London’s conference hotels stay aheadCompetition grows continuously around the world, but London maintains a highly ranked position as a MICE destination. It is an irresistible draw because it is an exciting city, it is the crossroads of the world, it offers cultural and historic attractions and some of the finest conference hotels. All hotel groups thirst for a property in London and those already there constantly ensure that their facilities are state-of-the-art. ITCM reviews the latest developments on the London conference hotel scene
Cornthia realises its London dream
A dream location for a London conference hotel is between Whitehall Place, Northumberland Avenue and Great Scotland Yard, overlooking Trafalgar Square on one side and the Thames on the other. Corinthia Hotels International (CHI) has realised this dream. Corinthia Hotel London will open there early in 2011 in an imposing Victorian building that is being transformed into a 5-star hotel. It was originally the Metropole Hotel that was opened in 1886.
CHI is a Malta-based company that was founded in 1968 by the Pisani family and is still a family-run enterprise. It is not new to luxury hotels. In addition to its original Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa in the centre of that island, it boasts the St George’s Bay on the coast near Valetta and, internationally, the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, Corinthia Hotel Prague, Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg and, in Libya, the 5-star Corinthia Hotel Tripoli. The biggest conference hotel in Portugal’s capital is the Corinthia Hotel Lisbon and the group will be opening the Corinthia Taormina Golf Resort in Sicily in 2012.
The property in London has had millions spent on reconstructing the interior. There is an inner courtyard and garden and 294 rooms, including 45 suites with private terraces. The rooms are particularly spacious, each 45sqm, whilst the two-bedroom Royal Suite, measuring 470sqm, might be the largest in London. There are two restaurants, a luxury spa and gym and a range of meetings facilities. There are six function rooms of different sizes, but the main venue is the Grand Ballroom that has been stylishly refurbished.
Corinthia places great emphasis on the meetings business and has a special division called Events@Corinthia that has extensive experience in working with corporate and agency clients around the world.
A long awaited event on the London hotel scene is the re-opening of The Savoy, scheduled now for October 10 2010. It has been closed for total refurbishment that has cost Fairmont an estimated £220m. To the question ‘Which came first, the Savoy Operas of Gilbert & Sullivan or The Savoy Hotel?’, the answer is that the hotel was built in the 1870s by Richard D’Oyly Carte to accommodate the huge numbers of people who were flocking to enjoy the operas he was staging on Savoy Hill.
Now, in the ‘new’ Savoy Hotel, there are seven Private Meeting Rooms named after the operas. The largest, Pinafore, seats 40 people, whilst the smallest, The Sorcerer, caters for 15. However, there are four main conference facilities. The flagship room is the Lancaster, able to hold 800 at a reception or seat 500 theatre style. The others are The River Room, The Abraham Lincoln and The Manhattan.
Fairmont appointed Pierre-Yves Rochon to design the refurbishment and, with the help of about 1,000 craftsmen, he has been faithful to two different styles. You cannot mistake the 1920s Art Deco of the famous entrance off The Strand, whilst, with the first step into the Lobby, you are in the Edwardian 1920s.
There are 268 rooms and suites, with 62 suites looking out over the Thames towards the BA London Eye. Amongst the choice of restaurants is a Gordon Ramsay. The hotel also claims it will be the only high quality hotel in London that will serve à la carte menus to as many as 440 at a banquet; and the only one able to offer a truly kosher cuisine.
The General Manager is Kiaran MacDonald, who has been issuing his own personal news reports during the make-over.
The Grosvenor at Victoria raises its profile
Heiko Figge, Managing Director, Guoman & Thistle Hotels, comments: ‘The Grosvenor is set to become a considerable component of the Guoman collection following the property’s complete redevelopment programme. The ambitious development strategy that our investment is allowing us to implement will truly mark the property’s future as a world-recognised London hotel, delivered with 100% consideration for what our guests actually require and appreciate - whether for business or pleasure. The transformation of the hotel into its new era as a heritage Victorian hotel has begun and the group remains completely committed, and excited, to re-launch The Grosvenor in new-found glory.’ Additional features will include the development of a self-contained executive accommodation tower with striking views over the city and the introduction of a Guoman Club Lounge, offering an exclusive executive area for business guests to unwind, work or network.
There are 357 bedrooms and 12 meeting rooms. These have high ceilings and tall windows giving abundant natural daylight and are equipped with Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and separate breakout areas for tea and coffee breaks and buffet meals. The Grosvenor and Bessborough Suites can seat up to 200 theatre-style.
Downtown or airport choices
Groups that can offer central London or airport locations include Starwood, Radisson Edwardian and Marriott. There are Marriott hotels with extensive conference and banqueting facilities in Kensington, Park Lane, Marble Arch, Maida Vale, County Hall, West India Quay at Canary Wharf and in the heart of Mayfair in Grosvenor Square.
