When Bob Kelly stayed at the Cambridge Suites in the early nineties, the place was an anomaly in the middle of Toronto's financial district. It was the only apartment hotel in the city in 1991and, according to the hotel, possibly the whole country. With none of the features – vaulted lobbies, darkened bars – generally associated with quality hotels, it seemed dangerously close to one of those transient apartment buildings frequented by travelling salesmen in earlier decades.
But Kelly, a bank manager from Ottawa, now retired, liked it right away. "I enjoy the convenience of the suites," he says after 20 years of stays. "They offer much more than a standard room," he points out, referring to the bedrooms, kitchens, multiple televisions and change rooms, all in their own separate spaces.
Today, most major hotel chains have divisions they identify as all-suite or extended-stay brands, and the rate of growth has increased exponentially. Hilton built nine suite hotels from 2002 to 2009, but has seven more slated for the immediate future; Marriott has 26 with 17 to come in the next three years; and InterContinental Hotels Group, owner of the InterContinental and Crowne Plaza hotel chains, among others, has seven with five more in the works. In the United States, where the suite proliferation began about five years earlier, suite hotels number in the hundreds.
Cheaper to build and run, they're attractive to developers, and they're ideal for longer-term business travellers.
"As a woman traveller, it's definitely, definitely a preference," says financial consultant Kelley Keehn, host of W network's Burn My Mortgage, author of She Inc., a career guide for women, and a frequent traveller. "If I'm on the road doing interviews, I need that separate spot," she says of the division between living and sleeping areas in suites. "Sometimes, [a client will]meet you at the hotel, and I can say, 'You can come up to my suite' … I would never have someone up in a room of mine, but I've done it in a suite and have no problem with it."
Security is an issue that comes up again and again with women who travel for business. And it's not just the perceived safety of having an extra door between the bedroom and the hallway. Suite hotels are smaller than standard hotels, with fewer rooms per floor, and a much greater tendency toward repeat customers.
"You don't know who's coming and who's going at other hotels," says Nancy Moulday, manager of recruitment for TD business banking, who books all her (largely female) visiting trainees into the Cambridge Suites, and prefers suite hotels herself when she's on the road. "You don't know who's allowed in and who can get in the elevators."
According to Bill Duncan, global head of Hilton's Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites brand, its clientele was 35 per cent female in 2000. By this past year, it had risen to 48 per cent. "That's a big, big shift," he says, a rise he attributes to the growth of the female executive class, the spreading brand recognition of the suite hotel chains and increased post-9/11 security concerns.
"The hotel staff knows [the female business traveller] they feel safer and secure with a smaller number of rooms in the hotel. That's what our staff has seen, and what we've seen through our research."
Both Keehn and Moulday often use the cooking facilities. "I can make my own meals if I want and have dinner in the room myself instead of being alone in a restaurant," Moulday says.
Keehn says the extra space allows her to bring her mother with her on business trips. "She's retired and we just have an absolute hoot. I try to take her everywhere with me and that does not work without a suite."
She says her husband sometimes accompanies her, or drops in for a visit during a long trip. "I might be home a few days a month, and it does get pretty lonely. So the ability to take someone with you, have someone visit you, is great. But doing that with just two beds in one room? That's not a lot of fun."
Now retired, Bob Kelly continues to stay at the Cambridge Suites when he's in Toronto with his wife; he likes being able to invite friends up for after-show drinks without being cramped or having to worry about whether the bed is made. And that's as good a sign as any that the suite hotel is more than just a trend: Taking business trips with mom may take a little longer to catch on.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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