Heathrow is a complete events destination
ITCM reports on personal site inspections of a variety of hotels that can meet all event needs
'London Heathrow Airport can be seen as a self-contained destination. It has an astonishing range of hotels suitable for all, from 2- to 5-star. As the world’s prime airport, it is located in a network of motorways, being accessible by the M3, M4 and M25, that link into the country’s road network.
Heathrow Express comes in direct from Paddington Station and there is the tube servicing all the terminals.
Heathrow is isolated enough to keep delegates busily engaged on the work in hand during the hours of a conference, but there are numerous options for the ingredients of a leisure or spouse programme. Central London is an obvious possibility, with all that the capital has to offer. However, in fairly close proximity are world-famous visitor attractions such as Legoland and Windsor.
Heathrow has more international airline connections than any other airport in the world. Delegates from many sources could fly in for a meeting in the morning and return home the same day. Or they can attend a residential conference and fly home after one or two nights without having to leave the airport. And their stay can include a dine-around in top restaurants in different hotels.
Marriott staff are primed to be of service
Jayne Hillner is not only General Manager of London Heathrow Marriott Hotel on the Bath Road that runs north of the airport, but she is just handing over the reins of the organisation known as Destination Heathrow, which she chaired.
‘Until about four years ago’, she told ITCM, ‘we were known as the Heathrow Hoteliers Association. There are 16 member properties and they range through all categories. They offer a total of several thousand rooms. We work closely with other organisations such as Visit London, British Airports Authority and the bus company National Express and so on. We work for the common good, ensuring that our needs are considered when anything different is being introduced.
‘Our basic raison d’être is to share best practices, so that not only the hotels, but of course the guests, the airport and the transport services are all taken into account to achieve the best possible deal for all.’
Jayne emphasises that Heathrow can be seen in toto as a meetings venue. ‘It scores very highly if you work with the yardstick of location, location, location. There couldn’t be a more convenient location from the point of view of choice or hotels and meeting rooms, accessibility by air, road and rail. Whether from the UK, Europe or the rest of the world, there is a network of services that can get you to Heathrow
There is an important bus station at Heathrow, she reminds us, and hotel guests have free shuttle bus services to reach it. From there bus services radiate out to many parts of the country.
London Heathrow Marriott Hotel itself has 393 rooms. Its ballroom can seat 340 for a dinner and there are 11 break-out rooms.
‘We have developed a non-demarcation approach for staff. They are trained to be able to assist in all areas of the hotel. It can be wasteful and tricky to hire from outside in a situation where some areas are busy and others underemployed. We are able to reposition staff to ensure that there is a full complement to provide the right level of service no matter how the requirement fluctuates.’
Then, with a smile, she adds: ‘I am pretty good at serving coffee’.
Marriott is able to help client companies to organise evening or daytime leisure activities. ‘We arrange theatre nights or excursions in the area’.
Park Inn Heathrow is the biggest for rooms and events
A core facility at the airport is the Park Inn Heathrow Hotel. A member of the Rezidor Group of Hotels, it is just off-airport, facing the main airport entrance across the Bath Road. With 881 rooms it has the most accommodation and it is also the largest conference facility in the area.
There are two conference wings, known as the Red and the Blue conference centres. They are at opposite ends of the property, so delegates attending events being held at the same time can hardly come in contact with each other. The two distinct colours are also used effectively to make it clear to delegates exactly where to go. Furthermore, there are Red and Blue car parking facilities, again ensuring that there is no confusion, with appropriately marked entrances to the hotel.
A further benefit is that the Blue Conference wing is low rise with no guestrooms above it, so that its events do not intrude on the peace and quiet of other guests.
ITCM was guided round the whole facility by Bhop Singh, the Director of Sales and Marketing. The tour was accompanied by a series of amusing comments and titbits of information that lightened the journey.
‘We are doing everything possible to reduce our carbon footprint’, he explained.’ For example, we are changing over to energy-saving light bulbs. Guess how many bulbs are involved?’
Our guesses fell very short of the right answer, which was 33,000!
The guestrooms are all very cheery and, typical of Park Inn properties, follow variations on the theme of the Park Inn colours that are bright red, yellow, green and blue. In the same way, works of art on the walls in rooms and public areas have been chosen for their bright colours. No matter what the weather outside, the interior of Park Inn Heathrow is constantly sunny.
