Features

London hotels: Capital investment

29 Jun 2012 by Michelle Harbi
London has seen a huge number of hotel openings and revamps in the run-up to the Olympics. Michelle Mannion reports on the legacy and provides a news round-up The word “legacy” has rarely been far from the lips of anyone with anything to say about the Olympics, be they a pundit or a policy-maker. For any host city, success is measured not by the pizazz of the opening ceremony or the haul of medals brought home but by the longer-term impact – whether that’s wider sports participation, global perceptions or visitor numbers.

In terms of infrastructure, the legacy of this summer’s Games will encompass everything from urban regeneration in East London to improved transport links and better venues. So what of the hotel scene? The run-up to the event has seen huge amounts of activity – from major new properties opening to venerable ones being restored (for a long but by no means exhaustive list, see below).

Was the Olympics the catalyst? Tracy Halliwell, director of business tourism and major events at London and Partners, the mayor’s promotional body for the city, says: “I think it would have happened anyway but things have been speeded up. People had the confidence to bring forward the development plans they had.”

That, in turn, has encouraged other hoteliers to up their game. “The whole thing has made everybody think about the product they have and how they need to be geared up for the future,” she says.

Michael Wale, senior vice-president for Starwood – which opened the W in Leicester Square and the Aloft at Excel last year – agrees: “There is no question that new openings mean existing hotels need to make sure they’re competitive. That’s how I look at it. When I see new properties in my marketplace, I need to defend my position and make sure my products are in the right shape.”

Pauline Houston, global supplier director for hotel content at travel management company Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), says: “We’ve seen hotels spending money on ‘rouge and lipstick’ to look smarter, to try to drive up pricing but also because perhaps they’ve needed it. It’s a combination of competition during the Olympics but also a pent-up requirement, as in the past few years little has been done because of the economy.”

The highest-profile news has been in the luxury sector, with hotels such as the Savoy being renovated and the Corinthia and the W entering the market. But activity hasn’t been restricted to the top end. Budget chains have continued to expand – Travelodge has added more than 900 rooms in London since the start of 2011 – while mid-market brands such as Thistle have been refurbishing.

Jon West, UK and Ireland managing director at hotel booking agency HRS, says: “If you look down the list of hotels that have opened this year, there’s a real cross-section.” And there’s more to come. By this summer, there will be about 100,000 hotel rooms in the city, London and Partners estimates, with 4,000 to follow by the end of the year – some of which will have been planned to open prior to London 2012 but have been delayed – and 3,800 planned for 2013.

Many of the new rooms are located close to the action in East London. In June, Games sponsor Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) launched Holiday Inn and Staybridge Suites properties near the Olympic Park, while Travelodge and Premier Inn have also opened in Stratford, no doubt hoping to take advantage of increased footfall in the area.

Still, Wale says: “I think you’d be hard pressed to hear anybody say they’ve opened a hotel because of the Olympics. It’s a 17-day event, and an investment the size of putting up a hotel is something rather larger than that. It’s because London’s a great market – that’s why we’re all here.”

Matthew Dixon, general manager of the Corinthia, says: “What extra rooms have come on have been in many cases part of an investors’ long-term view of the capital. We see greater value from the Olympics on its longer-term aspects than the three- to four-week window. Hotels will not have record years because of one Olympics – we will have sustained growth as a truly international cultural capital that competes with Paris, New York and Rome as a tourist and conference destination. That’s what I believe the Olympics is providing us with.”

With a potential global TV audience of four billion for the Olympics and Paralympics, the city’s hotels can certainly expect an increase in custom. London and Partners expects about 1.1 million extra visitors in the five years afterwards as a result of the “Olympics effect”, an influx worth £650 million to the capital.

How will that affect rates? While price hikes during the games are inevitable – though Chris Hale, IHG’s head of London 2012, points out that the hotels involved in the Olympic bid have offered 60 per cent of rooms to the London Organising Committee at “effectively a discounted rate” – HRS’s West expects a quick return to business as usual.

“In September to November, a big corporate visiting period, I expect rates to be in line with what they are like now [late May], which is a little bit up in comparison with last year – so year on year they’ll be up but not by any higher degree than they are at the moment,” he says.

Halliwell agrees:“I don’t think rates will change significantly [in the future]. A city like London finds its own rate. If it’s going to be very busy they will go up, if it’s empty they go down.”

One thing that may affect hotels in the longer term, CWT’s Houston notes, is the recent increase in serviced apartment accommodation – the Association of Serviced Apartment Providers says more than 650 units have been added in London by its members in the past year. “That could change mindsets because with the shortage of hotel stock availability we’ll see through the Olympics, people will turn to apartments and it will introduce an alternative they’ve maybe not considered before. There’s a danger to the hotels that some may never return because for some people it’s the perfect solution,” Houston says.

Something that hotel guests might notice as a result of the Games is a fresh focus on service delivery. Halliwell says: “The Olympic family is quite a demanding set of clients so the hotels will absolutely have risen to the challenge of what it is they want – thinking creatively in terms of how they can deliver the service that this audience requires. I think that hotels will learn an awful lot during Games time as well.”

