The story of this unique dual hotel and lodge site is one that begins at a wooded property just off the exit from I-5 in Tumwater. But it also has roots as far away as Tacoma, and Paraguay, and Korea.
You may know the local area, with its sprawling fields surrounding the Olympia Regional Airport tarmac, and the glittering modern architecture that is the Labor & Industries building. If not, you should know that these accommodations are just minutes away from the historic Olympia Air Museum, which hosts its annual Air Show each June. It’s also just a hop, skip and a jump from other adventurous activities like the South Sound Sports Center and its adjacent Airport Golf & Batting Center, where you can participate in or watch indoor soccer, volleyball, tennis, basketball, baseball, softball, golf, boxing, roller derby and other sports tournaments and activities all year.
“A lot of people come here with their families to stay for those types of sports events, or the softball and baseball championships in Centralia,” said sales manager Cassandra Davies. “The South Sound Sports Center next to the airport is also just five minutes from here, and it makes sense to fill the need for something indoors during the Northwest fall and winter weather. It's really good to see families participating in those types of activities together.”
In addition, the hotel is just a 10-minute drive from the Capitol Campus, and welcomes numerous guests from Legislative delegations during session, as well as government contractors for nearby state departments. The site is also an easy merge off I-5 between California, Portland, and Vancouver, B.C., for those travelers who want to visit Seattle but not waste dollars on an expensive stay in the city.
Said owner and general manager Chami Ro, “We’re easy to see because we’re right off the freeway. So we do have a lot of sports families as guests, as well as government workers and long-term contractors, and travelers and Canadians who are going south or north on the way to and from Seattle.”
It was that visibility, coupled with the serenity of the surrounding woods, that attracted hotel developer George Swift to build his first lodging there in 1999. That was the Guest House Inn, a relaxed and comfortable, Northwest lodge-like property with 59 rooms, jacuzzi suites and two-bedroom bunk family spaces, plus an indoor pool and hot tub, guest laundry, fitness room and business center.
However, as the story goes, there were so many government agencies in need of lodgings for short- and long-term contractors that the room supply around Tumwater couldn't keep up with demand. So Swift added the more corporate-style, 58-room Comfort Inn Conference Center next door two years later, to cater more to the business and corporate clientele and those who needed meeting space.
Now those rooms, which include seven apartment suites with a separate bedroom and a kitchen with full-size appliances, are the most spacious in Thurston County.
Besides families, the property is also attractive for long-term stay guests who prefer a little more room than the average hotel.
Said Chami Ro, “The GuestHouse is more traditional; it caters to a more homestyle look and feel. The Comfort Inn is more corporate, a little more formal. Both have a lot of repeat guests; some prefer one, some the other, and some switch back and forth.”
Enter the international side to the story. The value of those hotel properties, and the variety of potential guest and event possibilities between them, is what attracted her parents to purchase the pair as a business.
The family, who is from Korea and later lived in Paraguay, created their successful Chami Designs high-quality active sportswear business in conjunction with a clothing factory that provided garments for such notable companies as Nike, Patagonia and Columbia. From Paraguay, Chami Designs transferred to Tacoma and found success there until trade agreements with other countries bit into their business.
“My parents came to the U.S. in 1986 and owned and operated their clothing manufacturing factory in Tacoma until the trade agreements and tariffs allowed workers from other countries to make the clothes. And so we lost business,” Chami Ro said. “Then my parents sold the factory in Tacoma and their building to another company that makes clothing for the federal government, and with the proceeds my father started to look for another business.”
Targeting companies that didn’t compete with factories and workers from other countries, her father saw that the family had many friends in the hotel business who were doing well. By 2007, they were looking for potential hotel properties in Thurston County, but with Lacey becoming too crowded and Olympia limited, they jumped when they saw the Comfort Inn Conference Center and GuestHouse Inn were available.
Since daughter Chami Ro has been at the helm in recent years, the properties have seen numerous changes. To keep up with the times, the Comfort Inn recently switched to more high-quality bedding, and an enormous renovation effort is being mounted through mid-2015. Guests can look for new carpets, new mattresses and even new furniture that will add a more contemporary look.
Said front desk manager Rachel Green, “I've visited a lot of hotels, including in Seattle, and I have seen some amazing rooms, but square feet matters. Our rooms are bigger. And it's nice that there are woods all around it, and trails, because it's a lot more beautiful than your typical city-area, on-the-street hotel.”
Other perks of the properties are government er diem rates all year, even in high season, and flexible meeting space rates. Plus, there’s always that personal touch and insight. Said Davies, Ro is always around and available, continuing the personable, personal approach she encourages throughout both lodgings.
“Being part of two hotels, it cuts across boundaries for different types of customers more than if you were working at just one major hotel,” Davies said. “We want to provide that personal, professional help for our guests. We always make the time for that.”
Added Green, “Sometimes it's hard to impress guess from different backgrounds or cultures, but we love to be of service and make them feel like family. And the staff is just so great; we’re treated like family as well. At the grocery store here, I actually see some guests who have stayed with us and then moved into the area, and they tell me that they’re going to recommend the hotel because they really liked the customer service.”
Summarized Ro, “My happiest moments are when I discover that my staff is doing so well. Those
moments are when they want to help guests, and I see them doing so with great service.”