‘We have just completed another refurbishment of the whole property’, said Bhop. ’You will also notice that everything is designed to avoid dust traps. Smooth surfaces, rounded corners – it is all to ensure that they are easily cleaned to avoid allergies.’
Over lunch, the remarkably laid back, good-humoured General Manager, Oliver Staas, explained that the hotel has taken everything into account in order to position itself as a facility to suit all types of events and to suit most budgets - not forgetting that it is an airport facility.
There is a dedicated area for aircrews, which provide an annual average of 25% of the business. This arrangement suits hotel, other guests and the aircrews. In the same way, there are sections of the hotel that can be rented exclusively to a single client company, so that, as far as that client is concerned, this is a small intimate property and not the airport’s largest.
On the showround Bhop Singh demonstrated how effective the hotel’s noise insulation is, by opening a window in an otherwise perfectly quiet room and suddenly letting in the roar of road and aircraft traffic. ‘We have the double bonus of being so close to the airport itself and yet as quiet as if we were in the countryside’, he suggested and we couldn’t disagree.
The rooms have walk-in showers with rain shower heads that would be a boon to anyone just having flown in from a distant departure point.
Finally, another welcome feature is the price structure. Weekday basic rates are £85 plus vat, whilst weekend rates are as little as £59. And they include a substantial buffet breakfast.
Hilton is ever ready alongside Terminal 4
The hotels in the Bath Road area, the northern part of Heathrow, are very convenient for Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5, but Terminal 4 is some distance from there. However, it is ably served by the Hilton Heathrow. This has long been a landmark next to Terminal 4.
The General Manager is Mike Williamson who has been in that post for about 14 months.
The hotel has 395 rooms and two function rooms that can seat up to 250 each. They are the Concorde Room and the Heathrow Room.
‘In addition’, says Mike, ‘we have 22 break-out rooms that can, of course, be used individually for smaller gatherings’.
When we were there one of those was already set up for a charitable race-night evening, with round dinner tables and a large screen. It looked welcoming and cosy.
‘About 25% of our business is MICE-related’, he explains, ‘and we feel that this gives a great buzz to the whole property. We can source event business from this locality, from the M4 corridor and, of course, internationally as we are an on-airport property. Organisers like the way we are isolated, so that delegates can really apply themselves to the business on hand. However, if required, we can assist with a leisure itinerary. taking in the many visitor attractions in this area.’
Mike Williamson is a good advertisement for the hotel’s pool, spa and fitness facility. He is slim, agile and exuberant and takes you on a show-round at breakneck speed.
There are 78 guestrooms on the Executive Floor and six f&b outlets. These comprise 3 main restaurants, one of which is able to serve either full meals or just snacks 24hrs a day.
‘We pride ourselves’, says Mike, ‘on being close to our guests. As many as 50% are HH – or Hilton Honours – members and we operate the OnQ computerised system that instantly lets us know the guest’s history with not only all the Hilton properties, but also Conrad and Waldorf Astoria.’
Delegates don’t feel lost in Sofitel London Heathrow
The new icon amongst the Heathrow hotels has to be the Sofitel at Terminal 5. It opened in July 2008 and it cost its owners, Arora, over £200m. Arora has the Arora Hotel on the Bath Road and also Sofitel Gatwick. Sofitel London Heathrow is directly connected to the Terminal without the need for guests to walk outdoors.
Sofitel T5 is a ‘destination in a destination in a destination’, being in London, in Heathrow and being a self-contained resort and MICE facility. It has 605 rooms but is not a single high rise structure. It consists of 6 identical wings joined at ground level by the Sofitel Avenue. There are also means of walking between the wings at a higher level. The key number indicates the number of the wing, the floor and then the room.
The result is a sense of calm spaciousness and there is no crush even when there are large events being held in the hotel.
The different grades of room are located in different wings, so that Wings 1 & 2 are Classic, 3 & 4 are Superior and 5 & 6 are Luxury. Each corridor has an ice-making dispenser. The Club Millésime is an Executive area of rooms and lounges, like a hotel within a hotel.
There are a total of 62 suites. The biggest is The Imperial. It takes up virtually half of a whole floor. We noticed that the handles of the taps in the bathrooms are Swarovski Crystal.
The hotel is even bigger than it looks from ground level, because there are two floors below ground where there are as many as 45 meeting rooms, a Zen Boardroom and a theatre with 116 smart orange-brown leather seats. The largest space, the Arora Suite, can hold up to 1,700 people.
At ground level there are a further 15 meeting rooms.
