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Nita Lake Lodge to be first in chain of boutique hotels

Boutique Hotels of B.C. takes company across the province



When the Nita Lake Lodge opens its doors next summer it will be the first hotel in a string of boutique hotels dotted across the province.

A new company, formed by the partners of Nita Lake and its general manager Mike Duggan, will operate the luxury collection of high-end hotels under the name, Boutique Hotels of B.C.

"The goal is to have as many interesting products that fit the mould of products that are within British Columbia, that are either hotels or resort properties," said Duggan, the president of the new company.

"And obviously we’re looking for high-end products."

To date they’ve found that luxury product in a number of sites in B.C.

The company has firm management contracts in place with not only Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler but a hotel in Victoria called the Oswego, one in Kelowna called the Cove and another in Vernon named the Outback.

The company is also doing a development in Ucluelet on their own where they will be both the developer and the operator.

Duggan, who is also chair of the board of directors for Tourism British Columbia, said he is in discussions with a further six or seven operators, stretching from Vancouver to all parts of the province, who are interested in looking for synergies with the new company.

The idea to run a chain of boutique hotels first came to Duggan when he was the general manager of the Pan Pacific Lodge in Whistler. He realized that having one company to centralize the financing and marketing and human resources of a string of boutique hotels would make more sense than duplicating those jobs in various locations.

"You end up with quality delivery of the product," he explained.

"What I mean by that is a little 77-room boutique property, no matter where you are, is going to be challenged to have the top finance person, top marketing person, and top HR. You normally end up with one person who can do a whole bunch of things, none of them particularly well.…. That’s just a given because you just don’t have the critical mass in order to afford these people.

"What we’re doing is taking the best people at their individual skills… and providing the services to a number of different properties at the highest possible level."

With those key areas centralized Duggan said the hotels can then afford to focus on customer delivery because they haven’t spent unduly in other areas. Money can then go towards things such as good housekeeping, good concierge services and all those other finer details that the customer sees and values.

Duggan has already assembled a team of professionals to help him run the company, although he could not disclose names at this time.

"I’ve got a dream team of people joining me for this," he said. "We’re going to share locations in both Vancouver and Whistler."

The Nita Lake Lodge will be the first hotel on line, with a scheduled opening of August 2005. The others will open throughout the following year.

The results to date for the venture look promising said Duggan.

"If we include Nita Lake, in the last six months the projects that are with our flag, Boutique Hotels, have actually sold $170 million of real estate," said Duggan.

The hotels will not be branded in the same way as a Fairmont or a Delta but customers will know that they are staying in a hotel, which is part of the chain of Boutiques Hotel of B.C. The company will be cross promoting within its hotels, and one of the benefits of owning a unit is that owners will be able to stay at the other properties for a reduced rate.

Boutique Hotels of B.C. also has strong ties with CruiseShipCenters, out of Vancouver. As a key partner in the venture, CruiseShipCenters will look after the call centre, Web development and a lot of the customer loyalty programs for Boutique Hotels.

"One of the benefits… is actually being able to package British Columbia products together," said Duggan.

"So it may be that cruise passengers, which we have direct access to with out relationship with CruiseShipCenters, end up with a pre-holiday in Victoria (at the Oswego) and a post one in Whistler (at the Nita Lake Lodge)."

Though he has already had offers to expand his concept to Alberta, Eastern Canada and even at a development in a sun destination, for now Duggan wants to focus on British Columbia.

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