Tofino will be getting a new hotel next summer, and with it the West Coast town will also be getting its first female hotelier.
Mandy Farmer, president and CEO of Accent Inns and Hotel Zed, was a keynote speaker at a women in business forum hosted by the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Oct. 16. The forum, held at Chances Rimrock Gaming Centre, had more than 80 people registered, and featured a full day of networking and local women sharing their stories, challenges and triumphs in business.
During the event, Farmer announced that construction is already underway for a new Hotel Zed location in Tofino.
According to Tofino mayor Josie Osborne, Farmer will be the only female hotel owner in Tofino. All other hotels and resorts—not including smaller motels—are owned by men or First Nations.
Farmer talked last Wednesday about her fight to pave her way in the male-dominated hotel industry. Accent Inns was originally established as “Stay ‘n Save Motor Inns” by Farmer’s father in the late 1980s. Farmer did not intend to work in the family business, but took a job as a sales manager because she was having difficulty finding work in her field.
“I had a neuropsychology degree,” she laughed. “I did not want to work for my dad.”
But it was Farmer’s influence that resulted in a complete redesign of the business, including its name, logo and decor. It took 10 years for her to convince the board to open Hotel Zed, but this new hotel chain led to Farmer being recognized as Hotelier of the Year by Pinnacle Awards in 2016.
In 2008, Farmer took over the company and became CEO.
“I admit I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the term ‘CEO,’” she said. “I thought, I’m an imposter, I shouldn’t be here.”
Her attempts to become “more conservative” and act more like her father didn’t make her feel any better.
“That just wasn’t me,” she explained. “I soon realized that I needed to bring authenticity into the workplace.”
Farmer’s personality is visible in Accent Inn locations, from the rubber ducks in the bathrooms to the humorous notepads beside the beds. But Hotel Zed is where she truly shines, with funky, colourful decor, rotary phones, ping pong tables, vintage VW shuttle vans and free bike rentals.
“Tofino hasn’t seen anything like a Hotel Zed,” said Farmer. “I think people are excited about the fresh energy that Zed is bringing.”
The first two Hotel Zed locations, in Victoria and Kelowna, started out as run-down motels that were redesigned and repurposed. The Tofino location will be built entirely from scratch, which gives Farmer “a blank canvas” to work with and make her own.
“It needs a lot more work,” she explained. “It’s truly going to be a hotel like the world has not seen before.”
She described some of the features that will be included in the new location: a mini disco dance floor that lights up, a secret entranceway through a wardrobe to a 1980s arcade, a poker table, a psychic stand and a bike lane running through the hotel.
“It’s got a lot of really weird stuff,” she laughed.
The Tofino community, she said, has been “very receptive” to Hotel Zed.
“I’ve been going to Tofino my whole life,” explained Farmer. “It’s one of my favourite places in the world. I’m in the fortunate position now where I get to choose where I want to expand.”
As for future expansions of Hotel Zed, Farmer hasn’t committed to any new locations. She did, however, say that she could see a Hotel Zed doing well in Port Alberni.
“Port Alberni has so much potential,” she explained. “It’s an absolute jewel.”