If you are staying at an IHG property, you may also notice the employees have an extra spring in their step. Hale says: “We’ve run a series of programmes to get staff involved. We’ve done masterclasses where they get to meet Olympians – cycling with Victoria Pendleton, for example. Of the tickets we’re allowed to buy as a sponsor, more than 70 per cent are being given to high-performing staff from around the world, and we were able to reward our 72 most outstanding individuals with an opportunity to run legs in the torch relay.

“We measure staff engagement globally and now know that 88 per cent – 350,000 people – feel a greater pride in working for IHG because of the sponsorship. Happier staff generally means happier customers, so it’s a virtuous circle.” Allied to the shiny new facilities across the capital, your next visit to London should be an enjoyable one.

NEW AND IMPROVED HOTELS

Savoy

The grande dame reopened on the Strand in October 2010 following what it called “the most ambitious hotel restoration in British history”, costing more than £100 million.

Four Seasons Park Lane

The Four Seasons reopened in January last year following a £125 million refurbishment. The number of rooms has been reduced from 219 to 192, including 45 one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, and a tenth-floor spa has been added.

W Leicester Square

Starwood’s W hotel launched on Valentine’s Day last year and has 192 rooms and a typically trendy design inspired by “the duality of British culture”. Its Spice Market restaurant is led by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

London Syon Park, a Waldorf Astoria hotel

Open since March 2011, this luxury 137-room property is set in 80 hectares of parkland within the Grade I Listed Syon House estate, about 12km from central London and Heathrow airport.

St Pancras Renaissance/Marriott Grosvenor Square

The iconic railway hotel reopened under Marriott’s Renaissance brand in March last year after a lavish refurbishment that added a new wing. The London Marriott Grosvenor Square completed a £3.5 million room refurbishment last year.

Corinthia

This luxury property opened on Whitehall Place in April last year following a £300 million remodelling of a listed Victorian building, formerly the Metropole. Among the 294 rooms are seven opulent suites named after luminaries such as Sir Winston Churchill.

St Ermin’s

Housed in a Grade II Listed Victorian building close to St James’s Park station, St Ermin’s reopened in April 2011 following a £30 million renovation by US company Amerimar Enterprises. A new wing has been added, and the hotel is now part of Accor’s MGallery brand.

St John

An offshoot of the popular St John eatery in Smithfield, this 15-room hotel, restaurant and bar opened in Leicester Square opposite the W in April last year.

Montcalm London City

Housed in the Grade II Listed Brewery in the Barbican – formerly the site of Whitbread and Co – the 235-room, five-star Montcalm opened in July 2011 (the brand has another hotel by Marble Arch).

Eccleston Square

Open since last August, this high-tech hotel boasts features such as iPads and 3D TVs in its 39 rooms. It’s housed in a Georgian townhouse near Victoria station.

45 Park Lane

Open since September last year, this luxury property is situated across from its sister hotel, the Dorchester, with which it shares some facilities. It has 45 rooms and a Wolfgang Puck steakhouse.

Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street

Formerly the Mountbatten, the Covent Garden property reopened in October under the Radisson Edwardian (now Radisson Blu Edwardian) brand, following a £15 million revamp.

Z Hotels

New hotel group Z opened its first property in Soho in October, offering 85 compact but well-equipped rooms. It followed up with a 106-room hotel in Victoria in June.

Aloft Excel

Open since November, Starwood’s first Aloft property in the UK has 252 rooms and is attached to Excel’s International Convention Centre in the Docklands.

Le Meridien Piccadilly

The Starwood hotel completed its refurbishment in November, having redesigned its public spaces in 2010 and adding 13 new rooms. It unveiled the Terrace Grill and Bar in June.

Dukes

The luxury 101-room Mayfair property refurbished its six suites at the end of last year. It has also added a new fine-dining restaurant, Thirty Six, and a champagne lounge.

 Hyatt Regency the Churchill

The Portman Square property refurbished its 434 rooms last year, adding six Regency Studio suites and enlarging its Club lounge.

Thistle

The brand has upgraded several properties – Kensington Gardens, Euston and Marble Arch have all completed works on their bedrooms, public and meeting spaces, the Royal Trafalgar was to be completed by the end of June, and Piccadilly will follow by October.

Hilton Metropole

The Metropole has this year invested £2.3 million in refurbishing 354 of its 1,054 rooms, unveiling what it claims are London’s “largest ‘double-double’ rooms”. The works are “part of a programme of upgrades continuing throughout 2012 and into 2013”.

Tune Hotels

Budget chain Tune opened a 183-room property close to Liverpool Street station at the start of the year. It also launched a 137-room hotel in Paddington last month and was set to follow that with a 218-room King’s Cross branch on July 9.

The Grosvenor/Charing Cross

Previously a Thistle hotel, the Grade II Listed Grosvenor in Victoria station is now a Guoman property following an £18 million revamp of its 346 rooms and public spaces, completed in January. Guoman’s other railway hotel, the Charing Cross, added an executive wing last year.

