Inside Westin Harbour Castle Toronto's 50th anniversary multi‑million dollar makeover

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If you’re a couple, a 50th anniversary calls for a special party, or maybe a luxury cruise. If you’re a hotel, it calls for a generous makeover slated for completion just in time for your birthday.

Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle Hotel will hit the half-century mark in 2025, and they’ve launched a $50 million refurbishment to mark the occasion.

Renovations have been taking place over the past few years, including a new yoga and meditation studio, a Westin family club, a new lending program for workout gear, a shiny, new lobby and other changes. The South Tower, which has 450 of the 977 keys at the hotel, is currently undergoing a massive upgrade. Changes are slated for completion before the hotel’s half-century anniversary next year.

The South Tower renovation was planned to take place before the pandemic but was postponed for a couple of years, hotel manager Stacey Rodrigues told STAY Magazine in an interview.

“Really, it’s bringing it up to the newest generation of Westin Hotel, and the sort of guiding light or driving force is really to embrace everything that is Westin; that calming feel, more natural colours.

“The way the room is designed is to make the focal point the view. For most rooms, it’s the lake but for some rooms, it’s the city, which is equally pretty on its own. The rooms are quite simple and clean. There’s minimal artwork, to showcase the view… guest response to the renovation has been very positive, and we look forward to showcasing our renovated guestrooms to new and returning guests throughout the months to come.”

Rodrigues said the property was due for a facelift.

“It was time,” she said. “The ownership of the hotel changed six or seven years ago. It’s privately held, this is an investment property.

Rodrigues said the owners see the hotel as an iconic property in Canada, “and they really want to bring it back.”

Given the development of Toronto’s waterfront in the past few years, with new buildings popping up seemingly every month, it’s also a good part of town to be in.

“The waterfront in Toronto is now the part of the city that’s developing. Everything has started to shift here,” she said.

Rodrigues further commented that the hotel owners feel they can boost revenue by improving the look and feel of the now 49-year-old buildings.

“They’re looking for a return, for sure. The South Tower is the start for them. The other tower will be on their radar, as is the fitness centre. Our convention centre across the street is on target to get some kind of refresh later this year, then the lobby, so this is really the start, and it marries well with Don Alfonso (the Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890 restaurant) being up on the top of the South Tower.

“It’s investing and making this a hotel a destination people want to come to.”

Asked if she feels having a top-notch restaurant on site makes a statement about the Harbour Castle, Rodrigues nodded.


“I think so. We want to make a change and reposition (the hotel) a little bit. We want to bring it to the next level.”

Rodrigues said it’s hard to say if business bookings are all the way back given the limited inventory (due to renovations).

“Transient demand we’re finding is back to 2019 levels, or close to it. That’s what we’re budgeting for in 2024. 2023 was an amazing year for the hotel, both group and transient. I’m not sure the market would say we’re fully back, but...we’re very, very close.”

Rodrigues said guest feedback has been extremely positive.


Your STAY correspondent had the opportunity to spend the night in January and found great changes. The lake views were lovely even in winter, and there was a classic but simple feel to the room.

There are little touches that would remind a guest they’re resting their head on the shores of one of the Great Lakes, including blue, wavy carpeting, a lamp that looked like something off an old ship, and bits of nautical-looking rope around an oblong mirror. The room also had hardwood floors and soft leather tones with brass accents.

“It’s on brand but we had the ability to make choices that sort of resonate with our neighbourhood and our location,” Rodrigues said.

The hotel has a large indoor pool with a large deck that lets in lots of light. It also opens to a fifth-floor outdoor area that’s quite sizeable.

The hotel also boasts a large gym with Peloton bikes and the latest workout gear, as well as a yoga studio, which fits the Westin wellness theme.

One fun feature is the sleep menu, which allows guests to choose their own pillow and order everything from herbal teas to eye pillows (lest Lake Ontario light wakes you up too early). There’s also a sleep-well food menu to help you drift off.

As well as refreshing the rooms, there is the question of the adjacent conference centre. While representatives of the hotel did not elaborate at this time on the redevelopment of the conference centre, published reports have said there are plans for a new, modern conference facility with a high-rise office above and street-level retail operations to enhance the pedestrian experience in the area.


The Harbour Castle has placed renewed emphasis on its food and beverage offerings.

Don Alfonso 1890 has had a Michelin star for two years running, and the space atop the hotel’s South Tower is spectacular. The food is exquisite, and they also make cocktails that are just as pretty as the dinner dishes.

