The entry of the big boys from Trump and Shangri-La and the new Four Seasons Hotel and the fairly new Ritz Carlton has garnered a lot of attention in Toronto hotel circles. So much so that we (meaning in this case, I), sometimes forget about a very sleek and very convenient hotel right downtown: One King West.
The famous tower in the historic (almost 100 years!) bank building at King and Yonge has 330 hotel rooms; all suites with kitchens for the convenience of guests. They do a fair bit of leisure travel, as it’s very convenient to attractions like St. Lawrence Market, the waterfront, the Eaton Centre and the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s also big for business travel, of course, with the banks and law firms so close by.
I had a tour of the property yesterday and they showed me their new meeting/event space, which is SPECTACULAR. It’s on the 15th floor and is called, appropriately, 1500. The big feature is probably the sliding glass doors/panels that open to a large balcony with fabulous views of downtown and down to the lake.
It’s a real distinguishing point for them, I’d say, and no doubt will get great use. It’s supposed to fit 70 people but looks big enough for a lot more, and it comes equipped with state of the art sound and visual aid equipment and a beautiful kitchen area with gorgeous white and black marble. The prints on the wall are cool, too. But it’s the view that will set this place apart, I’d say.
There’s a very nice, large bedroom unit that attaches. And they also have a connection to another space a floor below, called 1400, that can be used in any number of ways.
The hotel, if you’ve never had the pleasure, also has a huge vault on its lower level with one of those giant, shiny, silver, round doors like banks used to have, and that, too, can be used for events. And there’s a more formal, old-style boardroom with beautifully polished wood for folks looking for a more traditional space.
The lobby isn’t large but there’s a nice bar and the space is bright and airy and chic as it’s the old Grand Banking Hall. You know, from when going to the bank was special.
They also showed me some of the new rooms that will be available after they finish renovations. The one I saw was mostly dark wood but with bright orange accents. The room was good-sized and the bath was large, with both a shower and a tub. The kitchen isn’t large but has all you need, including a fridge, microwave, a couple burners, a dishwasher and a very cool machine that’s both a clothes washer and dryer in one. I’d never seen one or I don’t think even heard of them, but they’re apparently quite popular in Europe, where space is often at a premium.
I’ve never stayed the night but it looks like a very solid hotel option in the heart of the city, with plenty of class and style. The website today was showing rooms from $167.20, by the way; pretty good for what you get.
U.S. AND CANADA BORDER WOES
Good story from Toronto Star reporter Jeff Green in today’s paper, talking about how yet another study shows Canadians flocking to the U.S., but not enough Americans returning the favour.
“This is a bigger story that’s been unfolding for years” said Doug Porter chief economist at BMO Capital Markets as he commented on figures for the month of June. “It”s been a slow build. And there are two parts of it. One is that Canadians are going over the border in droves. And I think an almost equally important story is Americans are not coming to Canada anymore. If you look back years ago the two flows would be roughly similar.”
That, of course, was mostly when the Canadian dollar wasn’t close to par with the American buck and also before 9-11. Americans aren’t so anxious to come up here when they don’t get a break on the exchange, especially considering how much more things cost here. And there’s the border hassle. I had a great email exchange on Twitter today with well-travelled blogger and writer Gary Arndt, who bemoaned the lengthy delays he’s had when driving over the border.
“Flying is fine, but i don’t feel welcome driving. ….and I am well aware that it is just as bad going the other way,” he wrote in one tweet. Later he said that “there needs to be some serious grassroots pressure to demilitarize the border.” He also tweeted that “if Europe can have open borders with 30 countries, then surely we can do it with 2.”
And how good a point is that?
Anyway, before I forget, here are the latest figures on cross-border traffic from Statistics Canada. For June of 2013, Canadians took 4.8 million trips to the U.S, up 2.4 per cent from June, 2012. Only 1.7 million trips were made by Americans into Canada in June, a drop of .5 per cent from a year earlier.
As Porter noted, that means that nearly three Canadians are heading south for every American coming up here to drop money. That’s a lot of Canadians hitting the outlet malls in New York or driving to Niagara Falls, New York, Detroit, Burlington Vermont or Seattle to avoid our heavy air fare prices.
AIR CANADA INNOVATION COULD HELP TRAVELERS
Another good Toronto Star story today from Vanessa Lu, who writes about Air Canada’s new, $60 million operations centre in Brampton. The new facility brings together workers in one spot, helping the airline respond to such problems as a looming snowstorm.
“We’ll be able to make better decisions and more quickly,” said CEO Calin Rovinescu.
I think we’re all in favour of that.