After 22 years of working in Architecture, a few trips abroad exposed me to some exciting new trends in Hotel accommodation. Famous designers such as Phillipe Starck and Ian Schrager were creating dynamic, hip accommodation at some of the world's most popular addresses. Ohtel is my answer to demands by visitors and locals for a real place to stay in Wellington.
GM: ALAN BLUNDELL
E : firstname.lastname@example.org
M : +64 274 469636
Travel broadens the mind; a New Zealand shibboleth that’s fuelled our Overseas Experience tradition for several generations. Our love of foreign travel has enriched and widened our horizons; for some, the adventure provides a lifetime of glorious memories, for others it’s life changing.
For designer Alan Blundell, a visit to New York had a seismic result after he was exposed to boutique hotels; a novelty to most Wellingtonians. He was impressed and inspired by the “hip designer” urban hotels becoming so popular in the world’s biggest cities; now Alan’s temporarily turned his back on designing houses; he’s become a hotelier.
Alan mentally filed the boutique hotel idea until, unexpectedly, the perfect site came on the market – at the city end of Oriental Bay, tucked into the steep coastal cliff face just across the road from Waitangi Park. The site was tiny, but big enough for the eco-friendly hotel Alan had been mulling subconsciously for several years.
Ohtel opened in March 2008. It’s furnished in ‘mid century’ style; what we’d call 1950s and 60s taste which was heavily influenced by Scandinavian designers like Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner, not forgetting Australia’s Parker furniture and New Zealand’s Crown Lynn crockery. All acting as a counterpoint to the contemporary concrete building and the artworks liberally displayed throughout the hotel. Alan started collecting original items for the hotel two years ago – some in Australia, some through the Internet, the rest from just nosing about at the weekends. It’s seriously environmentally-conscious: solar hot water; full recycling; totally natural and biodegradable cleaning products; and – where possible – local products are sourced, in preference to imports.
It’s not exactly straightforward jumping into the deep end of the hospitality pool. Alan tracked down a mentor, based in Melbourne, who specialises in luxury accommodation and has been able to supply some experienced counsel and industry contacts.
Careful attention has been paid to, well, everything. Alan’s made a point of hiring ‘grown ups’ that know how to behave and what guests will expect. The hotel’s style brief betrays his design background, “Ohtel is friendly and unpretentious; relaxed with a Kiwi ‘can do’ attitude; we’re relaxed, down-to-earth, but we’re most definitely on to it!”
Ohtel’s target market is specific. The FITS (Free Independent Travellers) who select hotels carefully, with a preference for individual-ownership rather than chains. Plus the high-end corporates, and the niche companies (advertising agencies and the film industry), and – currently the busiest of all – the local leisure market. “Unusually for a city hotel, our weekends are the busiest time. We’re attracting the ‘time poor’ professionals who formerly had to head over to the Wairarapa for a night away”, says Alan.
Ohtel is still finding its feet, with subtle tweaking to ensure it’s delivering the pleasurable experience that Alan is determined to deliver. So it’s adaptable, with plenty of ideas for future events (high teas at the weekend, Fondue Fridays for corporate events) and bright ideas for now: booking suites for intimate dinners, and serving soup and platters in the lobby in the evenings.
“There are so many great restaurants nearby, but we have to look after our guests’ needs so we serve breakfast, light meals, coffee, muffins in the lobby”, says Alan.
There are two suites, four deluxe rooms and four studios, with room rates ranging between $250 and $450 depending on selection and season. All the rooms have oversized showers, king-sized beds and the latest in flat screen TVs and audio facilities; the suites have views over Waitangi Park and there’s even one bedroom purpose-built for the disabled.
“We’ve had some very positive feedback, including scouting visits from the big hotel chains now buying baby hotels to operate under their umbrella. It’s great they’ve been looking at us; it shows Ohtel is registering on their radar.
“It’s been expensive, but we’re on track with our occupancy figures. We’ve had great reviews in the tourist industry media, and British papers like The Guardian. I hope Wellingtonians support us; just as we are making a point of supporting local suppliers. The industry has been very supportive and we’re not complacent.
I don’t have any plans for global domination; I’m just keen to get Ohtel right” says Alan Blundell.