Single & loving it 

Pangea Pod Hotel offers unique accommodation after $10 million investment

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  • Single & loving it Pangea Pod Hotel offers unique accommodation after $10 million investment

Behind the scaffolding and green mesh that has lined the old Whistler View building on the Village Stroll for more than a year now, construction crews are hard at work measuring, cutting, framing — meticulously reworking every cubic inch of what used to be a timeshare property.

Russell Kling walks through the space describing in detail where each and every last feature will end up — washrooms, showers, storage and change rooms, eight suites labelled A through H, each containing double stacked "pod-style" sleeping spaces — every inch has been considered, imagined and re-imagined until it's absolutely perfect.

"So you can get a feel for how we're going to fit everything in. It's a little bit like a jigsaw puzzle — or a lot like a jigsaw puzzle," says Kling, a 38-year-old entrepreneur who began discussions to purchase the property with his wife Jelena back in 2013 and has been tirelessly transforming it ever since.

"There's no wasted space," he says. "But at the end of the day, that's how you can stay in the centre of town, in a place with a killer feel, and not break the bank. That's the whole idea."

The concept behind the Pangea Pod Hotel is a novel one — affordable, attractive solo accommodation for young professionals wishing to come and play in the heart of Whistler — and when it opens in early 2018 Kling hopes to fill a gap in the resort's current offerings.

"These guys, they don't come today... maybe there's a portion who come but they stay for three nights instead of 10, just given the budget constraints," he says.

"We really feel like we're growing the size of the pie, because when they come and they stay with us, they eat out, they spend money on trinkets and apparel, they purchase experiences, they spend money in the community."

The Pangea Pod Hotel is geared towards young solo travellers with money to spend but not to waste, Kling says — people who are a step or two beyond the hostel lifestyle, but not quite ready for the full boutique hotel experience.

The intended price point is somewhere in between the two as well.

"These are not students, they're working — I think a lot of them are maybe aspirational, they want to be staying at the Four Seasons in 15 or 20 years time," Kling says.

"They're working, they're earning, they're sophisticated in terms of their tastes, but they're value conscious."

Local government officials and representatives from stakeholders like the Whistler Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Whistler were recently invited on a tour of the property to get a sense of the space and how it's progressing.

"It's so unique," said Karen Goodwin, VP of Destination and Market Development for Tourism Whistler.

"It's such a uniquely different accommodation experience and that's exciting to talk about, because it's not a hostel, it's not a full-service hotel, it's just this different experience."

It's hard to say for certain if Pangea's target demographic isn't coming now without digging into the numbers, but Goodwin said she's sure there's a market for it.

"I think it will attract possibly a different traveller... it's a cool place to stay to connect with other travellers, but then right in the heart of the village," she said.

"I haven't been aware that we've been missing it, but I think it will be exciting and that specific audience will be attracted to it."

CHIC. SHARED. CENTRAL.

One of the key aspects of the project, Kling says, is a relentless focus on design.

"I forget how many thousands of hours of design time we're into now," he says.

"We want the property to not only look beautiful, but it needs to really work well too, so as much time has been spent on the aesthetics has been spent on the functionality side."

Each pod (88 in total) comes equipped with a double-sized memory foam mattress, high-quality linens, a mirror and artwork on the wall, USB ports for charging devices and a private, lockable cabinet to store valuables and electronics — even a personal fan, both for air circulation and to provide an added level of white noise.

"You'll get a pair of earplugs when you check in. We'll do everything we can to try and make you get a perfect night's sleep," Kling says.

He and his wife even spent a night in one of the pods during the design phase, with a designer sleeping in an adjacent pod, to get a feel for the experience themselves.

The washroom spaces were designed as separated sets of toilets, showers, change rooms and sinks private to each individual suite — the idea being that by pulling each feature apart, wait times for guests will be much shorter.

"Again, it's this concept of trying to be able to offer people a certain feel without having to charge them through the nose for it, and how do we intelligently get them that private feel without needing to provide private rooms?" Kling says.

