Sofitel’s second UK on-airport hotel (the other being the Sofitel Gatwick) is due to open its doors in June this year, shortly after the unveiling of the new terminal at T5. There are of course plenty of existing options within easy reach of the airport (see Heathrow Hotels, Business Traveller April 2006), and Travelodge has recently opened a 295-room property just west of the new terminal. Hilton will follow suit in 2010, but there’s no doubting the Sofitel London Heathrow will be the most convenient for T5 passengers.
Attached to the new terminal by a covered walkbridge, the 607-room Sofitel London Heathrow will open around two months after the launch of T5, with room inventory being added to the Accor booking engine in “two to three weeks time”. The hotel is already taking bookings for many of its 41 functions rooms, with “midscale” events planned for July and August, scaling up to major functions from September.
So what can guests expect from the new hotel? When I visited last week it was still very much a hard-hat tour, although finished surfaces were beginning to appear in rooms and public areas, and hotel manager Vincent Madden is confident that, with nearly 1,000 workers on site, the hotel will be completed by the June deadline.
Central to the project is The Avenue, a 187-metre internal boulevard off which the hotel’s retail outlets and eateries will be located, including a tea lounge (Tea 5, obviously) where guests will also be able to charge mobile phones. As Madden points out, most of the facilities at T5 will be located airside, so Sofitel will hope to cash in on informal business meetings and lunches at the hotel. The property will also house a theme bar called Sphere, as well as the 100-seat fine-dining restaurant Brasserie Roux (which also appears in the Sofitel St James London), overseen by Albert Roux and including a chef’s table and executive boardroom for private dining.
The Avenue will also connect the property’s five atria, which in turn split the hotel into six blocks. Blocks five and six will be reserved for the hotel’s suites, where there will also be a prestige check-in area and executive lounge.
Of course, the majority of guests will not be staying in suite accommodation, but Madden is adamant that all guests will receive five-star treatment, regardless of room type. There will be a total of 21 separate check-in points throughout the hotel, which Madden hopes will mean no queueing on arrival or departure, and all rooms in the property will have triple glazing to shield guests from the roar of planes.
The 201 Classic rooms at the hotel will measure 26 sqm, with a further 188 Superior rooms at 28 sqm, 164 Luxury Rooms and 52 Suites of varying sizes. The Luxury categories and above will also benefit from two-metre beds, while all rooms will have a separate bath and shower (Luxury rooms and Suites have TVs in the bathrooms), wifi internet access, US power sockets, a master control screen for in-room technology, and flatscreen TVs into which guests can plug mp3 players and laptops. Interiors have been designed by KCA, whose previous clients include the Burj Al Arab and the Four Seasons Hong Kong.
Many of the hotel’s rooms will look onto internal atria, and Sofitel has made showpieces of several of these areas, including a 60 x 12-metre Zen garden, which guests will be able to wander about in or simply view from the glass-fronted lifts and open hallways. Madden says: “These areas are all about silence, light and greenery. We wanted to take people away from that feeling of a typical airport hotel.”
The hotel will also offer some of the most comprehensive meetings and events facilities in Europe, in what John Donaldson, executive director for Sofitel London Heathrow, describes as the “most accessible place on earth”. The 41 function rooms will range from boardrooms up to the 2,000-capacity Arora Suite, as well as a 117-seater theatre, and car parking for 400 delegates.
Donaldson says research into the meetings market has led to many of the facilities delegates will see at the new hotel. “When we were surveying events organisers, one of their main desires was for flexibility, for rooms which move according to their needs. They also said they were tired of the same old traditional delegate food – they wanted something more creative and spontaneous, so we’ve come up with Vivre, a live-cooking concept where five food theatres will compete for delegates’ orders. We’ve also included rooms specifically for the events organisers – a sort of refuge, as well as green rooms for performing artists.”
T5 will be well-trodden by the time the Sofitel property opens, but as John Donaldson points out, the hotel will be “for the whole of Heathrow, not just Terminal 5”. Judging by the scale of the conference facilities at the hotel, it’s likely to be for the whole of London as well.
For more information visit sofitelheathrow.com.
Report by Mark Caswell