ALT’s different

A component along with Urban Capital’s Glasshouse in Winnipeg’s Centrepoint development, Groupe Germain’s ALT Hotel is a total rethink of the hotel experience.

ALT is different. That’s exactly what the creators of this new hotel brand intended. ALT Hotels take aim at a new type of business traveler: smartphone-wielding, media-savvy, design-forward, value-seeking, frequent-fliers. The Porter set.

ALT Hotels offer a unique and utterly contemporary hotel experience where these modern travelers feel more at home amid the sleek decor and prefer the streamlined yet personalized service that matches their “Like”-and-go lifestyles.

For instance, every ALT Hotel invites guests to share their Instagram photos, by tagging them with “#altexpo.” This adds the images to signature, interactive, art installations in the hotels’ lobbies. The large, colourful, floor-to-ceiling kinetic mosaics of still images have several embedded flat screens that play slideshows of guest-generated content.

To be sure, the bonds created by such new media magic, the sharing and publishing of pictures, run deep in this new breed of traveler. Vaguely street-artsy and somewhat culture jammy, guests get to leave their mark.

But, is ALTexpo art? It’s a social media thing. It’s also a positive brand experience and loyalty building thing. It may even be a conversation thing.

#fasteasyfriendly #nofrillschic #oneprice 

“There’s a lot of people in this world today who would say that time is money and they don’t want to wait in line-ups to check out, for room service or for anything for that matter,” says Nicolas Lazarou, General Manager of the ALT Hotel–Toronto Airport, which opened in mid-2012 and within a year climbed to the rank of 5th best hotel in Mississauga on Trip Advisor. “The ALT fits this type of clientele: business people from far and wide who are looking for simplicity, comfort and service. We’re fast, easy and friendly,” he says.

Groupe Germain Hospitalité, a Quebec-based, third-generation family business celebrating its 25th year in the Canadian hotel industry, created this “no-frills chic” concept by distilling the family’s collective hospitality wisdom. ALT Hotels focus on a tight list of “essential luxuries:” transparent pricing, comfort, connectivity, strategic location, slick design, efficient service, environmental responsibility, gourmet grab-and-go grub, and an inviting lobby for lounging. ALT was a total rethink. The experienced hoteliers mothballed much of the rest, the underused amenities and Byzantine employee hierarchy of traditional hotels.

All the refinements and efficiencies, whether in the planning, construction or operations of the ALT Hotels, underwrite another unique feature: maintaining a single, affordable, published, year-round price per night.

#familybiz #innovativeconcept #porterfliesthere

In 1988 the Germains opened the first boutique hotel in Canada, Quebec City’s Germain Des Prés, which evolved into Le Germain, a successful, four-star boutiquehotel chain. Yet, just two decades later they would reboot their flagship property as an ALT.

It was cousins Hugo and Marie Pier Germain, the youngest generation and new guard of this family business who masterminded the Groupe Germain’s latest hotel concept. The first Alt Hotel–Quartier Dix-Trente opened south of Montreal in 2005. In 2008, the young Germains’ ALT Hotels gained international recognition, winning “Best Innovative Concept in Midscale Brands” at the Worldwide Hospitality Awards.

That same year Groupe Germain relaunched the Germain des Prés as ALT–Quebec City. The move demonstrated the family’s long-term commitment to the ALT concept and was a testament to Groupe Germain’s innovative corporate culture and continual willingness to reinvent themselves.

Currently there are four ALT Hotels: Quartier Dix-Trente, Quebec City, Toronto Airport, and Halifax Airport. By 2015, the Germains plan to have a total of seven, spanning from Halifax to Winnipeg.

#moreboutiquehotel #lessmotel

Many traditional, business-travel hotels seem barely a notch above Interstate motels. Mercifully, ATL Hotels look and feel like efficient boutique hotels – very European.

