Story by Adrian Brijbassi
CALGARY, ALBERTA — When he heard the news, Fraser Abbott says he “was over the moon.” Abbott is the marketing and sales manager for the Kensington Riverside Inn, a 19-room boutique property in Calgary that is the newest Canadian member of the Relais & Chateaux association.
The inn learned of the designation in late November and hasn’t wasted time rebranding itself as a Relais & Chateaux property. The distinctive blue flag with the fleur de lis emblem flies over its doorstep a few feet from the Bow River.
Relais & Chateaux properties attract a clientele of luxury travellers who are keen to enjoy the best of a particular region — and their definition of “best” leans toward local, sophisticated, and unique. From June 2012 to June 2013, the association’s reservation system delivered a combined $140 million in business to its more than 500 member properties, Relais & Chateaux chariman Jaume Tapies recently said. All Relais & Chateaux hotels and inns incorporate outstanding culinary programs. Among the properties in Canada are Langdon Hall, Auberge Saint-Antoine, and the Wickaninnish Inn — establishments whose flagship restaurants have landed on the Vacay.ca 2013 Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide. The Kensington Riverside Inn is the first R&C property in Calgary and the second in Alberta.
“This means an opportunity to bring more European and American clients in. There is a significant segment of luxury travellers who will look for a Relais & Chateaux property first. It’s how they decide to make their travel decisions,” Abbott says. “We expect the demographic of the guests at the property to begin to change immediately.”
The Kensington Riverside Inn, located across from Memorial Park and the “Poppy Walk” that honours war veterans, was founded in 1999 by a husband-and-wife team who envisioned a country manor within the city. The group that owns the outstanding Hotel Arts, where Abbott is the general manager, took possession in 2007 and boosted the quality of the dining component. Executive chef Duncan Ly oversees the Chef’s Table restaurant, which was key to the R&C designation. The restaurant serves a la carte menus as well as tasting menus, including a seven-course feast that costs $105 per person.
Abbott expects the R&C acclaim will mean an increase in revenue of about 15% for the hotel. In the travel world, Relais & Chateaux properties are the small, boutique equivalents of the Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons, those brands whose names connote excellence, elegance and exceptional service. In my experience, Relais & Chateaux’s offer the most rewarding brand of luxury travel because they aren’t corporately aligned. They give guests a sense of place. More and more that authentic flavour is what travellers seek — no matter their budget point.
The association was founded in France in 1954 when a handful of like-minded establishments teamed up to create La Route du Bonheur (or Road to Happiness) for travellers. As the collection expanded internationally, the focus remained the same.
Calgary’s member location will work with the other R&C properties in Western Canada, including the Post Hotel in Banff, to offer packages suited to guests’ tastes and desired experiences. The inn’s rates start at around $199 per night during slower times of the year. During peak season, which is each July during the 11-day Calgary Stampede, nightly rates rise to over $400, Abbott notes.
“This will really help the city,” he adds. “It means something in the travel industry to have a Relais & Chateaux property in your destination.”
As Calgary continues a remarkable rebound from the June flood that devastated the city, the hallmark also serves as further proof that the city’s tourism industry is thriving once more.
MORE ABOUT THE KENSINGTON RIVERSIDE INN
Location: 1126 Memorial Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta (see map below)
Nightly Rates: Rooms start at $199 per night (corporate rate) or $209 per night, depending on season and time of week.
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