Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Russell Kling travelled the world for three years, spending many nights in hostels or budget accommodations, an experience that inspired him to do what many in the hospitality industry might think is inconceivable: Create a new form of accommodation product for a niche market that didn’t exist at the beginning of this century.
Kling and his wife, Jelena, visited dozens of countries in five continents from 2010-13 before eventually settling in Vancouver. While contemplating their travels it occurred to them that certain destinations were no longer meeting the desires and budgets of a significant number of consumers. One of those destinations was Whistler.
The Klings’ kernel of an idea has sprouted into Canada’s first upmarket hostel and the first major accommodations opening in North America’s largest ski resort town in a decade. Pangea Pod Hotel, which launched on August 9, promises to delight consumers who have embraced cubicle culture and the sharing economy, where individuals retain a limited amount of private space while existing mostly in common areas.
“We wanted to do something very specific and for a specific target market,” says Russell Kling during a media event to launch the operations. “Jelena and I have tons of friends in Vancouver who can’t afford any more to stay in even a three-star hotel room during peak season. These are people who are professionals who have jobs. They’ve reached a certain stage in life where they want key elements of privacy. They may not want or have to have 600 square feet of a hotel room but when they go to bed at night they want their own space. But they were priced out of Whistler. The genesis of the idea came about when we realized there’s a market that’s not being met.”
With 88 sleeping quarters, called pods, Pangea gives travellers a large, comfortable mattress and about 40 square feet of space. A curtain closes guests into their designated pods and each pod is separated by wooden walls. The price range per night is $59-$199 depending on the season and the tier of the pod you book (the Mezzanine level that has a slightly smaller sleeping area is the cheapest).
There are communal showers and washrooms. Some sinks are also located in the common space, creating more efficient use of the dwelling. There is one female-only area among the eight suites that are subdivided into pods.
I slept in a co-ed suite and was the only man in a group of 10 media members. The arrangement reminded me of summer-camp experiences as a kid, where there would be bunk beds and awkward moments of shyness and tense minutes of activity as you tried to move quietly and in the dark without disturbing your neighbours. I could do it for one night, maybe two. To some extent that’s what Pangea is expecting: Weekenders from Vancouver who want a comfortable bed while they play on the mountains and don’t mind compromising on amenities or personal space in order to afford it.
Pangea Pod Takes Hostel Life Upscale
The Klings have invested more than $15 million into the project, including the purchase of the former Whistlerview hotel and a complete refurbishment of the property. The hostel may be short on privacy but it’s long on modern features and technology. The self-guided check-in process includes touchscreen terminals that allow guests to purchase items such as discounted drinks, breakfast, and bicycle storage. The purchases are recorded on a mini keycard that’s attached to a wristband each guest carries to access suites. Rather than a phone or intercom system, guests communicate their needs during their stay by texting front-desk staff.
Pangea Pod is located in the heart of Whistler Village, a short walk to the ski lifts and the gondolas that lead to the namesake mountain. It features Whistler’s only rooftop patio, which will be an all-season hit.
“We want our guests to feel they are in a very chic, very upscale property,” Russell Kling says of the hostel that was designed by Vancouver’s Bricault Design and features artwork from Montreal’s Ola Volo. Italian marble and decorative wood are key elements of the aesthetic. The eatery includes a high-end Victoria Adurio coffee-making machine.
The Klings clearly recognize that success is predicated on passion, commitment to detail, and the ability to differentiate within the market. The long-term vision is to expand the Pangea Pod brand to other locales, starting with a second location in British Columbia.
“We knew the first property had to be in striking distance of home. We were maniacal about location and when we had the opportunity to buy this property in one of the most incredible tourist destinations in the country that’s when we settled on Whistler,” Russell Kling says. “The idea is to roll out the experience to other locations. We have to stress test it here and then take the model elsewhere, and we are only about being in places where the gap in the market exists. Like any startup, you’ll see the proof in the pudding, and if we do, when we do, then we will know it’ll be the right time to take it elsewhere.”
MORE ABOUT PANGEA POD HOTEL
Location: 4333 Sunrise Alley, Whistler, BC (see map below)
Nightly Rates: A one-night stay for a weekend in December starts at $107, based on a search of the hostel’s booking engine. That’s about $200 less than a double room at the Four Seasons Whistler for the same night.
On Keeping Rowdiness Out of the Sleeping Quarters: “We will do the same for each of our units as any other hotel in Whistler would if they receive a complaint from a guest. You can’t ruin the experience for everyone else. And we have plenty of places you can come and be silly and make noise, but not in there,” co-owner Russell Kling says, referencing the sleeping pods.