If there’s anyone who understands how to make a stay at a hotel feel like coming home, it’s Khalil Halani.
The U.S.-born Halani was raised in the hospitality industry by his Ugandan father who started as a dishwasher in a Vancouver hotel at 13. Halani and his two siblings spent their childhoods living in the hotel his parents owned in Indianapolis. Now, he lives, works and plays out of the Holiday Inn in Sudbury’s south end, which his parents bought in 2001.
“I remember being 10 and travelling all over Northern Ontario and looking at different properties, looking at their pools and arcades; we stayed here first as guests on our way up to the Sault and that was it,” said Halani. “It’s been a mix of work and home and camp all at once ever since.”
Halani split his time between Toronto and Sudbury over the past 15 years, but with a recent renovation of the hotel, he moved north to join his parents on the leadership team.
The hotel was built in 1952 and has had several different incarnations, including as a Howard Johnson, Motor Inn and a Sheridan before becoming a Holiday Inn.
The building has gone through two major renovations since the Halanis took ownership in 2001, but this $7-million change, they say, is different.
“Typically, hotels go through a lifestyle of eight to 10 years where they’re refreshing a lot of their décor,” said general manager Karim Khamisa. “In this case, it was going above and beyond the expectations of the [parent company] International Hotel Group.”
The changes were both aesthetic and functional.
The whole facility boasts what Khamisa and Halani said is a more contemporary style than what they had before. They opened up the lobby area, removing barriers between it and what used to be the café. The café is now a bar and lounge, with windows overlooking the street and an extensive craft beer selection.
The lobby transformation also impacted the 24/7 business centre.
“The business centre used to be a room beside the lobby, it was enclosed in a dark, dingy area, with a window on the door, and if somebody was in there, good luck,” said Halani. “Because of the lobby redesign, it’s more open; it’s easily accessible.”
Accessibility is important to the hotel, and the seated restaurant received new décor and was made more accessible with the addition of a ramp.
Not even the menu survived the changes, and they are shifting the menu towards what they call “premium casual.”
“If I had to define premium casual, it’s just more variety. You can get a burger and fries, or fish and chips, or steak with asparagus on the side,” said Halani.
“It’s about catering to the different demographic. If we’ve got the corporate guy who’s got a per diem of $200 a day, we want to offer him something at his value,” added Kamisa.
Guests will be pleased to find improved Wi-Fi reception and speed, larger TVs in each bedroom, and new stationary bikes, treadmills and ellipticals in the fitness centre.
“A lot of our corporate travellers are guests who, unfortunately, don’t get to spend a lot of time in their home cities, so the fitness facility and the pool and Jacuzzi get used a lot as a destressor,” said Halani, who, as a resident himself relies on the facilities.
Improvements that will impress event co-ordinators include the installation of a speaker system in each of the three banquet halls, which complement the existing audio-visual setup.
The spaces are fully equipped with screens, projectors and microphones.
The banquet halls can be divided into five, and the renovations also introduced four smaller meeting rooms that can be used for breakout meetings during conferences.
The whole space can accommodate up to 600 visitors and host 350 for a seated dinner.