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Calling Hilton Home

One year after a $52 million renovation Whistler's Hilton is as much home as hotel.
Vivian Moreau spends a day behind the scenes at the re-birth of Whistler's original luxury hotel.

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A business model made popular in the 1980s by large hotels and resort developers around the world that looked to divest themselves of long-term capital commitments that go with being property owners and focus on the more lucrative returns found in managing and operating hotels, the model nevertheless presents challenges. With most North American grand hotels that started out as family-owned institutions in the U.S. and railway owned in Canada, managers had to report to one or perhaps a handful of executives or owners, but with strata-owned properties there can be as many owners as there are rooms. Coming to consensus over budgets and capital expenditure approvals can be a nightmare.

But, according to the Hilton’s Puri, it can also mean a fresh approach, with suggestions that help to make the hotel feel like a home, not just temporary digs. He gives the example of one owner who objected to exposed plumbing under bathroom counters and so a design change was made for built-in cupboards in washrooms.

“It’s another set of eyes and when they question you on certain things sometimes you look at things differently,” Puri said.

Different hotel approaches may be the trend if last month’s Four Seasons’ structural change is any indication. Four Seasons CEO Izzy Sharp announced Bill Gates and a Saudi prince were investing $3.2 billion in the chain that Sharp founded in the early 1960s. Market analysts speculate that by taking the company private Sharp is returning to a model of hotels acquiring real estate.

Puri disagrees.

“I don’t think hotel companies will be doing that, they would not be buying properties, but what may end up happening is a lot of the equity partners may come in and start buying the hotels,” he said. Puri said there are rumours that some equity companies are interested in purchasing Hilton and competing Starwood, that own the Westin hotel chain.

But on a Saturday afternoon the biggest concern for concierge Lori Pearce is finding where a pregnant guest can go for a massage.

Concierge are organizers, connecting hotel guests with tours, activities, and information they want or need, the most common questions being “Where is the gondola?” and “Where do I buy my tickets?”

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