News / Canada

Upscale Ritz-Carlton shows off facelift

MONTREAL - A place with three bedrooms, a dining room, two sitting rooms and eight bathrooms is usually a house. At the Ritz-Carlton, it's the Royal Suite.

It's almost as big as some houses, measuring 4,700 square feet, although its price tag of $7,000 to $10,000 per night outdistances what most Canadians are plunking down for a monthly mortgage payment.

''The Royal Suite, with its 4,700 square feet, is the largest (hotel room) in Canada," Ritz-Carlton CEO Andrew Torriani said Monday as the hotel showed off its renovations 100 years after it welcomed its first guest.

But the suite, which had previously gained fame as the place where Hollywood power couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor tied the knot in 1964, wasn't open for Monday's media tour as the final touches were still being applied. It will be unveiled in June.

A 400-square-foot room goes for around $450 per night.

Several rooms were on display, their window shades sliding noiselessly out of sight to let the sun shine in, while toilet seats raised soundlessly like a small drawbridge as someone approached.

The $200-million renovation, which saw part of the fabled hotel hived off for luxury condos, mingles high-tech improvements with the building's old-world charm.

The refurbished hotel is about half its former size now, with 98 rooms and 31 suites.

The renovations were designed to bring the storied hotel into modern times while still preserving its cachet.

Its guest list reads like a who's who and includes Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in 1976, Richard Nixon in 1972, the Rolling Stones, George H.W. Bush, and Celine Dion.

It was like a second home for prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau at various points in their lives as well as acclaimed writer Mordecai Richler, who featured it in some of his books.

While the renovations emphasized keeping the ritz in Ritz-Carlton, the new eco-friendly innovations have made the luxury hotel greener than the bills stuffing the wallets of its traditionally upscale clientele.

Thermostats intuitively remember a guest's temperature preferences upon check-in and there will be no more fumbling around for the light switch upon entering a dark room. Motion sensors will activate the lights.

The lighting, heating and air conditioning of each room will be managed by a sophisticated building management system according to weather conditions and room occupancy. The salt-water swimming pool is heated with excess heat from the hotel's kitchen, while a herb garden will provide fresh produce.

Gone are the days when a guest would hang a paper do-not-disturb sign on the door. Now, there's a series of coloured lights that signal if the room is occupied or not or if maid service is required.

Hardwood floors have been installed in many rooms for guests with allergies while other suites have thick all-wool carpets.

Although a wedding was hosted at the hotel on the weekend, the first official guest is Alexandre Bilodeau, who became the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil when he turned the trick at the Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010.

He was invited by Torriani, who he met last year and with whom he shares an interest in raising awareness about cerebral palsy.

"It's a great honour for the Torriani family to think of me," said Bilodeau, who helped cut the red ribbon to open the hotel. He described the Ritz as "a landmark."

He also said he was excited about staying at the hotel and had briefly seen his room.

"It's really, really nice," he said. "The bathroom is amazing. Everything is energy efficient and the buttons are everywhere. It's all electric and all automatic. I spent two minutes in the room so I'm really looking forward to experience all of it."

Torriani told a news conference there has been a certain retraction in the luxury hotel market and that's why hotels have to keep fresh.

"That's why you see hotels like ourselves going from 229 rooms to 130 rooms. The old Ritz-Carlton had a clientele that certainly fit into that market but I think that the hotels have to be a little bit more focused on where they're going.

"It is more about being smaller but being luxurious enough that really we're on the world stage."

Montreal, which he called one of North America's most diverse cities, is still a strong tourist market and staff said the hotel is three-quarters booked for the June 8-10 Grand Prix weekend. They also said student protests, which have been cited for scaring tourists away, haven't had an impact.

While the Ritz-Carlton has been a fixture in Montreal's downtown since 1912, Torriani said the goal is to make it accessible to people of all ages, keeping its history but adding a few "fine points."

He also acknowledged that the high-end clientele has also changed from the days when they used to show up in top hats and furs.

For instance, a 20-year-old in jeans walking through the hotel's revolving doors might not be just another young person.

"He could be the head of Facebook."

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