They are a clever idea, executive lounges. For the price of upgrading from the standard hotel room to the club room, you get the same size hotel room (perhaps on a higher floor and with better toiletries in the bathroom) and access to the executive lounge. It’s somewhere most hotel guests can’t access, and so is by its nature exclusive – far from the madding crowd.

Perks might include a more discreet check-in/checkout service, meeting room facilities, and a breakfast that can be enjoyed a safe distance from the din of the all-day dining restaurant.  It’s somewhere you can access throughout the day, to catch up on work, have a mid-morning coffee and snack, or just unwind – particularly in the evening, when another buffet of free snacks and drinks (including alcohol) is laid out for the hotel’s top-tier guests. As I say, a clever idea, but not perfect…

I’ve spent a lot of time in executive lounges, and I value them for the peace and quiet. I like the opportunity of getting ahead with work in hushed environs, perusing the newspapers delivered en masse to the world’s hotels and gazing sagely at the 24-hour news channels and ticker-tape headlines of stock prices reeling below talking heads.

Unfortunately, others see these lounges as, well, their lounges – like at home. They greet the attendants as though they are private butlers or even friends (do you ask your friends to serve you drinks and arrange taxis around town?) and we are forced to listen to their plans for the weekend, or in-depth consultations over what is going to be offered in the spread that evening.

Then there are executives on business away from loved ones. Voices carry well in these hushed sanctuaries, and there’s no hiding from – or hushing – an Englishman booming cheerfully over Skype to his teenage son on the other side of the world.  It’s not that one is eavesdropping – it’s that you have no choice. It’s a Friday morning and the executive would rather be home for the weekend. Well, me too. But meanwhile he finds out about the computer program the boy’s been trying to code for a school project; how he’s getting along with his friends, and whether his mother is going to come to the phone at all. The son, presumably, is aware that his dad still hasn’t bought any headphones for his iPad, and that his own voice is being broadcast to a dozen or more strangers in a hotel in Asia. Perhaps that’s why he sounds so distant…

In China, the Club lounge is used like another office, so here we have the boss summoning local factory managers to the lounge at XYZ hotel in Jiangsu or Guangdong province. The subject of the inquisition tends to revolve around a quantity of material missing in the delivery, or the wrong panelling, or flimsier finishing than that specified in the plans. “Our customers in Dusseldorf and Munich are very upset – this is unacceptable. Now… explain to me again why this happened?”

And, of course, there are also those who use the lounge as an extension of their room. In Singapore, two American women swan in breezily to breakfast in their active wear (most club lounges have a dress code, but little did they care). As their forks stab their grapefruit, they summon one of the lounge staff:  “We want a list of the finest… no, better even than that… the top, the most high-class restaurants in town. Only the best… we want a table for six. Thank you, have a nice day.” An hour later they have transformed into boardroom garb that would’ve made Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada look like she wore charity-shop castoffs. You can’t blame the staff for being confused.

Despite the sterling efforts of lounge staff from the welcome reception to the cooks and friendly servers, there is palpable tension whenever business is mixed with leisure. Put yourself at ease by staying in your room to work, read or catch up on
that HBO series. Mind you, I tried that but fell into relapse – club lounge dramas are
far more gripping than what cable TV has to offer!

By Martin Donovan