Although the larger function rooms are below ground, they are on the same level as the car parks, so vehicles and big exhibits can be driven straight in to a product launch or exhibition. Alfa Romeo is one of the clients that have used the facility for a launch.
Access to the function rooms is via two escalators as well as lifts, so large numbers of delegates can move quickly without congestion.
Brightening the lower areas are huge white walls that reflect light from above, but they are also used as screens for the projection of logos, seating arrangements and advertisements.
F&b facilities include the Vivre Restaurant, the Brasserie Roux and the Tea 5 Room. Vivre is friendly and all-encompassing restaurant, with a wide range of dishes. Brasserie Roux is cleverly located in an atrium with its own canopies to give a more intimate ambiance. It also has a private dining room with a window that can be uncovered to give diners a view directly into the kitchen.
The Tea 5 room on the ground floor is a very special amenity, offering as many as 34 varieties of tea.
Rounding off the facilities of a self-contained resort is the ESPA spa.
Wood-panelled quality of Radisson Edwardian Heathrow
Radisson Edwardian on the Bath Road is yet another Heathrow property that has to be visited in order to appreciate its unique style. It is an oasis of the comfort and elegance that are associated with leather upholstery, an indoor garden conservatory, goldfish ponds and fine dining. A show-round provides a series of pleasant surprises as you come across so many different facilities that you wonder how they can all be located in one property just 5 minutes from Terminals 1 & 2 at London’s prime airport.
The statistics of this hotel are impressive. It has 459 guestrooms and its Conference Centre boasts 43 function rooms. The Commonwealth Ballroom, with natural daylight pouring through 14 tall windows, can cater for events for up to 700 people. The function rooms range from the County that seats 500 to the Kempton for 16 or even the Kipling, Dickens and Austen that each hold just 4 for a very private chinwag.
The Connaught/Belvedere Suite for 100 theatre style has its own balcony looking down on the Conservatory as if over a Mediterranean piazza.
There is an accent in the hotel on wood panelling and sparkling chandeliers. Even the pillars are clothed in wood. The hotel has 17 suites and 101 Executive Rooms.
The property is designed for hardworking conferences and meetings, with good food to replenish energy and with the Pegasus Health Spa to refresh your spirit.
Wide range of facilities from the Sheratons
The General Manager of the Sheraton Skyline Hotel and Conference Centre on Bath Road, alongside Heathrow Airport, comes from Turkey but has an Armenian name. He is Jirayr Kececian. As a senior executive of a top hotel in a large group, he has a long track record of service internationally, which fits nicely with his responsibilities at Skyline.
The guests and the staff stem from every corner of the world and Jirayr comes close to being able to talk with most of them in their own language.
The Skyline has a sister property on Bath Road, the Sheraton Heathrow, which has 426 guestrooms and 21 meeting rooms in a dedicated Conference Centre. Together the two Sheratons make a vital contribution to seeing Heathrow as a MICE destination in itself, as Skyline has 350 guestrooms and 18 conference rooms.
The Skyline is just completely remodelling a unique feature that sets the hotel apart – its ground floor Sky Garden. This is a 24,000 sqft indoor tropical garden in a glass atrium. In it there is a large pool, with a bridge leading to an island bar. It can claim to be the largest bar facility in the country.
‘The lighting can change to create different effects’, says Jirayr. ‘It is a great selling point, because it is easily accessible from all the conference rooms and ideal as a total change to relax delegates, with lots of space for them to unwind’.
The Sheraton Skyline has a very spacious ground floor with a wide range of amenities. There is the Sports Bar providing a casual place to drink and chat and equipped with large screens to show any important sporting event.
Now in the lobby the hotel has introduced the UK’s first [email protected] with internet work and leisure stations. Delegates can use these to catch up on email and print out boarding passes ready for departure from Heathrow.
‘MICE business accounts for up to 20% of our business’, says Jirayr. ‘The Ballroom can cater for 350 people and we can seat 500 in our largest conference room and still provide them with dining facilities.
‘There is obviously a downturn at present in numbers of delegates at conferences, but even if we find ways of making savings in costs’, Jirayr emphasises, ‘the first priority is to ensure that the quality of service to customers is not affected.’
‘Being a member property of the Starwood Group’, he says, ‘is an advantage in difficult times. There is a continuous exchange of ideas on best practice in every department. With over 900 properties and nearly 300,000 guestrooms in total, there is always someone who has thought of a way to overcome a problem, reduce a cost and improve a service.’