Marriott London Regent’s Park
However, there has recently been an initiative by Marriott to promote its North London property, Marriott London Regent’s Park. To prove how much quieter and less congested that part of London can be and how many interesting places there are in the immediate vicinity, event organisers were invited to join the hotel management team and board a Big Red Bus for a double-decker tour of the area. This took in Lord’s Cricket Ground, the global home of cricket, as well as Wembley, the home of football, Camden Town, with its picturesque locks, London Zoo and Primrose Hill. It even drove across the zebra crossing at the Abbey Road studios that featured on a famous Beatles album. The General Manager, Tony Owen, suggests to ITCM that ‘delegates from out of town would welcome an opportunity like this to take a break from the business on hand and at the same time learn more of the less obvious London that is probably not familiar to them’.
Marriott London Regent’s Park is a 4-star property with 304 guestrooms and eight meeting rooms. The largest, the Adelaide Suite, can seat 300 people.
The Radisson Edwardian group (quite distinct from the Radisson hotels that are in the Rezidor portfolio) has a surprising number of properties in London. There is one, probably the flagship, at Heathrow and nine in and around Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Canary Wharf, Marble Arch and South Kensington.
The main conference property downtown, however, is the independently branded May Fair. With a name like that, it has to be exclusive, luxurious and smart - and it is. A 5-star property, opened by King George V in 1927, it is tucked quietly away just a few yards from Piccadilly and Bond Street, but astonishes people when they do a site inspection and find it has over 400 rooms as well as a casino and fine dining restaurant.
Unrivalled, however, is what the hotel calls its Screening Room. This is a fully fledged theatre with a stage and comfortable tiered seating for an audience of 201. It is equipped with twin cinema and high definition projection systems, making it flexible for AGMs, product launches or fashion shows. The other function spaces are conveniently located for break-outs or dining.
Picnic baskets in Kensington
Hilton London Kensington in Holland Park Avenue is well provided with meeting facilities. There are 14 function rooms, able to seat up to 370 delegates. It has now turned its attention to the breaks during meetings with an initiative it believes can lighten the mood and ease the mind and body. To give delegates a complete change of scene, it has introduced Picnic Packages. The bright, airy Atrium is transformed into a picnic area with real grass and foliage, complete with hammocks and tear-drop chairs. ‘Delegates are encouraged to take off their shoes and feel the grass between their toes’, says Alison Palin, the General Manager. ‘This kind of break should improve their attention span for the rest of the meeting’.
Finger sandwiches, fancy cakes, creamed strawberries and real lemonade make up the Garden Break refresher, whilst the more substantial Garden Stroll package can include crumpets with smoked salmon and horseradish, chocolate and scones.
On the other side of town, on Edgware Road, the 1,000-room Hilton London Metropole is the UK’s largest conference and events hotel, boasting 41 meeting rooms and two ballrooms each able to seat 1,600 delegates. General Manager Avner On has introduced a formula that he claims can maximise the chance of an event’s success. The formula reads: F/([P/4] + [S/10] + [C/4] + 1)([B+1] T) and it would be best to get a member of the hotel’s events team to explain it in detail. Suffice to say that it takes account of the number of facilities and services available at the venue, the time a meeting begins in relation to 9am, the duration of a keynote speech, the number of tea/coffee breaks, the time it takes for delegates to travel to the event and whether the meal is served buffet-style.
The formula is based on a survey of 640 people from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and Spain. It found remarkable differences in behaviour according to nationality. The British are most likely to use the bar and also a health club, but the French are less likely to use a venue bar while attending a conference. Germans are more likely to use a health club but less likely to use Wi-Fi. Italian delegates are the least health conscious, only 25% reporting that they use a hotel’s health club. Spain reports the highest usage of business centres and Wi-Fi.
The hotel recently launched a new bedroom category after a £1.8m refurbishment of the West Wing. Avner says that ‘by refurbishing the bedrooms, we have created a new Superior category with colour tones of rich plum and autumn to provide guests with a calming atmosphere in which to work or relax. The design has new air conditioning, high speed internet, new hair dryers, kettles and safes.’
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge reports a successful first year
Marketing Director Laurence Markham says, looking back over 12 months: ‘Everything has gone extremely well. Facilities of this kind in this location have proved to be a very big attraction. Between now and the end of 2010 anyone will be lucky to find a space in the hotel for anything.’
He says that the new property has not only worked well for itself but also for its neighbouring sister hotels, Park Plaza County Hall and Park Plaza Riverbank. ‘The three together have been bringing in new clients and at the same time providing enhanced services for existing clients.’
The Westminster Ballroom has been booked not only for corporate and association events, but also as a venue for celebrity concerts. Coming, soon, for example is a show with singer Paul Young. ‘Vegas style’, says Laurence, ‘we see this as a venue for regular events of that kind’.
Next year’s bookings are also very encouraging. ‘We have been appointed by Visit London as host hotel for SportAccord 2011 in April. This takes place in a different country each year and brings over 1,500 decision makers from international sports bodies.