One of Toronto’s best-kept culinary secrets is Savoury, a private dining experience the hotel hasn’t advertised much.

Menus are customized according to guest preferences and the dishes are reflective of Toronto’s multicultural neighbourhoods and utilize local ingredients. Head hotel chef Daniel Craig and his staff can whip up a dinner for eight to 12 people, with matching wines.

It’s bookable only by in-house sales and reservations and offers diners a different, custom menu each time they visit. Unlike some high end restaurants that give guests a “take it or leave it menu,” Savoury staff work with customers to find out what they would like.

Craig likes to have fun in the kitchen. When I dined at Savoury, we had small Ontario potatoes coated in kale and edible clay, making them look like small, grey, rounded rocks, with a dollop of aioli on top. The Ontario ribeye was tender and rich, and the exquisite mushroom consommé (it takes 24 hours to make) was cooked up in front of us in what looked like a Grade 10 science lab beaker.

“I love being able to do this and break away from staging big events and doing something fun and interactive like this,” Craig told us between courses. “It’s very cool. Very cool.

“I like giving people a new taste or showing them a new presentation and cool techniques. It’s like theatre.”

Craig last year was inducted into the Academie Culinaire de France (ACF); one of the oldest organizations of professional chefs based in France. He attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu School of culinary arts in Paris. He was also named Executive Chef of the Year by Marriott International in 2017.

Read our past coverage of the Westin Harbour Castle's renovations.

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The power of PIPs

The International Society of Hospitality Consultants (ISHC) produces an annual capex report. Its 2023 study suggests that over the last 10 years hotels spent 8 per cent of total revenue on capital expenditures, and/or Property Improvement Plans (PIPs). for branded hotels, according to Carrie Russell, senior managing partner at HVS Canada.

“While this is stated as an annual 8 per cent amount it is usually spent in chunks, with a softgoods renovation every 5 – 7 years and casegoods renovations every 10 – 12 years. There are also mechanical and structural issues that require capital, but those tend to be based on life expectancy of the item and longer 20+ year time horizons (roof, boilers, HVAC, plumbing, electrical etc),” adds Russell.

Curtis Gallagher, principal, Canadian hospitality lead at Avison-Young concurs, adding: “PIPs are generally 5 to 9 per cent of revenue over that period depending on the brand. This expenditure reflects the cost to sustain current hotel performance over the next cycle. ROI projects and any building structural or site costs are above the PIP amount.”

In the Canadian hotel industry, maintaining a competitive edge is important for sustainable growth and long-term success. One strategic tool for driving this progress is the renovation PIP, which serves as a blueprint for enhancing hotel properties, revitalizing business operations, and securing a brand’s future in the market.

A PIP outlines a comprehensive set of renovations, upgrades, and improvements that a hotel property undergoes to meet brand standards, enhance guest experiences, and adapt to evolving market trends. While they may also be perceived as a financial burden, PIPs offer substantial benefits that outweigh their costs.

PIPs play a pivotal role in fostering growth within the hotel business. By investing in renovations and modernization, hotels can attract new customers, retain loyal guests, and increase revenue streams. Upgraded facilities, refreshed aesthetics, and enhanced amenities elevate the overall guest experience, resulting in positive reviews, word-of-mouth recommendations, and higher occupancy rates.

PIPs are essential for maintaining brand consistency and integrity. In a competitive market, brand recognition and reputation are invaluable assets. By adhering to brand standards and implementing PIP requirements, hotels align themselves with the brand’s identity, values, and quality benchmarks. Consistency across properties fosters trust among consumers and enhances brand loyalty, driving sustained business growth.

PIPs position hotel brands for future success by ensuring relevance and competitiveness in the market. In an era of rapid technological advancements and changing consumer preferences, adaptability is key. PIPs allow hoteliers to stay ahead of the curve by incorporating innovative technologies, sustainable practices, and experiential offerings that resonate with modern travellers. By future-proofing their properties through PIPs, hotels can remain agile and responsive to industry shifts, safeguarding their relevance and profitability over time.

PIPs contribute to the overall improvement of the Canadian hospitality landscape. By elevating the quality of hotel properties and guest experiences, PIPs raise the industry standard and drive positive economic impact. Enhanced hotels attract more tourists, stimulate local economies, and contribute to job creation, benefiting communities across Canada.

By embracing PIPs as strategic investments rather than mere expenses, hoteliers can unlock new opportunities for success, elevate guest experiences, and strengthen their position in the market. In the ever-evolving world of hospitality, embracing change through PIPs is not just a choice but a necessity for long-term prosperity.

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