A couple of weeks ago I did something quite special. I managed to experience London through the eyes of a toddler. Yes, that’s right, you read correctly. I will stop being cryptic now and explain what I mean. My young daughter had never been to London, come to that, had never been on a train, so it was time to introduce her to my favourite city in the world and I was lucky enough to stay at one of my favourite hotels, The Athenaeum.
I stay in a lot of hotels for business, but this short trip was to be special for two reasons. Firstly, and clearly most importantly, it was my first time taking my daughter to London and I was eager to show her the wonders of what the city had to offer (namely Hamley’s and lots of big red buses). Secondly, we were staying at The Athenaeum. Why was I so excited about the later? Sure, it was a five star hotel on Park Lane, but my excitement came from the incredible reputation this property has for how they look after their young guests, and it was this aspect of the hotel I was so keen to experience for myself.
Sold strongly on the tagline “your home from home”, The Athenaeum is a wonderful 5 star property made up of hotel accommodation and apartments, located on Park Lane. The hotel offers a huge choice of rooms, luxury suites and townhouse apartments, all with stunning view across to Green Park or Mayfair. It’s an enviable location within easy reach of top attractions such as Buckingham Palace, Theatreland and of course all of the incredible restaurants and shopping that London has to offer. I particularly like the map on the hotels website…
I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels with my daughter over the last few years, but have never felt that she was valued as a guest. Sure, they all provide the necessary items – the cots, the high-chairs maybe even some colouring if we were lucky. But I have never felt like she has experienced true hospitality and been made to feel special. This was a key reason why I was so excited to check-in with The Athenaeum. I’d heard so much about their child friendly approach that it left me eager to see exactly what they had to offer, especially given that this was a five star, Park Lane hotel. Being child friendly with that billing isn’t something that is put together and actually works in practise all that often.
So where to start…. well unusually, not at check-in. Not even at the front door. Two weeks before my stay, I received an email from the hotel concierge. Attached was a special questionnaire with lots of questions about the little guest the hotel were about to host. Questions ranged from favourite television program, most loved characters and favourite food and drinks. This kind of pre-arrival questionnaire, aimed solely at children’s needs is something I’ve never experienced before and already filled me with confidence about my stay. Looking at this from a marketing viewpoint rather than service, what better way to create a five star impression before your guests has even checked-in the hotel.
On arrival at the hotel and after a warm and friendly greeting from the doorman (who, if you had to draw a picture of everything a London doorman should be, you’d find right here) we arrived in the hotel lobby. My daughter, already excited about our arrival, took it all in, looking expectantly at her new surroundings (maybe she get’s that from her Dad?). For such a young guest, what really helps is that the hotel is not over imposing. By this, I mean that a lot of city centre luxury hotels have grand lobby’s, full of polished marble and people busily running around. Although a sizeable hotel the Athenaeum retains much warmth and friendliness from its design. Whilst on the topic of design, The Athenaeum is really is a creative space and, well, English. So many city hotels manage to lose their identity through wild and creative design, but London truly runs through the blood of this property. Club chairs are upholstered in gentlemen’s tweed and rich velvets… shimmering pearl buttons allude to Cockney Pearly Kings and Queens… with numerous visual elements combine to express the hotel’s unique personality.
Back to our arrival, and our room was ready early. I’d already hinted that we’d arrive earlier than the 2pm check-in time on my questionnaire and our suite was already prepared. We were shown to our room, via a wonderfully old and Brasso smelling lift to the third floor. Our room was lovely. Spacious without feeling lost, luxurious without worrying about whether little hands could break decorations at any second. Warm, comfortable and welcoming. Two plasma televisions, glass framed four poster bed and luxury bathroom complete with a shower a football team could have shared. All of the rooms are very different, so I’ve included three different designs below for you to see.
But the winning thing here was the attention to detail for the children. My daughter was presented with her very own “Arthur” teddy bear to keep (an instant hit) and the coffee table was full with activities and things to do. From Athenaeum branded bird seed, perfect for the park across the road, to sticker books and colours, all with a London theme, my daughter was instantly immersed and feeling at home.
