Story by Renee Sylvestre-Williams
TORONTO, ONTARIO — No floral wallpaper. That’s the first thing you notice when you walk into the lobby of the new ALT hotel across the road from Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Instead, the property is a blend of Japanese pod hotel efficiency and the modern hipness of a London hotel. There’s a cafeteria where guests can help themselves to food and drink, colour blocking on the elevator doors and checkerboards of colour that provide graphic punctuations to the decor — most of which was sourced and built in Canada.
The ALT hotels, part of Groupe Germain, is just one of the reasons why co-founder and co-president Christiane Germain was recently awarded the Veuve Clicquot Canadian Business Woman of the Year award. Veuve Clicquot, named after an 19th-century Frenchwoman who propelled her brand of Champagne to global prominence, has honoured international female entrepreneurs since 1972.
“It’s nice to have the recognition,” said Germain while sitting on one of the low couches in the ALT hotel lobby. Dressed in grey with a sleek blonde bob, Germain looked the image of success.
When asked about receiving the award, she said, “I felt very good. I was quite impressed because the first time I heard about this award was quite a few years ago when Lise Watier received the award. When they told me I was going to receive this year, I was, ‘Oh my god! ‘ and was rather impressed and very pleased.”
Along with cosmetics mogul Watier, other women to win the award include The Body Shop’s Anita Roddick and Wendy McDonald, who ran the engineering company BC Bearings and was the first recipient of the Veuve Clicquot Canadian honour in 1982.
While Germain is happy for the award, recognition was never part of her goal as a businesswoman and entrepreneur.
“It’s a nice acknowledgement to have,” she said. “It’s an international [award] and all the award winners will be attending an event in France and I’ll have the chance to meet the other women. I will probably be more impressed with the other women I meet. Sometimes I feel that this is not happening to me.”
Founded in the 1990s, Quebec-based Groupe Germain has been a trend-setter in the Canadian boutique hotel industry. The Le Germain luxury brand has five hotels, including a location at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Square that opened in 2010. ALT Hotels is planning rapid expansion, with properties in Calgary, Halifax and Winnipeg already in the works and more of the no-frills, business-friendly boutique accommodations expected to open across the country over the next few years. Groupe Germain employs 500 people across Canada.
In terms of success, Germain takes a philosophical approach. “To be successful is not in itself what you look for. It’s not an accomplishment. I’m very proud of the hotels, I’m very proud of the people that work there and I’m proud of creating jobs and I’m proud of when guests are coming to our hotels and business is picking up. That makes me very happy but I don’t see this as something exceptional. I do my job.”
Speaking of job, the state of the Canadian economy and the future expansion of the ALT brand, Germain doesn’t think she could be anywhere else. “It’s a great country to be in, it’s a great time to be here,” she said in the Toronto ALT hotel that opened this summer. “I could be somewhere else because I’m that kind of person who is not afraid of going to other places and starting all over, but to be here and to be doing what we’re doing is really a choice and it’s a country we’re getting to know well.”
As for the increase in luxury hotels in Toronto in the past two years, Germain thinks it’s a positive for the market.
“Toronto was lacking that segment. It raised the bar. I like competition, it keeps you on your toes.”
Although Toronto hasn’t lacked airport accommodations, Group Germaine saw an opportunity for a sophisticated, low-priced boutique property. The 153-room ALT hotel is a five-minute ride from the airport aboard the Pearson Airport LINK train. Despite the fact there are 8,500 rooms in a seven-kilometre radius around the airport, Groupe Germain felt its ALT brand could compete.
Groupe Germain’s goal is to have 10 ALT hotels across the country in the next three to four years.
So, although she has been named Canadian Business Woman of the Year, Christiane Germain has far from reached her career peak. She is looking forward to her trip to France to collect her award and hopes it will be a source of inspiration.
“When you co-found something, this is your day-to-day, this is what you do for a living and you try to do your best but you don’t always think of yourself as accomplishing things,” she said. “You just make sure you have projects and you make sure they happen.”
More About ALT Hotel Toronto
Among the praise-worthy aspects of the ALT Hotel is its single price: $149 per night. All the time, for any room, on any given night, weekend or weekday, summer or winter. No discounts, not even if you book online.
“About 20 years ago, the hotel industry began to do what the airlines were doing and started to flex our pricing, and that created a lot of problems for the consumer, with you paying one price and the person in the room next to you paying another one,” says general manager Nicolas Lazourou. “With our single-pricing strategy we’re going back to basics. This way, there’s no surprise at the front desk for our guests and it allows our staff to focus more on the guest’s needs. They don’t have to spend time looking at the price you paid on your booking reference. That’s already taken care of.”
The ALT Toronto features mostly compact rooms (80 per cent of the units are 250 square feet) with contemporary decor, Scandinavian-inspired bathrooms, room-darkening curtains, 9-foot-6-inch ceilings, complimentary WiFi access and the one aspect of a stay Groupe Germain promises it will never compromise on: The promise of a good night’s sleep.
“This is the best quality of bed you will find in this price segment, by far,” says Hugo Germain, Christiane’s nephew and the director of development for the ALT brand. “We’ve learned in our more than two decades in the hospitality business that the most important thing is a comfortable bed.”
The property also has a unique geothermal system that allows it to save up to 45 per cent of the energy costs that an older, similarly size hotel would consume. Those cost savings are one reason the ALT can keep its pricing at less than $150 per night, even during peak tourist events such as the Toronto International Film Festival.
Hugo Germain is enthused by the hotel’s location. Development of restaurants and shopping is planned on land adjacent to the property, making it more enticing for people to stay in the area rather than venture into downtown Toronto. Those guests who do want to head into the core of Canada’s largest city will have a much easier time of it within the next three years. The city plans to expand its public transit to include a rapid train to the airport before the opening of the 2015 Pan Am Games.
“We began the process of having a hotel here more than five years ago,” Germain said, with a laugh. “The location gets better and better all the time. You look like a genius, but you didn’t know all of this would happen.” — Adrian Brijbassi
ALT Hotel Pearson Location: 6080 Viscount Road, Mississauga, ON (see map below)
Contact: Telephone: 905-362-4337; website: pearson.althotels.ca
Nightly room rates: $149