Price-wise, ALT Hotels’ most direct competitors would seemingly be three-star, limited-service hotel brands, but, Hugo Germain, ALT’s Director of Development, is hip to a broader hotel landscape rap.

“ALT’s not easy to categorize. I don’t like working with stars because they’re not representative. We have an extremely minimalist product, that would score very few stars but still features extremely high quality service, materials and finishing.

Our simplicity is aesthetic and functional,” he says, “At the same time, the hotel business is extremely competitive; with the amount of information that’s available to people via the Internet, we’re not just competing against hotels in a segment but instead against everybody.”

Perhaps designating the ALTs as niche, lifestyle hotels is most apt, given their singular focus on the needs of today’s new business traveler.

#design #build #operate

Designing, building and operating a reinvented and refreshing hotel concept such as ALT didn’t happen overnight.

The making of the ALT Hotels required meticulous planning, a steadfast commitment to considerable upfront investment, newfangled cost-saving construction techniques, rejigging room layouts, and staffing a capable, enthusiastic and multi-tasking team of employees for daily operations.

“We’ve received lots of calls wanting to know how we came up with the building techniques,” remarks Michel Aubé, Partner at LEMAYMICHAUD and Lead Architect on the ALT Hotels, “These collaborations with Groupe Germain have been remarkable, in a way, because of the Germains’ willingness to plan ahead and innovate in doing so. They certainly didn’t take the easy road and it shows in the results.”

Typically ALT Hotels feature smaller rooms on a compact floor plate, just 7,000 square-feet in all. “That’s not a big piece of land which is efficient in itself but we end up using every inch,” Aubé says. “During the planning stages we made mock-ups and paid attention to every  detail. It’s very expensive to make changes once construction has started, so it was very important to make sure that we resolved all the design constraints beforehand.”

All this planning required rigorous follow through. During construction, a highstakes  game of supplier coordination ensued. “The rooms are very tight so I did the site reviews myself. In the beginning, I met with all the trades and subcontractors to emphasize the need to follow the drawings millimetre by millimetre,” Aubé continues, “If you take too much space, don’t start in the right way or don’t do it well, we’ll have problems: the millwork won’t fit and the room won’t work.”

The diminutive floor plates house 16 rooms each, with the majority being just 250 square-feet in size with one queen sized bed. “The core is very efficient, there are three elevators, and two sets of single-flight stairs,” the architect explains, “It’s not a crossover staircase, which gave us more space for the rooms.” Two strategically placed linen closets per floor help speed up the daily housekeeping too.

In designing the hallways, Aubé emphasized short corridors with windows for natural light, which also helps save on electricity. Little known fact: motion sensors in the hotels’ corridors switch off the lights when no one’s around. Card readers inside the rooms act as master kill-switches for the rooms’ lighting (plugs stay on for laptops and such).

#geothermalizethis

Hugo Germain is bullish on environmental building solutions for the new ALT Hotels, in particular geothermal heating. “Yes, you’re investing some money at the beginning of the project, but usually there’s a return on the investment because you’re saving quite a bit on energy,” he says.

“With the geothermal system we save close to 45% on our heating and cooling costs. We are able to pass on the savings to guests on a yearly and recurrent basis, that’s part of ALT’s business model” says Germain. “By dramatically saving on energy costs, we’re able to keep our one price for rooms low.”

#roominabox

Groupe Germain uses unique, cost-saving building techniques to build ALT Hotels. During construction, as soon as workers have poured a floor’s concrete slab, large waterproof crates containing the entire contents of the rooms arrive onsite. A crane distributes them along the new floor before workers build any of the demising or exterior walls.

“It’s like a Trojan Horse routine,” marvels GM Lazarou, “all the elements of a room are unpacked from the crate. It’s quite impressive.”

Germain and Aubé developed this building technique together, opting for a high degree of prefabrication. “It’s very efficient because we do everything at the manufacturer’s, once the boxes are on site, the workers can build two to three rooms per day, finishing a whole floor in a week,” Aubé explains, referring to the room in a box as “the Ikea spec.”

