Winning award entry | The Calgary Marriott Downtown: Long legacy, modern momentum

This award entry that I wrote for the Marriott Calgary Downtown won the hotel the prestigious 2016 Calgary White Hat hospitality award, which recognizes the city's best in the tourism industry.

The Calgary Marriott Downtown, while drawing on its storied history of hospitality, has never stopped innovating and updating in order to help Calgary put its best foot forward in welcoming visitors to the city. This has never been more true than in 2015, when the hotel completed one of the largest hotel renovations in the city’s history, emphasizing its commitment to the tourism industry. The hotel’s influence on the city reaches far past its walls through its partnership with the Calgary Telus Convention Centre and contributions to the larger community.

Forward to the future

In 2014—the hotel building’s 40th anniversary—the Calgary Marriott Downtown launched an ambitious remodeling project designed to transform the hotel into a unique destination for Calgary visitors and locals alike.

The company spent millions of dollars on the overhaul of the hotel, which included the addition of 4,000 square feet of meeting space. This investment in Calgary’s tourism industry has resulted in added capacity for events as well as an updated look and feel designed to attract the modern traveller and raise the perception of accommodations in Calgary.

The revamp focused on creating a stylish experience that caters to the way people live, work and travel today—constantly connected and moving seamlessly between business and pleasure.

With this in mind, a new lobby was designed with open, flexible social spaces where guests can commune with their laptops—taking advantage of free Wi-Fi—or meet in small groups. A new Starbucks offers onsite convenience and even more public seating.

Catering to connected guests means more than just offering Wi-Fi and outlets. The Calgary Marriott Downtown’s recent technological innovations include its Mobile Key App, which allows guests to bypass the front desk and use their mobile phones to access their rooms. The Calgary Marriott Downtown is the only Marriott property in Canada and one of only 10 globally to offer this feature.

Meanwhile, the Red Coat App—available in 20 different languages—allows planners managing events at the hotel to make requests for services such as coffee refills or room temperature changes in real time during an event.

The new M Club Lounge, the only one of its kind in Canada, takes the connected concept up a notch for the business traveller looking to boost productivity. The M Club Lounge offers a premium experience for Marriott Rewards® Gold and Platinum Elite members as well as guests who choose to add access to their reservation. The lounge features individual and group meeting/workspaces, business tools including high speed Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi printing, scanners and copiers, and refreshments in a modern, comfortable space.

For those guests planning events, the hotel increased its meeting space capacity by 4,000 feet to a total of 11,075 square feet. The addition allows the Calgary Marriott Downtown to bring in even more guests for gatherings of all types and sizes, from small meetings to weddings.

Throughout all the changes, the aesthetics of the hotel were updated to reflect contemporary tastes, using a warm, natural palette for subtly sophisticated style. Details include guest rooms that showcase large-scale murals reflecting the natural beauty of Alberta for a unique sense of place.

The remodel was also accomplished with a commitment to sustainability, including such initiatives as recycling carpet and installing water-saving toilets, smart thermostats and energy-efficient heating/cooling systems. Following the remodel, the Green Key Meetings organization awarded the Calgary Marriott Downtown a 3 Green Key Meetings rating, highlighting the hotel’s advances towards protecting the environment.

More than just a facelift, the renovation—physical and technological—reflects the Calgary Marriott Downtown’s commitment to providing today’s guests with the very latest in comfort, convenience and style, while building Calgary’s cachet among visitors.

Hospitality never takes a break

Despite the ambitious nature of the renovation, the hotel did not close during construction. Special care was taken to maintain a high level of hospitality and mitigate disruption and inconvenience to guests. The hotel created temporary renovation signage that celebrated the colorful hotel history of that particular corner of Calgary, helping to educate guests and the community about the city’s past and how it shaped the direction of the renovation.

Ensuring that guests felt comfortable and relaxed in the middle of a project of this magnitude was a testament to the dedication and professionalism of hotel staff and the mark of a true hotelier.

Proud history

The Calgary Marriott Downtown has been at the center of Calgary’s tourism industry for 20 years, building on an even longer legacy of hospitality at its current site, which is arguably the birthplace of Calgary’s hotel industry.

The tradition of hospitality on the Marriott’s downtown site goes back to Calgary’s wild frontier beginnings and continued through the growth of the city during Prohibition and the two world wars. The Grand Central Hotel opened in 1884 near the Calgary rail station, following the arrival of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway. The hotel played a role in the story of Wild West legend the Sundance Kid, who briefly operated a saloon at the Grand Central.

When Prohibition came into effect in 1916, the Empire Hotel, also located on the current Marriott site, began serving “temperance beer,” which the Calgary Herald described at the time as “an alleged non-intoxicant that looks like beer, tastes like beer, and is said to be similar in taste and flavor to the regular Calgary Brewing company's regular brew.”

The Grand Central and its partner, the Empire Hotel, burned down in 1920—while a poker game raged in the Empire’s basement billiard room. After the fire, a larger Empire was rebuilt on the site. Several other hotels operated near the railroad depot as well, including the Yale Hotel (known later as the Yale Plaza). All were razed in the early 1970s for urban renewal.