I was also very impressed to hear that the hotel had its very own toy cupboard, where you were welcome to borrow a bike or scooter so you could make use of the park on the hotels doorstep – what a lovely idea for a city centre hotel. Unfortunately, rain put paid to that idea, but it was a great service to offer.
Every aspect of hotel life was catered to my daughter. On returning from dinner in town, our room had been turned down, including my daughters little bed, and a jug of milk and shortbread biscuit, shaped into the logo of the hotel were left on the table. Small eyes lit up immediately but only to be outdone with the tiny dressing-gown and slippers that had also been left out for her. We spent the rest of the evening sitting at the floor to ceiling window spotting red London buses and waving to people onboard, drinking our milk.
Sometimes with young children, the eating environment in a hotel can be scary…. will they make a mess or be too noisy? Will other guests stare at us and tut under their breath? The restaurant area of the hotel is quite, calm and sophisticated and very upmarket. This would put dread in some parents! But because of the shaped seating (I hope you can see from the photo below) you are actually pretty enclosed on your table and this made for a stress free breakfast setting whilst retaining the hotels elegance and design feel.
Whether you travel with children or not, or whether you are reading this as a hotelier as I know many of you will be, the point is simple. The Athenaeum have provided a high level of attention to detail. Here, they are focussing on their younger guests, but taking this much time and consideration directly impacts the parents (and the paying guests) too. The Athenaeum have worked hard to differentiate themselves from the crowded London hotel scene over the last few years through a number of excellent concepts and services. This could be something like their living wall on the outside of the hotel, or through their Pudding Parlour concept that I blogged about some time ago. The famous whiskey bar could be another jewel in the crown, or even their latest credit, winning the best afternoon tea awards – a well deserved credit. All of these actions lead to one thing – extremely happy guests. It also leads to increased business. These hotels have positioned their unique brand so well that they are becoming synonymous with luxury and families. They have clearly targeted a market segment and ensured their product offering is perfect. They’ve done this excellently in this case and for any parents out there, I can thoroughly recommend The Athenaeum as the perfect London home from home.
That’s right, my inbox seems to be awash with news from Accor opening new properties, particularly in London. This one’s certainly worth a mention and consists of a converted RIBA Bronze awarded former police building having been been modelled and opened as the Mercure London Greenwich Hotel, described by the brand as ‘contemporary design’ and ’boutique’.
The hotel joins the rapidly expanding portfolio of Mercure hotels in the UK which now stands at 75 hotels and is an example of Mercure’s ambition to further develop in key cities and London. Recently renovated, the 145 room hotel has transformed the 1930’s ‘Police House’ with an additional two storey extension at roof level with ‘floor to ceiling’ glass rooms that provide far-reaching views over the city. The stunning penthouse suite occupies the 9th floor of the extension, offering elegant and spacious accommodation in addition to the vista of the London skyline. The hotel is situated within a conservation area in Greenwich, providing the perfect location for enjoying its bustling market and shops. A stone’s throw from world famous tourist attractions, including the Cutty Sark, O2 Arena and Skyline, the hotel is ideally positioned for those looking to escape on weekend breaks. The bar and restaurant, hosted in the former shooting range of the police building, provide a stylish retreat to recline in after a busy day’s sightseeing. Equally, the hotel’s proximity to the business hub of Canary Wharf and close transport links to London City Airport make it a convenient choice for business guests, with private meeting room, a fully equipped gym and free WiFi available to all guests plus a world of team building activities within walking distance.
Michael Rebeiro, General Manager at Mercure London Greenwich Hotel commented “Having the opportunity to renovate a previously redundant building – especially one with such history and character – has made this opening really exciting. Our hotel is perfect for leisure and business guests with its ideal location and design led renovation.”
