A double rainbow so intense it will later appear on the local news peaks just as I slip into the bubbling rooftop hot tub. For the first time in almost two years, I’m back in the warm embrace of a proper luxury hotel and the serendipitous light show captures my happiness. Getting here was not without its challenges – new travel protocols have put an added burden on travellers – but the results more than make up for it.
Richmond, B.C.’s brand new Versante Hotel features all of the amenities travellers have come to expect from a top-shelf property: Gracious service, lavishly appointed rooms, bathrooms with warm, radiant floors. It also has some unique touches: Tech so advanced the tint of the windows can be adjusted through the television, interactive gym gear including Peloton bikes and a Mirror, a futuristic video streaming workout device that’s not available for retail in Canada yet. And let’s not forget the restaurant full of happy, fashionable people feasting on shellfish and steaks served on platters so large it takes two servers to carry them.
What’s different this time is that the hotel is not on the edge of a sandy beach, within traversing distance of a high-speed chairlift or amidst stately consulates in some quiet, leafy neighbourhood. Instead, Versante is situated just across the Fraser River from, and directly between the flight path of, YVR’s runways 26L and 26R, surrounded by construction cranes and across the street from the local U-Haul dealer. Part of the nearly $100-million International Trade Centre, which also includes two office towers and a large commercial retail and restaurant component, the hotel is the flagship of the city’s quickly developing Capstan neighbourhood.
Like its burgeoning neighbourhood, Versante continues to grow and evolve. The newly opened whisky bar is the latest addition to the property and it will soon be joined by a private dining, lifestyle and entertainment club that will include a French cafe, Chinese restaurant Beijing Beijing and a lounge and private event venue called Alaia. Guests of the hotel will have access to all of these amenities. It is an ambitious build, but the forecast is for the neighbourhood to eventually be home to some 15,000 residents, as well as a 2.1-acre park and a new Canada Line transit station. For now, the Versante’s proximity to the airport is one of its main draws.
That’s a big change for a luxury property. Airport and airport adjacent hotels have long been considered dreary and soulless liminal spaces – accommodations of last resort. Places like YVR’s Fairmont Vancouver Airport, considered one of the best airport hotels in the world, Langham Hospitality Group’s Cordis Beijing Capital Airport and the recently opened TWA Hotel at JFK are beginning to change that perception.
Toronto’s own Sheraton Gateway Hotel is about to complete its massive top-to-bottom $30-million renovation and upgrade to coincide with the hotel’s 30th anniversary. The 484-room hotel, recently purchased by Toronto-based Knightstone Capital Management, will be the first Canadian property to reveal the new design style that Sheraton will eventually expand to its entire portfolio.
Daniel Craig, founder of Vancouver-based hospitality consultancy Reknown, thinks these changes toward luxury are long overdue. “Airport hotels have gotten a bad rap, but deservedly so,” he says, “because generally they’re big-brand three-star hotels with not a lot of personality. They’re kind of an extension of the economy-class flight experience, really. So, as travellers we’ve looked at them as a necessary evil and unavoidable part of the trip when we have an early flight or late arrival.”
As part of his hospitality consulting work, Craig monitors keyword searches related to hotels and is seeing a lot more people searching for things like “boutique hotel near airport,” “lifestyle hotel near airport” and “airport hotel with pool.”
“People are realizing they have more choice,” he says, “and are searching a little bit harder for something that is maybe a bitter fit for them and their travel style and they’re looking for those things around the airport.”
Countless factors affect travel these days, including pandemic restrictions and, as B.C. is currently witnessing, weather. Travellers from around the province converge on YVR as their primary gateway to the world and overnight stays are often unavoidable. “That’s the thought process and the rationale behind this property,” says David Curell, general manager of Versante. “We see this as an opportunity for people to be able to stay in a great property with great dining, a really well-equipped gym and a nice pool and, ultimately, to be a way for them to start their vacation early.”
As travel regains its footing, there will continue to be some added challenges. Missed or cancelled flights will always be a frustrating annoyance, but with hotels recognizing the need for updated and improved accommodations in and around airports, there might be a rainbow at the end of the storm.
The writer was hosted by Destination British Columbia. The organization did not review or approve the article before publication.
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