Hotel Indigo no more: Downtown lodging drops IHG to become Metcalfe Hotel

The owners of a boutique hotel in downtown Ottawa are ending their decade-long affiliation with international hospitality giant IHG and plan to start operating independently next month.

On Feb. 12, the 106-room Hotel Indigo will become the Metcalfe Hotel, marking the latest chapter in the property’s storied history.

Patrick Quirouette, the director of sales and marketing, said the inspiration to go independent came to the property’s owners – a local family he declined to name – after seeing boutique hotels in the United States that had successfully positioned their property to capture business from both Baby Boomers and millennials.

"IHG was a great partner over the past 10 years. Part of the reason we decided to part ways was that the brand awareness wasn’t as strong as we had hoped it would be," he said.

Being part of a hotel chain typically forces a property owners to follow specific design standards, down to the carpet and furniture.

Now, the proprietors of the soon-to-be Metcalfe Hotel are using Ottawa-based design firm 4té to guide renovations of the property.

The early goals include upgrading the lobby with an eye to making it more inviting to pedestrians walking by the property, which is located at the corner of Metcalfe Street and Laurier Avenue West.

Corridors are also being repainted, crown moldings around door frames are being replaced and minor modifications are being made to guest rooms, including removing Indigo hallmarks such as murals.

One of the changes guests will see is more communal seating in the atrium area. Mr. Quirouette said he wanted to give guests the option of working in a more social environment and not feel confined to their rooms when they need to catch up on e-mails or prepare a presentation, for example.

That work will wrap up in May. More extensive guest room renovations are planned for 2018.

Mr. Quirouette said Hotel Indigo traditionally relied heavily on corporate and government business during the week as well as leisure travellers looking for a unique hospitality experience during the weekend.

One of the risks of going independent is that travellers who were attracted to Hotel Indigo in part by IHG’s popular loyalty rewards program will choose to stay at other properties where they can continue to collect and redeem points.

In addition to Hotel Indigo, IHG operates the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and InterContinental brands, among others.

Mr. Quirouette conceded the Metcalfe Hotel may lose some of these customers but said he’s confident the majority of guests will continue to do business with the rebranded property.

“What they value the most is a familiar face when they check in, consistency of service and the ideal location,” he said. “We’ve been here for 10 years and are well-established and well-connected within our community.”

Mr. Quirouette said most of the money saved in IHG franchise fees will be put towards marketing the Metcalfe Hotel.

He adds that bookings at the hotel are higher than at the same time last year, in part because of the buzz surrounding the full year of festivities surrounding Canada's 150th anniversary.

This year’s rebranding is the latest change for the property, which has been the site of several hotels and home to several famous Ottawa residents for more than a century.

It’s the former site of a home once owned by Sir George Étienne Cartier, the powerful Quebec lieutenant and longtime political protégé of Sir John A. Macdonald, according to a history of the property written by local journalist Randy Boswell.

During the late 1860s and early 1870s, Mr. Cartier’s “modest brick house” was reportedly the social centre of the Confederation-era capital, where politicians of all stripes – as well as writers, musicians and other artists –  gathered on Saturday nights to dine, drink, sing and dance, Mr. Boswell wrote.

A YMCA was later constructed on the site and became the one-time home of acclaimed photographer Yousuf Karsh took up residence.

In early 1970, Ottawa construction contractor and property developer Rupert McClelland bought the property for $393,645 and opened The Bytown, which was sometimes known as the Bytown Hotel or Bytown Inn.

Slightly more than a decade later, the hotel underwent substantial renovations and became The Roxborough. It changed ownership again in the 1990s, operating for several years as  part of the international Howard Johnson chain.