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Upleveling rooms and expanding wellness at the Fairmont Tremblant: a case study

General Manager Anne Marie Johns

As background for those not from Canada, Tremblant is a picture-perfect ski village under two hours northwest of Montreal in the Laurentian Mountains. With numerous small hotels, chalets, lodges and short-term rentals to choose from, Tremblant is perhaps the closest thing that North America has to a charming French of Swiss alpine town, wherein the 312-key Fairmont Tremblant has always stood at the luxury resort pillar of the destination since its opening in 1996.

Yet even with this lofty status, renovations are an inevitable and compulsory part of keeping pace with global hospitality trends and providing guests with a perennially exceptional onsite experience. How does a flagged resort do this right? At the luxury end, it’s never just a matter of checking the brand standard boxes, but of making the property even more of a destination unto itself no matter the season.

In this case, the Fairmont Tremblant executed on two fronts simultaneously: carving out a portion of the rooms to become part of the elevated Fairmont Gold category as well as building an outdoor, terraced thermal circuit and foodservice. Just launched this past November 2023 following a seven-month renovation, we interviewed General Manager Anne Marie Johns to guide the details of this case study so that any reader – owner, hotelier or otherwise – can understand the nuances that go into making a PIP like this a true success.

The hotel within the hotel

Fairmont Gold represents an exclusive lifestyle hotel floor consisting of elevated rooms and suites, a specially reserved reception desk (and sometimes even a separate hotel entrance), as well as access to club lounge amenities such as deluxe daily breakfast, afternoon tea snacks, evening canapés, a curated honor bar, boardroom access (in select locations) and cozy reading rooms (again, in select locations). These private floors within a larger property are part of a global trend that many brands have adopted in recent years, with Fairmont Gold as the innovator.

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What Fairmont Hotels and other brands have realized is that in today’s experience-driven luxury travel market, memories and time are more valuable than money or elasticity to nightly rates. Hence, it’s no longer just about the in-room experience and the property amenities, but also about creating a more intimate space that’s tucked away from the crowds. Such a haven with VIP F&B privileges adds a strong element of flexibility wherein Fairmont Gold guests can enjoy the destination on their own terms by giving them the convenience of delectable culinary delights.

For the Fairmont Tremblant, while the renovation itself was only seven months’ long, the property’s Gold floor was in fact closed since 2020 wherein a PIP was already in the works before the pandemic hit. Given the touch-and-go nature of travel restrictions in the province of Quebec throughout 2021 and 2022, the renovation was hard to time in accordance to what the brand standards for luxury travelers required. Ultimately, the renovation saw an upgrade of the existing Fairmont Gold Lounge and private reception on the seventh floor overlooking the ski slopes. All 34 Fairmont Gold rooms and suites were also renovated, including the addition of four new guestrooms and two signature suites, into what’s dubbed a contemporary chalet-chic style that mirrors the natural beauty of the surroundings.

Contrast therapy as a pillar of hotel wellness

As the two of us quip, when it comes to contrast therapy, mineral springs and thermal bathing, North America is two decades behind Europe and APAC in terms of cultural appreciation and overall footprint.

From a study conducted by the Global Wellness Institute in 2018 on the global presence of thermal and hot springs spas, in the previous year Europe had 5,967 of these establishments totaling $21.7 billion in revenues while Asia-Pacific had 25,916 facilities amounting to $31.6 billion in revenues. For comparison, North America had only 302 establishments for $0.7 billion.

While one could argue that this relative absence in Canada and the United States is due to cultural differences from the Old World, the success of more recent thermal spa facility launches within major North American markets or at destination resorts since that study was published suggests that this is still rife ground for hotels to seize the opportunity and expand their wellness businesses in this direction.

 

Fairmont TremblantFor a ski village like Tremblant, adding a thermal circuit makes complete sense, as it fits perfectly with the average traveler purpose to that destination. In the case of Fairmont Tremblant, the renovation here involved a revitalized outdoor pool terrace exclusive to hotel guests that’s designed as a slope-side haven with a hot whirlpool overlooking the mountainscape, a seasonal waterfall and a cool plunge pool. The hotel also installed a custom light therapy component within the pools that can be circadian-adjusted to optimize the mood according to time of day. Thirdly, given the bodily shock that can occur for a novice to ice baths, Johns emphasized that special team training was required to ensure guest safety.

While we could write a whole other article on the cardiovascular benefits of hot-cold contrast bathing, remember that the emotional goal of all this is bodily relaxation, translating to guests feeling better, sleeping better and more satisfied with their overall onsite experiences. Notably, such a warming-up facility allows the property to more fully embrace its ski-in, ski-out access through its vibrant après-ski menu, thereby increasing F&B revenues per guest in the process.

Thinking bigger, though, there is the matter of having a strong ‘reason to visit’ for a given destination or hotel. While the town of Tremblant has stark seasonality due to its winter orientation, the year-round operation of the thermal facility at the Fairmont Tremblant helps it to drive occupancies regardless of whether or not there’s snow on the mountain.

Overcoming situational challenges

In speaking with Johns, this renovation wasn’t all smooth sailing from ideation to opening, and her team had to overcome many obstacles to usher this in on a timeline. As aforementioned, the ever-capricious COVID variants caused several delays, and then the post-pandemic inflationary costs of construction and material costs added even more anguish. Ultimately, the renovation for both the Fairmont Gold hotel within a hotel and the addition of the outdoor pool terrace cost just under $9 million.

While Johns has now conquered the challenges of post-pandemic construction and launch, the market of Tremblant still comes with its peculiarities. For one, it only has a total hotel room inventory of about 1,600, wherein this small size can lead to heightened variability in rate yielding. Then there are other external forces such as Porter Airlines (a mid-sized, regional flyer operating mostly out of Ontario and Quebec) cancelling its in-season direct flight from Toronto to Tremblant.

Despite this challenge, Toronto continues to be a key origin market for the Fairmont Tremblant, with most guests either flying into Montreal first or driving the whole way. Overall, heading into the reopening, Ontario represented roughly 30% of customers for the property, with another 30% from Quebec, 30% from the United States and 10% international – a healthy mix overall. Porter’s removal of that flight route decreases the ability for Torontonians, a primary feeder city, to plan a quick getaway. It isn’t a totally lost market, but Johns continues to focus on a mix of Toronto, USA and international segmentation with a longer look-to-book window as well as luxury distribution networks into key markets that can sustain the elevated price points of the Fairmont Gold rooms and suites.

As we’re still very much in the post-pandemic period where travel is rapidly evolving, Johns noted another important trend that may apply to other destinations based on her team’s observations over the past year. The rise of remote work and flexible hours in the office has meant that more and more guests have decided to stay longer, punctuating their Tremblant-based workweek with a few days of good skiing or on-premises relaxation, all while avoiding the weekend crowds and ski hill lineups. Significantly, though, the Fairmont Gold amenities and the presence of a thermal bathing area further incentivize this increase to LOS, particularly for the slower, midweek nights.

In the grand scheme of things, the combined capital improvements of a higher-tier hotel experience via the Fairmont Gold product and the outdoor pool terrace help to give the Fairmont Tremblant reliance against any market forces by making the property the destination unto itself. The town of Tremblant will always be ski, but adding unique touchpoints as we’ve described mean that this hotel will always have a reason to visit beyond just the mountain. And that’s a takeaway that any hotel can learn from, in addition to a reason for anyone to visit no matter the time of year.

This article may not be reproduced without the expressed permission of the authors.

 

Tags: Contrast therapy, Fairmont Gold, Fairmont Tremblant, Wellness

Managing Partners at Hotel Mogel Consulting, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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