Jonathan Sheard, Managing Director for MGallery and Mercure UK & Ireland, added “ This is a fantastic hotel. The way that the building has been designed with so much light and glass really opens up the hotel for guests to experience the local area – a very important aspect of a Mercure hotel. We are very proud of our growth for the Mercure portfolio this year and we will continue to increase it in 2013.”
I’ve had a busy week – World Travel Market and the HBAA Technology Forum in the space of five days has left me exhausted – but I did get to try something I’ve had my eye on for a long time – I stayed the Yotel way. Although really designed for people flying off into the sunset and needing somewhere to rest at the airport, I decided that rather than commute backwards and forwards to WTM, I’d give the cabin style hotel room experience a try – something Yotel is becoming famous for.
Yotel has been described in the press as a revolutionary new hotel concept, and to be honest, no other hotel chain have a similar brand to run against them. Starting out in New York, Yotel are expanding and have properties at London Heathrow Airport, London Gatwick, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and two hotels back in New York.
Inspired by first-class airline cabins and located inside the airport terminal, Yotel has been built around a strong brand concept – a business or leisure traveller wants to stay somewhere that’s flexible and not over the top. Everything about the cabins are high spec – great quality beds, shower and amenities all within small cabin style rooms. The perfect place to rest your head and re-charge before or between flights or for unexpected travel disruption.
Yotel founder Simon Woodroffe conceived the innovative Yotel cabins to provide a flexible and convenient ‘first class’ hotel experience at affordable prices. Simon evolved that idea into reality with Gerard Greene, the CEO of Yotel, building a prototype cabin with designers Priestman Goodeand and securing partner IFA Hotels and Resorts.
Before I stayed, I’d read the marketing on the brand and didn’t know what to fully expect. Having stayed in other “cabin” style rooms recently, I expected the same from Yotel, but there is no product on the market quite like this. The design of the rooms is quite something – compact – but yet without the feeling of being trapped or penned in.
Each cabin has everything you could wish for – comfortable beds, en suite bathrooms with monsoon rain showers complete with organic hair and body wash, flat screen TV and pull out workstation (and of course, free Wi-Fi). I’m told even the mattresses are organic!
What I especially like about the Yotel concept is that the founders have solved a common travel problem. They’ve looked at how people travel through airports and identified a gap in the market. People often want somewhere comfortable to rest in an airport, and creating the high quality Yotel brand allows people to book a cabin for a short amount of time, or a whole night. It’s a flexible model that caters for all, and unlike so many other newer hotel brands, actually stands out from the crowd and solves a travellers existing problem.
I should also take a moment to comment on the service. Check-in can be processed in person or by self service computer on arrival, but all staff that I met during my stay were polite, friendly and incredibly helpful. They created a lasting impression of the brand for me. I also found it encouraging that in each room there is a business card urging guests to leave a review of the hotel on TripAdvisor. When you think about it, a cabin style room could be the perfect thing to moan about online, but Yotel are so clear and confident about their brand and customer expectations, they do the right thing and encourage engagement and reviews. More hotel chains could learn from this approach.
Prices for a Standard cabin will range from £25 for four hours and from around £50 overnight, while a Premium cabin will cost from £40 for four hours, and from around £80 overnight. If you would like to find out more or book, please click here to visit the Yotel website.
What I think will be interesting is how quickly the brand can expand. Clearly, the same consumer need exists at every international airport all over the world, so there is at least in theory a place for a Yotel in hundreds of locations. Will we see them pop up at every airport we pass through in the future? Yotel is already a very successful brand and becoming more and more recognised by the public. They have achieved this success by clearly defining their brand strategy, playing on it, and keeping it simple. And not as a cramped, grotty cabin, but as a a high quality, 4 star place to stay that’s good value and enjoyable. I would imagine that their cost of sale is pretty low – booking via the brand.com website only (which is a rally great, interactive and informative online experience) and without the use of third parties (I’ve not seen their content appear on OTA websites yet, or the GDS, but I may be wrong). Keeping to this model is pretty simple, but as the collection of hotels expands, so too may the distribution channels needed to make sure all the rooms get filled.
