift towards management contracts to mitigate risks associated with more traditional business models. The importance of a disciplined approach to capital allocation was emphasized, especially in strategic or competitive projects.

Real Estate Opportunities and Challenges: Opportunities in hotel assets, office conversions, and vacant land were explored, with a note on the slowing condo market influencing these opportunities. The panelists also discussed the challenges posed by current economic conditions on new builds and expansion, especially in the luxury segment of the market.

Economic Influences on Investment Decisions: Economic factors such as interest rates and market saturation were identified as key influences on investment decisions. The need for strategic planning and adaptability was underscored, with a focus on leveraging brand strength and exploring new market opportunities to navigate these challenges.

Future Outlook and Strategic Moves: Despite the challenges discussed, the panelists expressed optimism about the growth potential within various sectors of the real estate market. They discussed strategies for leveraging opportunities presented by the current economic landscape, including exploring innovative approaches to investment and capitalizing on strategic acquisitions.

The session concluded with an emphasis on the importance of innovative and traditional approaches to capital deployment in the hospitality industry. The panelists advocated for adaptability and strategic planning as essential tools for capitalizing on opportunities and navigating the complexities of the current market environment.

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