Yellowknife’s Explorer Hotel has held a grand opening for its completed expansion, including 72 new rooms and larger conference facilities.
Premier Bob McLeod and Mayor Rebecca Alty attended a celebration at the hotel on Wednesday evening.
The $20 million project saw the hotel reach a new total of 259 guest rooms, while the conference rooms can now accommodate up to 550 guests.
Included in the upgrade is a new Aurora Suite – room 888, chosen to reflect the number eight’s lucky qualities in countries such as China.
The Aurora Suite boasts a telescope, a private deck with barbecue, and a fur-draped bed.
Ed Romanowski, president and chief operating officer of hotel owner Nunastar, said the increase in conference capacity was already having an impact on the hotel’s ability to bid for major events.
Romanowski said the expansion, which first opened to guests in January, was already completely full on some nights – but he believes Yellowknife now has adequate capacity to meet tourist demand, which has been a concern in the past.
“There’s lots of room in the inn, so to speak, on a year-round basis. Certain dates of the year it’s busy, but it’s not something that is every day,” said Romanowski.
“It’s probably enough for the current demand. But when we look at planning hotels, often your timeframe is four or five years, because you have to design it, plan it, finance it.”
The Explorer Hotel’s last expansion was around a decade ago. The hotel, which has been open for more than 40 years, was recently joined by the neighbouring Chateau Nova Hotel as both business and tourist travel increases.
Romanowski said business travel was often overlooked and yet now forms the mainstay of the hotel’s operations.
“Growth will continue in Yellowknife and the interest in northern Canada on a global basis is huge, and growing. It’s not only in tourism, we also have to think of business travel, which makes up the majority of the overnight stays in our hotels,” he said.
Explorer’s new lights
For local residents, the most noticeable feature of the expansion has been the introduction of wraparound coloured lighting to the top of the Explorer complex.
The lights, which can glow in a range of colours but have recently appeared a constant shade of green, received a mixed reaction.
Former city councillor and local realtor Adrian Bell referred to them as “slick new lights” upon their installation, while a Facebook group entitled “Turn off the Explorer lights” has attracted a small but vocal membership.
“They are just so cheesy,” wrote one member, while another said their guests in Yellowknife mistakenly assumed the city had a casino.
“I keep trying to find a place in town where you can’t see the Explorer lights. No luck so far,” added one member.
Romanowski described the lights on his hotel as “beautiful,” confirming the Explorer’s desire for the rooftop to emulate the aurora.
“We wanted to really focus in on the aurora colours,” he said.
“The Explorer Hotel is one of the main places where people stay that come to see the aurora so, of course, we wanted to capitalize on that.
“We want to make sure we tie that into the experience many of the visitors have that are coming to Yellowknife and the North.”