The hotel that was built on the former site of the Empire and Yale hotels helped bring Calgary’s tourism industry into the modern era. Originally a Four Seasons, it was built from 1972-74 along with the Calgary Convention Centre—one of the first dedicated convention centres in Canada—and the Glenbow Museum.

From the beginning, the hotel set a high standard for service. That standard has continued throughout its incarnations as the Skyline Plaza, the Radisson Plaza, and, since 1996, the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel. Today the Calgary Marriott Downtown is a prominent fixture of Calgary hospitality.

Catering to the community

As the exclusive caterer for the Calgary Telus Convention Centre since its opening, the Calgary Marriott Downtown’s influence goes well beyond its walls. It has been instrumental in creating a dynamic first impression for millions of visitors to Calgary taking part in gatherings at the convention centre, from small meetings to events on a global scale.

The fresh perspective of the Calgary Marriott Downtown’s new restaurant and bar program extends to the catering program. The highest standards are upheld, ensuring quality food and drink for every Convention Centre event.

Convention Centre catering is not the only way that the Calgary Marriott Downtown reaches the community through the culinary arts. It has also taken part in Celebrity Hors d’Oeuvres—the flagship fundraiser for Alberta Theatre Projects—for the past four years.

The Calgary Marriott Downtown has also contributed to the musical life of the city—appropriate to note during this “Year of Music”— by hosting high-profile musical artists as guests, including Shania Twain and The Weekend.

The recent transformation of the Calgary Marriott Downtown was covered extensively in the media, creating hundreds of thousands of positive impressions of Calgary as a progressive destination with a bright economic outlook. In 2015, the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel was recognized by readers of Meetings + Incentive Travel magazine as a runner-up in the category of best hotel in Western Canada.

The ONE18 EMPIRE experience

The crown jewel of the Calgary Marriott Downtown’s extensive renovation is its new restaurant and bar, ONE18 EMPIRE. Named in honor of the original Empire Hotel, ONE18 EMPIRE pays homage to Calgary’s colorful past while offering a modern concept in tune with today’s tastes.

The changes have quickly made ONE18 EMPIRE a favorite addition to Calgary’s dining scene. ONE18 EMPIRE was recently named as one of the top 10 new restaurants in Calgary by Avenue Magazine.

ONE18 EMPIRE turns the traditional perception of hotel restaurants on its head with a progressive menu focusing on fresh, local ingredients and handcrafted quality. Menu elements are made in house as much as possible, from charcuterie finished in a special onsite curing room and served with housemade crackers, down to condiments such as pickles and mustard made on site. Examples of local ingredients include Brant Lake grass-fed rib-eye and Ocean Wise-certified B.C. Weathervane scallops.

The bar program at ONE18 EMPIRE has created an unprecedented haven for sophisticated whiskey and cocktail aficionados, with more than 130 types of whiskey and a cocktail list offering classics with an updated twist. Juices and syrups are housemade, and the focus on fresh ingredients extends to flavouring seasonal cocktails with herbs grown on the rooftop garden. The bar program has also received plentiful media coverage in its own right, which has helped elevate the perception of Calgary food and beverage offerings.

Caring for kids

In addition to providing the highest levels of service to its guests, the Calgary Marriott Downtown strongly believes in serving the Calgary community.

In a major initiative, the Calgary Marriott Downtown has partnered with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation for more than 10 years to help raise funds for the 90,000 children and families who visit the hospital each year.

In 2012, The Calgary Marriott Downtown and partnering sponsors inaugurated the annual Building Hope for Kids Gala. The gala has grown into a significant event that has contributed more than $1 million to the foundation. Those funds are earmarked for some of the highest priority needs of the hospital.

Programs supported by Building Hope for Kids funds include:

  • The Pediatric Critical Care Transport Team, which helped provide crucial care last year to more than 200 children who were too sick to be treated in their home communities.

  • The Robotic Surgical Assistant, which allows surgeons to perform minimally invasive interventions that traditionally required open-skull operations.

  • The Art Therapy Hope Group for Siblings at Rotary Flames House, a one-of-a-kind program that allows siblings of young patients to share their experiences with each other through art and play.

Happy, healthy staff

The Calgary Marriott Downtown also makes a positive impact in the Calgary community through its dedication to its employees.

The company especially believes that healthy associates make a healthy community.

In 2015, the Calgary Marriott Downtown was named a Marriott Platinum TakeCare Healthy Hotel, an internal designation from Marriott International recognizing efforts to make the hotel one of the top healthy hotels in the company. Only 20 hotels received this level out of 4,200 globally in 2015.

Leading the way

The Calgary Marriott Downtown is dedicated to serving its guests, employees and the city. The hotel’s deep roots in Calgary and legacy of hospitality drive constant innovation and forward momentum. The hotel’s focus on the future and high standards make it a strong leader in the local tourism industry and a valuable partner to Calgary itself.