IT HAS BEEN 30 YEARS SINCE GROUPE GERMAIN OPENED ITS FIRST HOTEL IN QUEBEC CITY, AND THE COMPANY IS SHOWING NO SIGNS OF SLOWING DOWN. WE SAT DOWN WITH CO-PRESIDENT CHRISTIANE GERMAIN WHO SPEAKS OF THE ARCHITECTURAL “MOMENT” THAT SPARKED THE GERMAIN ADVENTURE. FURTHER IN, DETAILS ON UPCOMING PROJECTS, WHICH INCLUDE THE OPENING OF FOUR NEW HOTELS IN 2018!
To say that Groupe Germain’s headquarters in Montreal are at the heart of the action is somewhat of an understatement. The corporate offices are located on the fifth floor of the Alt Hotel, an ultramodern high-rise right in the middle of Griffintown. The forest of cranes surrounding the building is a sign of rapid development in this former working-class Montreal neighbourhood, transforming before our very eyes.
The activity and excitement is equally palpable a few kilometres away, at DIX30 in Brossard. The group, co-founded by Christiane Germain and her brother Jean-Yves, will soon be inaugurating its first hotel under the Alt+ brand—and that’s only one of four hotels opening this year. “Without a doubt, 2018 is going to be a big year for us,” says Christiane, confidently, during our interview.
A DESIGN REVOLUTION
Flashback to the mid-1980s. Christiane Germain and her brother, Jean-Yves, didn’t know it at the time, but they were about to revolutionize the hotel landscape in Canada. The siblings, children of successful Quebec City entrepreneurs, already owned several restaurants, and were in New York looking for inspiration. But it was a hotel in the Big Apple that caught their eye, with its sophisticated decor and impeccable architecture.
“We arrived just when design was beginning to really matter in everyday life,” recalls Christiane with a smile. “Call it luck, call it fate… when my brother and I saw that hotel in New York—the Morgans, I can still see it so clearly—it just stopped us cold.”
Smitten by the stylish look of Morgans, the Germains launched their first boutique hotel in 1988, the Germain-des-Prés, in Quebec City. It was a revolutionary concept at the time in Canada, when the market was dominated by big chains and anonymous small establishments. The Germain formula was based on medium-sized hotels—150 rooms or fewer—located in dynamic neighbourhoods and featuring a focus on aesthetics and personalized service.
Thirty years later, Christiane Germain acknowledges that she never imagined the company would experience such exponential growth. She says she doesn’t want to make too much of the group’s 30th anniversary, and she balks at the word “empire” to describe her network of hotels, which can now be found in six Canadian provinces.
“Empire? I am very proud of what we have built, I’m proud of our team and what we have accomplished together. I am full of pride, but it is tempered by a healthy dose of humility. We built our network one hotel at a time. I had no idea that today we would own 14 hotels, or that soon they would number 20!”
This year, the company is opening hotels in Brossard, Ottawa, Saskatoon and Calgary, under various names. The big year is the fruit of her team’s unflagging efforts, says Christiane. “If you want to be a success in the hotel business, you have to have plenty of irons in the fire. And sometimes, everything comes through at once. That’s sort of what happened this time.”
The new hotel in Brossard will bear the new name Alt+, a brand halfway between the 3-star Alt and 4-star Germain. The design will be as meticulous as in the group’s other properties, explains Christiane, but services will be geared toward a slightly longer stay. “The Alt+ will offer a little more than the Alt. For example, Alt+ will feature loft style rooms, an inviting lobby bar, and amenities such as valet, room service and more”.
The target market for the new brand remains business and weekend travellers looking for quality design and efficient service—essentially the lion’s share of Germain and Alt hotels’ current patrons. Christiane is betting heavily on Alt+ to accelerate the group’s growth in new niches. “We are definitely sensing a demand. The Alt+ brand was created for DIX30, and through this we are realizing doors will most likely open to other markets in Canada.”
Christiane, who has been appearing on the Radio-Canada television show Dans l’oeil du dragon (the French-language counterpart to Dragons’ Den), still takes an active part in designing her hotels, even after 30 years at the helm of Germain.
“When we’re building a new hotel, we always do a mock-up of a room in Plessisville, where our furniture supplier is, and we go there to make decisions. I’m still very involved. We all are. We all go: everyone involved in the construction, my brother, my daughter, my nephew… it’s quite the collective effort.”
Christiane Germain believes she is well on her way to 20 hotels—or more—in 2020. The goal is to have a hotel in every Canadian province. “We’re currently in six. That leaves just a few, including British Columbia, which is a market of great interest to us. We would love to have a presence there.”