“It’s a huge box, typically eight by four by six feet, so the only way to deliver it is before we close the exterior walls. Once we’ve built the room’s demising walls we open the box and install the custom millwork and door that separates the room from the bathroom.”

#layout #composition

The resulting rooms are greater than the sum of the parts contained in the crates.

The ceilings are three-meters high, which gives the compact rooms an unexpected sense of volume. There’s another twist: the beds at ALT Hotels face the exterior walls, rather than being perpendicular to the front entrance. This provides unencumbered sight lines directly out the room’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Something’s different, Aubé hints, “When you come in, you don’t feel the room’s walls and you don’t feel like it’s a standard washroom.”

There’s a silver lining to ALT’s small yet spacious rooms, Germain says. “We spend the same amount of money we would spend on a larger, 350-square-foot room. In 250-square feet we can pay much more attention to detail, like adding a beautiful designer chair that you wouldn’t typically see in this price range, extremely silent mechanical systems, high quality showers and possibly the best bed in the limited-services segment.”

#lobby #loungingguests #lungingstaff

In the lobbies of the Toronto and Halifax airport hotels, Groupe Germain pioneered yet another first for the Canadian hotel industry: self-check-in kiosks.

“We have the same hotel employee greeting the guests, they’ll assist them navigating the kiosk’s screen if necessary,” Germain explains. “What’s interesting is that the kiosks along with a smaller front desk and the orientation of the lobby change the initial contact between hotel and guest,” Germain explains.

The new ALT Hotels concept required new procedures and practices. ALT encourages their multi-tasking staff to step out from behind their front desks into the lobby’s main space and beyond. They wear many hats, moving from area to area, in and out of different roles, like that of proud ambassadors welcoming new guests.

The Toronto and Halifax properties also have ALTceteras in their lobbies – funky, convivial canteens with 24-hour grab-andgo counters, solving a common problem for business travelers who arrive late and get stuck eating junk. ALT Hotels teamed up with local caterers to stock their fridges, and guests help themselves to the dishes. “You can have a warm meal that you heat in the microwave in three minutes and it’s just as good as homemade,” Germain explains. There’s even a panini press.

Otherwise the ALT Hotels’ lobbies are large and have two-story ceilings, creating an airy and ample space with various intimate seating arrangements for small groups with Gervasoni-designed furniture. “They’re Italian, stylish, lots of wood but look a little old fashion, and that contrasts well with other parts of the lobbies like the exposed concrete walls,” says LEMAYMICHAUD’s Aubé.

#incidentalcontact

The grandeur and appointment of the ALT Hotel’s lobbies is no coincidence given the smaller rooms. “We encourage people to spend time in this comfy, social  environment. Our goal is to get guests out of their rooms to mingle and share their experiences by spending some of their stay in the lobby,” says the budding hotelier, “Personally I quite enjoy getting work done, watching the movement, and seeing what people are up to.”

The young Germain is convinced there are legions like him as well as others eager to share their Instagram snaps. “It’s much more fun, contemporary and in-tune with today’s business travelers who are always connected but also open to making new contacts through casual conversations. At ALT, that’s what we’re trying to create.”

Glasshouse and ALT

How did Urban Capital end up in Winnipeg? It started in mid 2012 with a call from Hugo Germain, asking whether UC might be interested in developing the residential component of the mixed-use Centrepoint development, which includes an ALT Hotel, an office building an three street-related restaurants. After several trips to the Peg, the deal was struck. Glasshouse’s site, right across the street from the MTS Centre and connected to Centrepoint, was perfect for Urban Capital, and construction of the 195 unit building is slated to start in 2014. See more at glasshousewinnipeg.com.

Urban Capital Magazine, 2013

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About mmcontentatlarge

austinmacdonald.net journalist | copywriter | producer/editor

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