Belgraves

US group Thompson opened its first hotel outside North America in February. Housed in the former Sheraton Belgravia, the 85-room property has a restaurant led by British chef Mark Hix.

Apex Temple Court

The four-star brand launched the 184-room Apex Temple Court in an Inns of Court building off Fleet Street in March.

Travelodge

In March, the chain opened its 500th hotel, a 188-room property in Stratford. Other new openings include one in Greenwich earlier this year and a City property on St Swithin’s Lane last September. A 131-room hotel at Excel was set to follow by the end of June.

Doubletree by Hilton

In March, Hilton Worldwide rebranded the former Hesperia Victoria as a Doubletree following “an extensive, multi-phase refurbishment”. The Park Inn Russell Square (formerly the Bonnington) became a Doubletree last year after a major upgrade, and the former Mint Westminster and Tower of London hotels have also joined the brand.

Jurys Inn Chelsea

The hotel completed a full refurbishment of its 172 guestrooms, restaurant, bar and lobby in March.

Bulgari

The Italian luxury goods brand opened a hotel in Knightsbridge in May. A joint venture with Marriott International, it has 85 rooms and suites and a two-floor spa with a 25-metre pool.

Premier Inn

Leicester Square gained another property in May when the budget brand launched an 83-room hotel. It also opened a 267-room hotel attached to Westfield Stratford City last September.

Dorset Square

Luxury boutique group Firmdale reopened the Dorset Square last month (it was the first Firmdale hotel when it opened in 1985 but was later sold).The reacquired Marylebone property has 38 rooms.

Holiday Inn/Staybridge Suites Stratford

In June, IHG opened these co-located properties in Westfield shopping centre, with features including terraces overlooking the Olympic stadium. They have 188 rooms and 162 suites respectively.

AND STILL TO COME…

Citizen M

The Dutch “budget luxury” brand was set to open its first London property on Bankside on July 5. It will have 192 rooms designed in Citizen M’s signature compact, funky style. Hotels in Tower Hill and on Holborn Viaduct are due to follow next year.

Me London

Melia Hotels International’s Me London is set to have its soft launch on July 24 before officially opening on September 1. Designed by Foster and Partners, it is located at the corner of the Strand and Aldwych and has 157 rooms and a rooftop bar.

Hilton Wembley

This 361-room property will open opposite Wembley Stadium in time for the matches taking place there during the Olympics. Its Sky Bar 9 and restaurant offer stadium views.

Ampersand

The boutique South Kensington hotel was due to be ready before the Olympics but is now set to relaunch in time for the Paralympics on August 29, having originally opened in 1888. It will have 111 rooms, a patisserie and a Mediterranean restaurant.

South Place

Restaurant group D&D – behind eateries such as Coq d’Argent and Quaglinos in the capital – is due to open its first hotel in September. Located close to Moorgate station, South Place will have 80 rooms as well as two restaurants and three bars, which were to be open in time for the Olympics.

Accor

Upcoming Accor properties include the 128-room Ibis Shepherd’s Bush, due to open in September; co-located Ibis and Novotel hotels in Blackfriars, due in October (with 297 and 182 rooms respectively); and the 144-room Mercure Greenwich, scheduled to open in the third quarter of this year. The Novotel St Pancras is to be officially relaunched as the UK’s first Pullman hotel on September 6, following refurbishment and a soft launch set for July 9.

Cafe Royal

Originally scheduled to open before the Olympics, the historic Café Royal on Regent Street is now due to reopen as a 159-room luxury hotel by early October, having closed its doors in December 2008 for extensive renovations.

Hotel Indigo Kensington-Earls Court

The Barkston Gardens hotel is to become part of Intercontinental Hotels Group’s boutique Indigo brand in October following refurbishment. It will have 101 rooms.

Intercontinental

IHG will also open the Intercontinental Westminster in November, its second UK property under the brand. It will be located in the Queen Anne’s Chambers on Broadway, opposite St James’s Park station, with 256 rooms. The Intercontinental Park Lane has recently refurbished its lobby and 74 of its London Executive, Deluxe and Superior rooms, with more signature suites to follow this year.

Wellesley

The luxury 36-suite Wellesley is scheduled to open in a 1920s art deco building on Knightsbridge by early December. It will have an Italian restaurant, a jazz bar and a heated cigar terrace.

Shangri-La

The luxury Asian hotel brand is set to arrive in London in the second quarter of next year in the new Shard building in the City. The 202-room property will occupy floors 34 to 52, with the 52nd level home to a champagne bar, gym and pool.

Park Inn by Radisson

The Rezidor brand is scheduled to open a 235-room property in Wembley in the last quarter of this year. It will also open a 223-room hotel at Excel exhibition centre next year.

Mondrian

Morgans Hotel Group is scheduled to open a London property under its Mondrian brand in early 2014. The 360-room property will be housed in Sea Containers House on the South Bank. The group plans to open a Hudson hotel in the capital in 2015.

Visit businesstraveller.com/tags/london+hotels for more updates.

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