You may have heard that InterContinental are due to open a brand new property in London, and it’s causing quite a buzz in the London hotel world. And why? Because this is the first InterContinental hotel to open for 36 years. I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of this newly designed and renovated InterContinental London Westminster, due to open in a matter of weeks, that will home some 256 guest rooms, including 44 luxurious suites and penthouse. It was really interesting to get this behind the scenes insight into the hotel and see all the hard work going on to get ready for opening. Even with much furniture and fittings missing, you can see that this is going to be a very special property.
Even without considering the building and hotel itself, the location is of greatest importance here, located on the site of a former Government Building, which played host amongst others to the Treasury Solicitor and The Brewers’ Society, slap bang in Westminster. With such a location, you can already guess the cliental that may frequent the hotel and I’m sure this is a reason InterContinental have incorporated a selection of exclusive meeting and event spaces that reflect exatly the heritage and political surroundings of the hotel.
Set across the lower ground level, the hotel’s meetings rooms, which can be transformed into a maximum of seven different spaces, are aptly named after the most celebrated political residences. Chevening and Dorneywood will cater for up to 75 and 55 respectively in various seating configurations, while Chequers will be a fixed boardroom, seating 10 and offering the latest in state-of-the-art technology. The Whitehall Suite which can be adapted from 60 – 254 seating to a 300 person standing reception can also be divided to create four individual meeting spaces each hosting up to 86 people.
Blue Boar Smokehouse & Bar is at the heart of the hotel’s food and beverage offering – and even unfinished when I had a preview today, I already want to come back and experience the wonderful smokey offerings. With a choice of two private dining rooms seating 12, which can be combined to accommodate 24, delegates will be treated to a menu which takes inspiration from the best American pit masters but with a distinctly British influence like the Pulled Rare Breed Pork Collar or the Treacle Marinated, 12 Hour Roasted Beef Brisket which revolves around authentic smoke house techniques. On-site charcoal and smoking ovens will produce rustic dishes served in a modern way; classic comfort food using great British produce.
Andrew Coney, General Manager, InterContinental London Westminster explained “Our location in the heart of Westminster Village has naturally been a great inspiration to us. Our events offering will enable us to deliver exceptional experiences for our guests, whether they’re here for official political business, perhaps presenting their memoirs or simply looking to celebrate an occasion in an intimate space.”
My visit today came amongst the final throws of preparations to complete the outstanding work and get the hotel opened, but even without the fine artworks, carpets and finishing touches, this hotel already has a special feel. What struck me, was that if I had no idea which hotel chain owned the hotel, just from walking in the lobby and public areas, I would have been able to guess it was InterContinental. I can’t put my finger on it, but this hotel has a very InterContinental feel and I’m excited to re-visit and see the finished article very soon.
You may remember me telling you about an event I attended launching the Preferred hotels Family programme. It was held at the Chancery Court Hotel in London, a hotel I’d never been too. As soon as I arrived I was instantly impressed by the wonderful architecture and classical feel on the interior. I wasn’t there long for the launch, so I returned pretty quickly to have a better look around and talk to the marketing team. So impressed I was on the second visit, I wanted to share with you some information on the hotel.
Chancery Court Hotel, London is situated in one of the capital city’s most historic locations and you can tell right from the outset that this hotel has real history. High Holborn was originally a Roman road and following the Middle Ages, the area became established as a centre for the legal profession and the city’s most influential and powerful people. Apparently Charles Dickens took much inspiration from this area for his novels Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. The hotel has 356 bedrooms including some beautiful suites spread across seen floors and includes Spa (featuring ESPA products), The Lounge, The Bar at Chancery Court and Pearl Restaurant & Bar.
