If you’ve ever visited a Hotel Zed, then you’re already familiar with president and CEO Mandy Farmer’s personality: warm, welcoming and lots of fun. Farmer took over running Accent Inns – a chain of comfortable and affordable hotels in B.C. – from her father in 2008, but Hotel Zed, known for its friendly vibe and retro‑inspired design sensibility, is her brainchild. The brand of “boutique motels,” with locations in Victoria and Kelowna, just opened its third property in Tofino, adding amenities like a psychic’s den and a mini‑disco to the surf town’s hotel scene – and making Farmer the first female hotelier in the area.
Mandy Farmer, president and CEO of Accent Inns and Hotel Zed, on taking over the family business, becoming the first female hotelier in Tofino and what she totes when checking in on her properties across British Columbia.
enRoute What’s your first hotel memory?
Mandy Farmer I actually used to play hotel in the woods by myself. I’d set up a front desk on tree stumps and make beds. I must have stayed in a hotel before then, but I don’t remember.
ER Does that mean you always knew you wanted to run a hotel?
MF I did not! I just knew that it was a great summer job. My dad started building hotels in 1986; I was a teenager and I saw how the industry transformed him and how much he loved it. So, while I was going to university for neuropsychology, I would come home in the summers and work in hotels – I started on the front desk at Accent Inns, but I also worked at the Empress and the Delta Ocean Pointe. It was only after getting my degree that I realized I’d have to get my PhD if I wanted to work in the neuropsychology field. I was going to McGill, so I pitched my dad on being the sales manager for the Quebec region. Being a salesperson was a hard job, but it was fun to realize that, even as a young person, I was able to shape and influence our business. That was the moment that I realized, “Wow, this is so much fun. I love this, and I love working with my dad.” I went on to do an executive MBA to get some business skills and then took over the company in 2008.
ER Hotel Zed Tofino opened at the end of the summer – what was it like opening a hotel in the middle of the pandemic?
MF This is the first hotel that I ever built – all the other ones were renovated – so that alone was challenging. As was the whole supply‑chain disruption, so I wondered if we were actually going to be able to open on schedule at the beginning of July. There were so many delays that we didn’t open until the end of August, but we always knew we were going to. In March, I was really fearing for the survival of our business. But even then, after we got a couple weeks under our belt, I could see my whole team thriving – I actually think we’ll be a better company coming out of all of this.
ER How does it feel to be the first female hotelier in Tofino?
MF I’m pretty proud. The community has got some badass women – I think about Maureen Fraser, the owner of the Common Loaf Bake Shop, who fought MacMillan Bloedel to save the whole Clayoquot Sound area from logging. It feels like there is a long legacy of amazing women entrepreneurs, and to join that group is inspirational.
ER What has Hotel Zed brought to the hotel landscape in Tofino?
MF We’ve definitely brought a lot of vibrancy and originality. The other hotels here are absolutely gorgeous, but there isn’t another one like this – anywhere in Canada. We have a bike path that runs through our lobby; there’s a mid‑century‑modern wardrobe that has a secret pull that electronically opens up and leads you into the 1980s arcade; we even have a psychic’s den where we do tarot card readings.
ER Do you have a dream project?
MF I’m a big mountain biker, so I just got the vision of opening a hotel that caters to mountain bikers. It would get them on guided trails, but also provide an amazing experience when they return – a good craft beer, hot tubs, firepits.
ER Where are you dreaming of travelling?
MF I’m digging exploring B.C. right now. That has been one of the bright spots of the pandemic: We’re all getting to know our backyard better. And we’re overdue! As Canadians, we should know the awesomeness that is right here. So, I’m super happy to keep travelling within Canada for the next year or so.
ER What’s your packing style?
MF It depends if I’m coming or going: When I’m going, I’m a folder, but when I’m coming home, I just cram it all in there.
ER Do you pack in advance or at the last minute?
MF It bothers me if I pack a sweater that doesn’t go with my pants, so I like to plan my wardrobe for the time I’ll be away in advance.
ER Any travel hacks to share?
MF I often have more time for self‑care than when I’m at home, so I always pack massage balls to give myself a mini‑massage.
What’s in Mandy’s bag?
Notebook — I brainstorm best when I’m flying. I can actually flip to pages in my journal – which features an old Nancy Drew cover – where I know I’ve been in the sky, because I got some good work done.
Hotel Zed Rebellious drink disguiser — We sell these at Hotel Zed, and it’s really just a travel mug, so I put coffee in mine when I’m flying. But if I’m going to the park? I might put a beer in there.
Purple Cow by Seth Godin — I read a ton of business books, and this one really influenced me. It’s about how you’re not going to notice a regular cow, but if it’s a purple cow, you sure will. It helped solidify the idea of Hotel Zed.