REGINA — For the past few years, Ryan Urzada has been quietly working towards rebranding his hotel, Travelodge Regina South, with the goal of taking it independent. Urzada is excited to share that the switch to what is now the Atlas Hotel officially took place last week. The Grand Opening was held on Nov. 7. The renovation cost $10 million over four years.
Urzada's new title is chief experience officer and Kendi Danbrook's title is resident social butterfly, with an email that reads firstname.lastname@example.org. The new monikers indicate the focus of the reimagined property, which encourages playful fun. “People align with others who share their beliefs, in our case a sense of humour,” said Urzada.
Like many hoteliers with an entrepreneurial bent, Urzada has dreamed of having his own hotel with his own brand for eight or ten years or so.
“We made the decision two years ago to dig in and take a close look at what it would be like to go alone. Tourism and hospitality are all about the experience — people look for an enhanced experience when they travel,” he said. “Before people would come to see a Riders game and the hotel would be secondary. Now the restaurant, the hotel and the drinks after the game are all important, not only the thing they came for.
“We have some creative people on our team, who do a good job personalizing experiences, and we can do that even better by being independent,” Urzada said. “Hotels shouldn't be boring! Since we have become Atlas, nothing here is sterile… except maybe the cleaning!”
Some things have not changed. The ownership is still the same — no, Ryan did not sell the hotel. The staff did not change. For four years, the property has been known for its Soaked Waterpark, “the coolest little hotel waterpark, with a digital waterfall, with a water curtain that drops shapes in the water. We were the first in North America to have this.” And guests and conference attendees can still get a yard of ale in the Knotted Thistle, the hotel's cosy pub.
“Initially there was fear. Guests asked, “you're not going to change my pub are you? And we still love families and sports teams — absolutely,” Urzada said.
Kendi Danbrook is in a new position at the hotel, resident social butterfly. Her job is to help curate special moments for individuals, groups and conferences. “We put our money where our mouth is,” Urzada said. “Her job is to look for opportunities to have a bit of fun.”
For example, the hotel sponsored the Camp Circle O' Friends Gala Fundraiser, which raises funds to enable children affected by cancer to go to camp. There was a mother and son staying at the hotel, and the hotel arranged for a little camp tent, some wagon wheels and an electric campfire, all delivered by a park ranger with a backpack.
“I'm taking my job as chief experience officer pretty seriously,” said Urzada. “Everyone has to run a good hotel, with good, clean beds, accommodation and reservations. We're upping the experience and the personality to another level.
“We always do renovations, period,” Urzada said, noting that in the past four years, they have invested $10 million. “Over the past few years, we did renovations with the idea of becoming an independent corporate hotel. We hired a local artist, Brianne Urzada, who is also my sister-in-law. She is responsible for the watercolour painting behind the front desk. We made a super-high-res scan and turned it into wallpaper. The lobby was the last piece, and we did it over the last 10 months. We knew at that point we were switching.”
The Atlas had been a Travelodge since 1988. “The Travelodge crew were supportive. We have been with Travelodge for 31 years, and we are grateful for the partnership we had. Not many North American franchisors have a Canadian office. Having a Canadian office [in Calgary] adds a personalized touch. Trevor [Hagel] and his team do a fabulous job.”