The last two years have not been easy for businesses that rely on tourism for survival, but at the west end of Baker Street there is a show of confidence that should make all those involved feel confident better times are ahead.
The Best Western Baker Street Inn has just polished off a major renovation of its property, an indication from the tourism veterans who own the hotel that the hardest part may be over.
“We have a confidence in the community and in Nelson,” says Ryan Martin, general manager of the hotel and convention centre.
“We picked a lull and that’s a good time to do it. We have employed a lot of local tradespeople. And when your rooms aren’t busy, that’s when you want to get in there and close down wings. But I think the outlook for Nelson is strong.”
The Martin family has been a pretty reliable weathervane when it comes to Nelson’s success. In 1979 Dave and Sheila Martin purchased the deteriorating Hume Hotel with thoughts of renovating and rejuvenating the historic property. Today the Hume Hotel stands as a pillar of pride for the entire community.
With son Ryan now a managing partner in the Martin Hotel Group — that includes both the Hume and Baker Street Inn — this recent renovation can be seen in a similar light.
“My dad’s philosophy was to continually reinvest in the property and always wanting to make it better,” says Ryan Martin. “It’s proven even through the tough times that people will start picking your property because you’ve shown you care.”
The impetus for the Baker Street Inn renovation actually came from Best Western. The largest hotel chain in the world — which includes 4,000 independently owned and operated properties — has embarked on a major branding exercise that included the Martin owned hotel.
“You are in control of your own hotel, but there are certain guidelines and brand standards that you have to adhere to,” says Ryan Martin. “The problem with Best Western being the largest hotel chain in the world is that they’re very inconsistent. You can stay at a seaside five-star resort to the rural roadside motel and you never know what you are going to get.”
Best Western has split the brand into three more descriptive parts. There is the regular two-star hotels, the plus properties which are three-star and above, and the premiere properties that include four and five-star hotels.
In order to get the 70-room Baker Street Inn up to the plus status, it required a renovation that tops the $750,000 mark. The upgrades include new carpets, linens, artwork, flat screen tvs, drapes, paint, towels and everything else the customers see when they stay.
“It’s been really great for the whole staff, there’s a lot more pride back in the place,” says Ryan Martin.
The Martin family purchased the hotel in 2003 when it was in receivership and immediately went to work sprucing up the place. For the first five years, Ryan Martin says they enjoyed impressive growth. In the summer of 2007 the hotel was booked solid for almost all of July and August. Then like the rest of the world, the bottom fell out as the global recession resulted in less disposable income for so many people.
Though it’s been a struggle for the last two years, Ryan Martin and the 70 full and part time employees at the Baker Street Inn have cause for optimism.
“Starting in January of this year was the first time I have seen a turnaround,” says Ryan Martin. “I think the good news story up at Whitewater [new chairlift] had a big part to do with that. It helps that the economy of Canada and B.C. have held strong compared to a lot of the rest of the world.”
Another big factor in today’s tourism market is social media. With on-line surveys and websites constantly scrutinizing accommodators, it’s never been more important to keep an eye on quality. The renovation has been proof positive as customer satisfaction has increased tremendously.
“The consumer has a way more powerful voice now,” Ryan Martin says of today’s industry. “If someone has a bad stay, you have social media to let the world know. People trust what other people are saying more so than what a brand or a company is saying. You can say how great you are, but what really matters is what the customer says. Now there are all these outlets now to see what others are saying.”
With plenty of other developments and projects on the go at the west end of Baker Street optimism is high and there’s no better place to find it than at the hotel that welcomes guests to town.