Bobby Orr the hotelier

Who would have thought that the 114-room Ames Hotel in Boston would become a shrine to one of the titans of hockey, Bobby Orr? Yet, with the recent opening of its Bobby Orr Suite, this property is on the map as a destination for his devoted fanbase.

For those who are not fans of the sport, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bobby Orr brought the once-lowly Bruins out of the National Hockey League cellar and propelled them to Stanley Cup victories in 1970 and 1972. Orr’s list of accolades stretches longer than most anyone in the game, perhaps second only to ‘The Great One’, Wayne Gretzky.

“It is safe to say that Bobby is among the most celebrated and appreciated athletes in Boston history and certainly a hockey legend,” noted Jeff McIntyre, partner in Benchmark a Global Hospitality Company, which is the owner and manager of the property, “and we are both fortunate and proud to tie our name to his.”

This is not the first Benchmark property with themed suites. When Benchmark was managing the Carlton on Madison Avenue in New York – now known as the James – it built a Broadway Diva Suite, a Speakeasy Suite with a secret poker room, and a Pool Shark Suite. It also created themed suites for managed properties in Houston, Dallas and the Florida Keys.

Mr. McIntyre notes that when properly curated, marketed and managed, a themed suite can garner a significant rate premium over other suite products. “However,” he cautions, “don’t think that there will be an immediate payout on the added capex. Rather, you must recognize the significantly boosted value insofar as social media, corporate/group sales, marketplace positioning and public relations, all of which is often harder to directly quantify.”

At 570 square feet, the 14th-floor suite has a large ‘#4’ on the entry door denoting Orr’s playing number. Inside you will find trophies, playing sticks, a wooden locker, over 50 items of his personal memorabilia, and a wall of quotes and photos of Orr from his playing days. The room also includes two seats from the original Boston Garden with a penalty box area and custom flooring made to look like a rink with faceoff circles and the blue line. Two of the in-house television channels have been programmed with an endless loop of clips from some of his finer on-ice moments. And a portion of all room revenue flows directly to charitable causes in the Parry Sound, Ontario area where Orr was born and raised.

In other words, they’ve gone all out. And the lesson for you as a hotelier considering a renovation of this nature, remember that half measures won’t get the results.

If you have a concept with a niche yet highly avid audience, thoroughly embrace them lest you receive a tepid “Meh!” as a reaction to your efforts. Nevertheless, the daunting nature of what’s required should not deter you from considering a vanity suite for your property.

There are numerous examples as references, most of which don’t go to the same extremes as the Ames. A few years ago, I stayed at Le Monde Hotel in Edinburgh where each of its 17 suites was decorated to reflect the vibe of a different city such as Tokyo, London, Paris and so on. I’ve also stayed at the Fantasyland Hotel in Edmonton where themed suites feature igloos, Polynesia and even a pick-up truck housing the bed (more comfortable than it sounds).

In a world where hotels compete for Instagram-able moments and shares within the increasingly fickle social media ecosystem, vanity suites appear to solve the problem of property anonymity. But as Mr. McIntyre stresses, “It’s not as easy as it looks. There is a considerable time involvement that does not easily get factored into the payout calculations. You’ve been warned!” While a vanity suite can have a good ROI, like most everything else in a hotel, delicate planning is a must.