Sandi Lesueur, founder & CEO of British Columbia-based Virtu Resorts & Residences, is set to attend Hotec Operations, an annual conference presented by Questex, the parent company of Hotel Management. At the conference—scheduled this year for June 11-14 at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.—buyers meet one-on-one with hospitality-focused suppliers to learn about new products and services and to keep up to date on emerging trends. Ahead of the event,
Virtu is an in-development hotel brand that will emphasize “wellness and authentic cultural experiences” through sustainable resorts and residential properties in destinations around the world starting in British Columbia, Canada. Design elements will include local available materials and products with a low carbon footprint as well as high-tech systems to purify air and water and minimize waste.
Building a Brand
The concept began to take shape when Lesueur collaborated with Jason Rivers, then the president of the dermatology Association of Canada. Through Rivers, she worked with the Sustainable Forestry Initiatives and met with experts in wellness and sustainability, as well as with members of First Nations communities who offered different perspectives on indigenous medicines. “I saw that it was the western-medicine doctors that were now coming in, trying to learn about different healing practices together with cultural healers that had known what plant medicine could do for people,” she said. Investors from New York wanted to meet with growers from Oregon and doctors from Asia or Latin America—but they always had to meet in places “that weren’t healthy.” The idea for a healthy hotel brand began to grow.
Lesueur started meeting with architects and experts like Lucy Brialey, chair of the sustainable wellness section of Global Wellness Institute. “We put a focus on millennials and Gen Z,” she said of the experts she consulted. “We are building for the future. … I required people that were experienced, but were also curious, curious enough to want to collaborate with other world leaders to build and operate differently.”
As an organization, she continued, the Virtu team “believes in mentorship” and is seeking out up-and-coming experts in their fields, from architects to chefs. “We are bringing in the youth and individuals that can learn from those that are experienced.”
The properties, Lesueur said, will be “legacy projects” that are meant to be profitable as well as sustainable. “They're very profitable based on the real estate,” she said, describing the business model as “a real estate company that focuses on hospitality” rather than “a hospitality company that throws in real estate.” The profitability largely stems from the branded condominium residences that go into the rental pool, she added. “On average, we have an 80-key count with an additional 80 to 100 signature investment condominiums that go into the rental pool.” For those accommodations, Lesueur expects to attract guests staying for anywhere between three and 21 nights.
In developing Virtu, Lesueur wanted to work with indigenous people and incorporate their cultures into a hotel’s operations—one of the brand’s “key pillars,” she said. “Our pillars and ethos are based on measured sustainability, with a goal for net-positive cultural healing.”
Another crucial element is the support from local people in each destination, “If we did not have that support, we would not be entering into that area,” Lesueur said. That support can be in the form of a joint venture—the preferred option, she noted—or a limited partnership. “Culture, people, planet, place and prosperity truly is embodied in every region that we're building in,” she added.
Most recently, Lesueur was invited to join the HoteliersGuild Academy of Hospitality Arts, an exchange platform for academics, hoteliers and industry leaders. “Together, I am confident that we can drive positive change and set new standards of excellence in hospitality and sustainability,” Lesueur wrote on LinkedIn of her participation with the Academy.
Lesueur is excited to attend Hotec in June because she wants to share Virtu’s pillars with other industry insiders and encourage more hospitality professionals to implement similar initiatives. Having time to talk with other professionals in the industry one-on-one makes it easier to decide who to work with, she said. “Communicating and explaining what your needs are—whether you're the resort or the buyer—makes a world of difference. … There needs to be more topics showcasing sustainability and commitment to renewable energy and sustainable practices in every department.”