By Ken Williams | Editor
Millennials — who came of age around the turn of the 21st century — are said to be the first generation to grow up in the era of computers and smartphones. And now comes a new eco-friendly hotel that caters to that generation with all the high-tech conveniences in its spacious lobby and all its rooms.
Enter the Holiday Inn Express & Suites — Mission Valley, the first newly built Holiday Inn Express in San Diego in more than a decade. Featuring 104 rooms on five floors, the new hotel at 635 Hotel Circle South had a soft opening on May 21 while the final finishing touches were still ongoing.
Built by the Hotel Investment Group, based in Old Town, the new property is an IHG Green Engage hotel designed for sustainable usage of water and energy while making the hotel cost-effective for guests. The hotel boasts two electric car charging stations, plus pay parking ($18 per day) either in an underground garage or outside the complex it shares with the shuttered Vagabond Hotel, which is undergoing a thorough renovation and will be rebranded by the Hotel Investment Group as Hotel Iris.
This Holiday Inn Express is 100 percent smoke free, from the individual rooms to the public spaces on the ground floor, including the outdoor swimming pool area visible from the lobby through glass “garage doors” that roll up when the weather is nice.
Like other Holiday Inn Express locations, the Hotel Circle hotel serves up the complimentary Express Start breakfast in the lobby area, hidden behind a colorful “barn door” covered in a mosaic. Breakfast items include cinnamon rolls, pancakes, biscuits, bacon, sausage, turkey sausage, scrambled eggs, breads, fresh fruit, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, juices and water. The coffee station is just outside the breakfast nook, available around the clock.
The lobby dominates the hotel’s first floor, designed as an open-air bistro complete with high-tops containing USB ports and charging stations for electronic gear. Even the couches offer the same connections for that iPhone or iPad. And the same amenities are offered in each room. Wi-Fi is free and available throughout the hotel.
“It’s extremely important to have these features in this day and age,” said Pooja Patel, director of asset development with the Hotel Investment Group, who provided San Diego Uptown News with a private tour of the hotel. The firm is owned and operated by her father, Bhavesh “Bobby” Patel, a seasoned hotelier in California who was born in London.
Pooja Patel described the hotel as “modern and minimalistic, made for millennials,” as the designers eliminated unnecessary items found in a traditional motel. Vanity mirrors are back-lit to enhance the ambience, recessed lighting under the beds provide a comfortable environment for watching television or reading email on your smartphone or tablet. USB plugs near the bed let you charge your electronics or connect to the Internet.
The rooms are spacious, and so are the bathrooms. A large vanity can contain lots of items, and the glass-enclosed showers can easily accommodate more than one guest at a time.
The paint scheme is clean and modern, with the carpeting showing flashes of grays and blues.
“We were going for the beachy feel of San Diego,” Patel said. “We were going for the look of cleanliness and comfortability.”
Each bed has both soft and firm pillows to appeal to the most finicky guests. Each room has a 48-inch HDTV, a mini fridge, a microwave, a one-cup coffeepot and an ironing board with an iron.
Prices start at $109 for a standard room with a king-size bed. There are standard rooms with two queen-size beds, double queen suites with a sleeper sofa, king suites with a Jacuzzi tub, and rooms for the hearing impaired. Some rooms on each floor have a connecting door that are designed for families needing to share multiple rooms.
“We believe our hotel captures the perfect balance between franchise recognition and boutique hotel experience,” she said.
“There is nothing along Hotel Circle that caters to the millennials — except us,” she added. “We’re definitely the top dog on Hotel Circle.”
For her father, the opening of the hotel is a dream come true, despite long odds.
“It’s been a challenge,” Bobby Patel said, citing issues with the city over site planning and the hotel community’s initial negativity. But in the end, it is he who is jubilant for persevering over the past 6.5 years.
“The site was difficult, working behind an existing hotel (the Vagabond),” he said. “My dream was to give Hotel Circle a modern, tech-friendly hotel, a hotel they could be proud of. After all, Hotel Circle is the ‘window to San Diego.’’’
He says his creed is “hard work, integrity and delivering the goods. … Profits will find a way to follow.”
He credits his business philosophy to his parents for his upbringing, the merging of his Eastern and Western cultures, and to being a parent who wants to pass his family values to his children.
Bobby Patel operates franchise hotels in some of the most competitive markets in the country, including San Diego and the Bay Area. Some are affiliated with InterContinental and Wyndham Hotel Groups. More recently, he formed Hotel Investment Group with the idea of creating a “lifestyle brand” –which the company describes as a unique concept aimed to provide a more personal experience inspired by the natural beauty and eclectic living of the property’s location. In addition to the Holiday Inn Express catering to millennials, his newly opened Hotel Aqua Mar in Point Loma and soon to be opened Hotel Iris on Hotel Circle are among the first boutique hotels opened under this concept. Hotel Iris is expected to open the first of July.
According to the Patels, Holiday Inn Express and Hotel Iris are in the perfect location. It’s easy to go shopping at the nearby malls, cruise up the hill to Hillcrest and North Park, enjoy quick trips to the beach or the Gaslamp, or do the touristy thing.
Bobby Patel, 46, says he has been working in the hotel industry for 28 years. He beams as he talks about his new projects, a huge smile crossing his face.
“It means a lot to me to hear from my peers, like the officials at the Marriott, that they like what we have achieved with the Holiday Inn Express,” he said, standing between the new hotel and the nearly gutted Vagabond. Construction workers are in the process of doing a major facelift to transform the outdated Vagabond into a modern Hotel Iris.
As a veteran hotelier, Patel knows what he wants and is a hands-on boss who came up with the design scheme at the Holiday Inn Express. He wanted to take advantage of San Diego’s famous weather by creating a hotel that “embraces the indoors and outdoors.” That’s why the glass garage doors in the lobby will often be raised, creating an enormous gathering space that’s both indoors and outdoors.
“Why was the hotel turned this way?” he asked rhetorically. “We wanted to take advantage of the hillside and the quietness away from the freeway (Interstate 8).”
The pool is 5 feet deep and heated to 80 degrees for year-round use. Nearby is a Jacuzzi. During our visit, the hillside behind the hotel was still awaiting drought-resistant landscaping to brighten up the view and to complete the eco-friendly environment.
Between the pool area and the lobby is a covered patio with a 90-inch HDTV and four smaller monitors to show five sporting events at the same time. A large, “see-through” gas fireplace acts as a dividing wall between the patio and the pool.
Pooja Patel envisions this space as yet another gathering place for guests, where dad can watch his favorite team and mom can keep an eye on the kids in the pool while utilizing the Wi-Fi to check her email. The kids also command a corner of the lobby, where a Nintendo Wii interactive game station is set up.
The hotel has a gym in the basement, featuring a treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical bike, bench press, free weights and more.
“Our focus on public areas is to create a sense of community, and millennials like that,” Pooja Patel said. “We want people hanging out in the lobby and at the pool, enjoying the public spaces.”
She called out other hotels in Hotel Circle as old and outdated, and emphasized that Holiday Inn Express will be blazing new trails.
“We want our guests to have an experience when they stay with us,” she said. “We want them to have a good time.”
It’s clear the acorn has fallen from the same tree, as her father echoes the same themes.
“This hotel gives us an advantage” over the competition, Bobby Patel said. “We have a great name, a brand that people know and trust. But we are giving people an experience.”
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and Mission Valley News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952.