Tulips and tapping an underserved market

Denis Gilles (front, centre) with staff from Homewood Suites by Hilton/Hilton Garden Inn Ottawa Downtown. Note the purple sneakers everyone is wearing!
Denis Gilles (front, centre) with staff from Homewood Suites by Hilton/Hilton Garden Inn Ottawa Downtown. Note the purple sneakers everyone is wearing!

By Colleen Isherwood

OTTAWA, Ont. — Tulips are everywhere at the dual-branded Homewood Suites/Hilton Garden Inn that recently opened in Ottawa downtown, from the gardens at the front of the hotel to etchings on glassware and tulip-shaped salt vessels. The Homewood side taps an underserved extended stay market, and is Hilton’s 30th extended stay property in Canada.

“Extended stay is an underserved market in Ottawa,” commented Rick Colling, global head of Homewood Suites by Hilton, in an interview at the new property recently. He noted that of the 30 Hilton extended stay hotels in Canada, 21 are Homewood Suites by Hilton. 

The new Ottawa property is a flagship showing the new direction the brand is taking, Colling said. “We’ve shrunk the size of the property, so that we can make it work in a market like Ottawa.”

This is the first dual brand conversion hotel in Canada. The hotel at 361 Queen Street in downtown Ottawa was launched with great fanfare in 1974 as Ottawa’s Inn of the Provinces.  Built by developer Bill Teron, it was part of a larger mixed use complex that included office space. Over the years, the property changed flags several times, as a Delta until it relocated across the street, and as the National Hotel and Suites. Closed in 2013, it sat empty for several years until it was bought by Morguard, extensively renovated and reopened as the dual brand.

Rick Colling and Denis Gilles outside the hotel.
Rick Colling and Denis Gilles outside the hotel.

Colling noted that Canada has other dual brands that include Homewood in Calgary, Toronto Airport area, Kanata, Ont., and Halifax. Another Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood combination will open in Montreal in 2020. Colling noted that 10 per cent of the Hilton pipeline is for dual brands, and that 20 per cent of those have all-suites product as one of the brands.

The complex lent itself to being a dual brand naturally: the Homewood Suites is housed in the part of the building that used to be condos; and the Hilton Garden Inn is located the part that was traditionally a hotel. There are 171 Homewood Suites by Hilton and 175 Hilton Garden Inn rooms, for a total of 346.  There is still an office portion of the complex, and the three entities share a common parking garage.

Each brand has its own appeal, and benefits from the consolidated food and beverage, restaurant, meeting space, fitness area and pool. Since it serves a combined 346 rooms, there are better amenities than there would be if each brand was separate.

The ribbon cutting ceremony on April 16. From left: Tom Lorenzo – vice-president, Franchise Development, Hilton Worldwide; Don Willingham – Vice president, Hilton Garden Inn Brand Support; Vikas Swarup – high commissioner of India to Canada; Angela Sahi – senior vice-president, Morguard Corporation; K. Rai Sahi – chairman and CEO, Morguard Corporation; Jim Watson – Mayor of Ottawa; Sanjay Rateja – vice-president, Hotel Operations, Morguard Corporation; Denis Gilles – general manager, Hilton Garden Inn & Homewood Suites Ottawa Downtown
The ribbon cutting ceremony on April 16. From left: Tom Lorenzo – vice-president, Franchise Development, Hilton Worldwide; Don Willingham – Vice president, Hilton Garden Inn Brand Support; Vikas Swarup – high commissioner of India to Canada; Angela Sahi – senior vice-president, Morguard Corporation; K. Rai Sahi – chairman and CEO, Morguard Corporation; Jim Watson – Mayor of Ottawa; Sanjay Rateja – vice-president, Hotel Operations, Morguard Corporation; Denis Gilles – general manager, Hilton Garden Inn & Homewood Suites Ottawa Downtown

Right now the complex has just under 5,000 square feet of meeting space, but there is still room for development. Denis Gilles, general manager for both hotels, notes that the next steps will be to develop former meeting space on the ground floor, breaking it down into rooms that will accommodate the “sweet spot” for meetings in the area — 75 to 150 people.

Homewood stresses a “be at home” culture, whereas Hilton Garden Inn has a bright-hearted culture. Designer Jolanta Lukus of Royal Design had to marry both those cultures in coming up with a design. The colour for Homewood Suites by Hilton is purple; whereas the Hilton Garden Inn colour is blue. The differences are subtle: in floors where the two hotels are joined, the rugs have flecks of purple, flecks of blue or flecks of both, depending on whether they are on the Homewood side, the Hilton Garden Inn side, or joining both areas.

The tulips, long associated with Ottawa due to the gifts of bulbs from the government of the Netherlands to thank Canada for their role in the Dutch liberation in WWII, are everywhere in this hotel.  At this time of year, they are in raised beds at the front of the hotel. While some of the screens in the restaurant feature sports and news, other replay motifs of tulips non-stop. If you look closely at the glassware, there are tulips delicately etched on each glass. And in the lobby bar, tulip-shaped bowls with spoons have replaced the salt shakers.

Purple is everywhere too.  GM Denis Gilles wears a formal suit — along with the purple sneakers that are a part of the staff uniform. As media, I was given a USB with photos of the hotel — attached to a miniature purple sneaker.