The first phase of the building’s Edwardian Belle Époque design was completed in 1914 by H. Percy Monckton. Construction of 252 High Holborn took place in four stages spanning nearly 50 years. The magnificent street frontage features the central carriageway entrance and dome. The lavish interiors were fitted out with Cuban mahogany and seven types of marble, including extremely rare types such as Swedish Green and Statuary. Transformation of this historic building from the Pearl Assurance headquarters into a London luxury hotel was carried out under the guidance of English Heritage.
“Listed” with English Heritage are the principal façades, as well as the interiors of the former East and West Banking Halls (now Pearl Restaurant & Bar) and the Grand Staircase. From the beginning of the lengthy restoration, the strategy was to follow the original designs wherever possible and missing details have been carefully replicated and replaced.
One of the hotel’s most dramatic features, the Renaissance-style Grand Staircase is an architectural tour de force in marble. It ascends from either side of the entrance arch on High Holborn, forming a bridge on the first floor and rising through all the floors under an elliptical dome. Looking upwards, the arcades of Pavonazzo marble frame a view of the cupola that rises to 50.6 metres (166 feet), the maximum permitted height at the time of construction.
What I love about this hotel is the privacy. Given it’s such a large, dominating building, you’d hardly notice the entrance to the hotel as you drove past. As you approach, you walk under a large archway into a beautiful courtyard, even then, it’s not obviously a hotel. This is a real credit to the owners who have ensured that they do not renovate an old building beyond recognition. I was lucky enough to see some of the newly renovated rooms during my visit and again, these were incredibly tasteful and luxurious. One word springs to mind to describe the ambience – London. Pretty obvious word to choose I guess, being in London. But walking along the newly renovated corridors, was like stepping back in time and looking down a London street.
This is a beautiful, traditional and luxurious hotel – please do check it out for yourself.
More Accor news (haven’t they been busy this month). This time its the announcement that they have introduced the first Pullman branded hotel in the UK with the opening of the Pullman London St Pancras. Accor are establishing this international upscale brand in the UK in a move to widen their hotel brand portfolio in the UK, which currently includes Sofitel, MGallery, Novotel, Mercure, Ibis, Ibis Styles and Ibis Budget.
Officially opening in September, this property was once how to the Novotel St Pancras and has undertaken a comprehensive refurbishment which has seen the complete transformation of the hotel into one of London’s most contemporary hotels.
COO of Pullman Europe Christophe Vanswieten commented “I’m delighted to annoucnce that we are opening our first Pullman Hotel in the UK, a market that will play a key role in our expansion plans in the coming years. Pullman has blogal brand araewness in progressm which we will build on in the UK, helping Accor’s presence in the UK’s upscale market, ensuring that we have a hotel brand to suit any individual’s requirements – from budget to luxury”.
The new property is described by Accor as a cosmopolitan home of style and modernity and is situated around three minutes from King’s Cross St Pancras. The hotel has 312 bedrooms with panoramic views of the London skyline and a restaurant and bar named Golden Arrow. It also includes plenty of business and event space, even featuring a 446 seat theatre for arts and corporate use.
The Pullman brand offers several “signature services” which include Welcomer, Pullman bed, docking station, free Wi-Fi (I’m liking the brand already, of course!), Connectivity Lounge in partnership with Microsoft, Nespresso services, Vinoteca by Pullman wine selection and Open Kitchen in the new restaurant.
Xavier Louyot, SVP Global Marketing Pullman concludes “This new Pullman destination, which joins the network’s 67 other hotels and resorts around the world, offers a vibrant, in-style cosmopolitan guest experience and is designed to cater for both business travellers and leisure guests. Set in the heart of one of the top travel hubs of the globe, it is ideal for those travelling to the continent or visiting London”.
Accor have certainly been busy this year with new hotel openings and expanding their brand portfolio and coverage which is extremely positive news, especially for the UK. What strikes me is that there are so many new hotels springing up in London or all shapes, sizes and prices. This is only going to increase competition in what is already a very competitive market. Maybe we will see the average city rate drop in the next couple of years – time will tell.