Starting a business in the hospitality industry is not an easy feat, particularly because of the challenges confronting the industry after COVID. Nevertheless, Sky McLean CEO and Founder of Basecamp Resorts is carving a niche in the hospitality sector in Alberta and B.C. with her unique chain of boutique mountain resort hotels. After completing her MBA in Business at York University in Toronto, McLean moved to Calgary, Alberta. Her passion for the great outdoors moved her to offer travellers a unique resort experience in the heart of the Canadian mountain communities. McLean spoke about her experience establishing Basecamp Resorts and outlined her plans for expansion.
What made you interested in the hospitality industry?
Prior to starting this business, I loved travelling, and I always felt that there was a need for the style of boutique hotels that we build, which feature units with kitchens, multiple bedrooms, and living spaces, that sort of thing. I found that that didn’t exist, especially in these mountain communities. I was motivated to start one. I was always passionate about real estate and real estate development. Because I had a couple of condos that I was running on Airbnb as a side business to my day job, that fueled the passion in that sense that I saw how good of a business it was. I always felt that the market was missing a branded experience for suites. We opened our first Basecamp resort hotel on August 1st, 2017.
What are the amenities and features of Basecamp Resorts?
Basecamp Resorts are like stacked townhomes; they are full home away from home units. The main thing with that, is you have a full kitchen, multiple bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, washer, dryer, everything that you would want in a home, but in a branded environment. In a branded environment, you can get everything you want, like a hotel, including 24-7 service, towels, cleaning service, and all of that. At our newest property MTN House By Basecamp in Canmore opening this summer, we are building a Nordic Spa experience as part of the resort; there will be outdoor pools, saunas, steam rooms, a mud bath, and all the kinds of wonderful services and amenities you find at a premium spa destination.
What challenges did you face in starting Basecamp Resorts?
There were so many challenges, the biggest one was really finding the money. When you are a startup, it’s not common that banks to want to lend to startups, and investor equity is typically reserved for companies with experience, not brand-new companies. It was hard to get all of that together and then at the same time get the first building built in a tight timeline. Physically constructing the building from the ground up was also a big challenge. We had to acquire the land and then get a permit from the town of Canmore, which is where our first hotel was. Once we had the permit, we had to line up all the trades and stick to the budget, and make sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing and get it open so that it starts making money.
What would you say are you most proud of?
I am proud of so many things. I am proud of creating a team that’s just as passionate about the business as I am and just as excited to grow. I am also proud of the buildings, the designs and how we offer a great experience for guests.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to start a business in the hospitality industry?
Starting a business is hard. It’s never easy, but don’t give up. There were so many moments in time that something happened that was pretty destructive, terrible and awful, and I could have just given up and done something else. If you really want to do it, you can’t give up. It was just constantly people committing to things and then uncommitting, and then we had to pivot the plan time and time again to make something work. One of our buildings was supposed to be a hotel during COVID, but then the lender changed what they were going to lend, we ended up turning them into condominiums and selling the units, which was very heartbreaking to me because it was supposed to be our flagship hotel, and now it’s sold to 74 condo unit holders.
What future plans do you have for expanding Basecamp Resorts?
Right now, we are looking for larger equity partners so that we will have the capital to grow and then hopefully acquire and build new locations, not only in Eastern Canada, such as Ontario for example, but also in the Pacific Northwest, the United States. We want to either buy existing hotels and renovate them and also buy land and build hotels from the ground up. Currently, we have ten operating hotels, and we have another eight under various stages of development. We have locations in Revelstoke and Golden, where we are building stack townhomes. And we have another massive project in Canmore that used to be a Holiday Inn which are rebranding to MTN House by Basecamp, which is a hundred room hotel that we are going expand into 150 room hotel with a conference center and Nordic Spa experience.
David Messiha | Staff Writer