Big news days out there in the travel world, folks.
First item du jour is a note from over the pond that IKEA is building, wait for it, a chain of budget hotels. Isn't it enough they've filled the rooms of the world with Billy bookcases? (I must own four or five of the damned things, and I could probably melt down all the Allen keys I have and make a tank for the Canadian military). Isn't it enough they're developing property near the Olympic stadium in London, where they want to build houses - and no doubt fill them with IKEA furniture?
No, it's not enough. And, actually, I say good for them. For a lot of North American folks, it's expensive to get a place to stay in Europe. So the trend towards more budget-oriented motels and small hotels in Europe (similar to what we have here in terms of Comfort Inn's and such) is probably welcome.
The story I saw in the Daily Mail of London said the IKEA folks want to create "budget design" properties (isn't that an oxymoron?) with a "boutique feel" at affordable prices. They apparently aim to announce a hotel soon for Germany and are looking at perhaps 100 hotels in all on the continent. The UK, Holland and Poland were mentioned in the Daily Mail story.
They won't be called IKEA hotels though, which I don't quite understand. It's a hugely recognized brand, why not capitalize on it?
There's a big trend toward this type of thing already in Europe. Motel One has 39 hotels in Germany, the Daily Mail said, and they're looking at Edinburgh. There's also the Chic and Basic brand in Barcelona and Madrid.
Anyway, for now I see no word of any properties in Canada or the U.S. But I suspect it's only a matter of time before we can stop along I-75 in Cincinnati and rest up at a hotel filled with Vittsjo shelving units and Nordli bed frames and Micke desks. I wonder if we'll get Swedish meatballs from room service, or lingonberries. Or those cheap hot dogs.
And will we have to assemble the beds and dressers ourselves? I can just see it - each guest is given an Allen key and some of those horrible instruction pamphlets and sent upstairs with a big box. Wouldn't that be a great way to get a discount?
MELBOURNE MOST LIVEABLE CITY ON THE PLANET
A study by The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks Melbourne as the most liveable city on the planet. Second was Vienna, Austria, followed by Vancouver. Toronto was just a smidge behind those smug westerners, finishing just off the podium in the number four spot. Calgary (HA!) was fifth.
Oh, Montreal was 16, lest I forget. But that was it for Canadian cities in the ranking, as they apparently only stuck to the big boys.
Notice, ahem, the absence of any U.S. cities from the top ten. Interesting. The top American city in the survey might be a bit of a surprise: Honolulu at #26. I actually quite like Honolulu; there's great weather and beaches but also tremendous culture and fabulous food.
Other notable U.S. cities were Washington D.c. at #34, Chicago at 36, Los Angeles at 43, San Francisco at 52 (behind LA? OMG) and New York at 56. Jon Copestake the survey editor comments: "The tiny increment between the top ten cities shows just how tight the ranking can be. Canadian cities, like Australia, benefit from good infrastructure and low crime rates. For big US cities a high score for cultural activities can come at the expense of higher congestion and crime rates."
Elsewhere in the world, the impact of the Arab Spring and fallout from the Eurozone crisis is still being felt. Many cities in the Middle East and North Africa have seen downward revisions to their scores thanks to civil unrest.
Every city is assigned a rating of relative comfort for over 30 qualitative and quantitative factors across five broad categories: stability; healthcare; culture and environment; education; and infrastructure. Each factor in a city is rated as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable or intolerable. For qualitative indicators, a rating is awarded based on the judgment of in-house analysts and in-city contributors.
Want to know what cities to avoid? Worst on the list was Dhaka, Bangladesh. Just ahead, at 139, was Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. And in the 138th spot was Lagos, Nigeria.
SHANGRI-LA TORONTO TWO WEEKS AWAY
It's a tad confusing, but it sounds like the Shangri-La hotel in downtown Toronto will unofficially open Aug. 31. It won't be fully open by that date, as apparently the TIFF movie folks will be using it for the most part for the first couple weeks.
Still, that's the unofficial date. And it sounds like they'll be in full operation for the general public by Sept. 17.
There will be plenty of Asian touches of course. But the developer is a big music fan so I'm told there's a handcrafted Italian piano in the lobby. The piano also apparently has the words to Joni Mitchell's "Old Man" under the lid.
There will be a branch of the legendary restaurant Momofuku, but it's run separately and not really a Shangri-La property. The main restaurant for the hotel proper is called Bosk, where they will offer up everything from John Dory to New Zealand lamb (the executive chef was born in New Zealand but grew up in Japan) and other items with an Asian flavour. They say the dim sum that will be served in the lobby is to die for, and they'll have afternoon tea and a tea library with 68 varieties.
As with many projects these days, such as the Trump, it's part condo and part hotel. the lower 17 floors are for the hotel, with 202 rooms and suites at Adelaide and University. They'll have a Hammam spa with Parisian influences, plus a 20-meter pool with a chandelier over the top and an outdoor place on the fifth floor that looks up University Ave.
Service will be the key to the hotel getting the five-star rating it craves. An official told me staff under a very extensive training program and that service is based on the theme of "hospitality from the heart."
It's supposed to be "gracious and unobtrusive" service with a substantial "humility" factor.
It's certainly going to be fun to see how they do, what with the TRUMP Tower just down the road, the Ritz-Carlton around the corner (the only Toronto property right now with a five-diamond rating from the Canadian Automobile Association) and the new Four Seasons Yorkville opening up in October.