While the suites and pods offer privacy, the lively area of the Pangea Pod concept is what's being called the Living Room — a bar, lounge and café on the second floor, complete with flat screen TVs and board games.

"We want it to feel like your living room... if you want to come down and plan the next day's activities with somebody else, or Skype home, or check Facebook, that's where we hope you do it," Kling says.

"It's the sort of key privacy aspects of a hotel with the social element of a hostel... we want you to feel like you're all sort of living in the same space, but then when you go to bed at night you're like, 'I can just kind of shut myself off, and I don't need to deal with the dude next to me,' right? That's the idea."

Technology will also play a key role — when guests check in they'll be issued a wrist band, which will be used to access the property and even charge items at the bar.

There will be a storage room for skis, boards and bikes, lockers for boots, helmets and goggles, a 24-hour reception desk overseeing it all, and even a patio bar on the third floor to allow guests to soak in the atmosphere of the Village Stroll below.

"We really want our guests to be able to have a dialogue, so to speak, with the stroll — to sort of lean out the window and feel like they're a part of the stroll and the village life beneath them, and vice versa for people walking down the stroll to sort of feel drawn into the property," Kling says.

"And then you take what is a building and you turn it into this sort of living, breathing organism, right?"

REINVESTING IN WHISTLER

Factoring in the costs of the building, its renovation, its fresh design and the focus on technology, Kling and his wife have invested about $10 million into their passion project, partly because of their attention to detail.

"There's been this constant process of evolution, and I think that's one of the ways we've managed to spend so much money," he says.

"But frankly I think it's going to turn out to be incredible when we open — everything has been thought through, and that just requires time."

Kling — originally from South Africa — has a background in finance, while his wife, born in Yugoslavia, is a biochemical engineer.

The two met at a hostel in Prague in 2003.

"We didn't grow up in dire poverty, but we grew up in middle-class-at-best sort of families," Kling says.

Kling became a partner in a New York financial firm at a young age, and soon the couple found themselves doing very well financially but with little in the way of personal time.

"At that point, I saw Jelena for like an hour a night. We'd have a glass of wine between 11 and 12," he recalls.

"And we got to a point where we said, 'We can do something else, something different.'"

So in 2009, they left it behind to go travelling together.

They went to North Korea, took a truck through Africa, did the trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok, and braved expeditions up to the Arctic Circle and down to Antarctica.

And on their journeys, they noticed a similar trend in accommodation markets across the world — a large piece missing for the solo traveller with money to spend.

And so the concept of Pangea Pod was born, with Whistler serving as the jumping off point for something potentially much bigger.

"Ideally, in the grand scheme of things if we roll forward a decade, Whistler is supposed to be the flagship, but not the only location," Kling says.

"We hope that we'll perfect this, it will be, we hope, a stellar success, and then we will open up the next one and we'll move forward."

Today, the couple has two kids and is happily settled in B.C., with a home in Whistler and a rented apartment in Vancouver, where the Pangea design and consulting teams are based.

And while the 100-hour workweeks that started them on their journey are behind them, the couple's new drive is just as time-consuming — only now it's more a labour of love than anything.

"I'm working as hard now as I worked in New York... but we're passionate about it, and it's something we love," Kling says, reflecting on something his aunt used to say to him.

"She always used to say 'good luck is when hard work meets opportunity, or preparation,' and that really has sort of been our story," he says.

"This is sort of what allowed us to follow our dream, and this started off as more of a hobby. It's turned into something much bigger, as most things do, right?"

In any conversation with Kling, his passion for the project is evident.

Walking through the worksite now, just months from opening day, he can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"There's still a lot to do, but it feels pretty awesome," he says, a smile spread broadly across his face.

"Now, at least in my mind, when I walk around — because we've been so intimately involved with the details — I don't see the framing. I see the finished product, you know? Which is really exciting."

For more information, check out www.pangeapod.com or www.whistler.ca/business/current-projects/pangea-pod-hotel-building-and-landscape-renovations.

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