Just a couple of years ago, if you were anybody in the music, movies, media or modelling worlds you secured a room for your London stay in the trendy Metropolitan Hotel on Old Park Lane. Yes, you put up with the hotel's small, designer bathrooms, a legacy of its '70s origins, but you were able to rub shoulders with the producers and dot.com execs filling the rooms, languishing in the lobby over a latte, cramming into its got-to-be-seen Met Bar next door or snatching a bite of lunch in the minimalist and impossible-to-get-in Nobu restaurant upstairs.
The Donna Karan-clad doorman would find you a taxi in no time if you ever felt the need to venture outside this fashionable cocoon. And you might, because a six-strong team of guest-relations staff would get you into shops out of hours, into full restaurants, through the door of launch parties and record parties and into sell-out gigs. A lot of people wanted the type of guest staying at the Metropolitan to go to their event.
Top executives from Goldman Sachs, Columbia Pictures, Dreamworks and Sony were drawn to it, artists as diverse as Whitney Houston and Puff Daddy found a home in the Metropolitan and so did Kevin Roberts, the globetrotting CEO worldwide of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. What the Met did for its guests was shout a loud message about the sort of person they were, or at least the sort of image they wanted to convey to their peers: young, funky, laid-back, at the cutting edge.
More and more people out of very conservative occupations - such as politicians - are starting to enjoy this type of hotel. Who would have thought that the president of the German Bundesbank is a regular patron of the trendy Art Hotel Dresden, in Dresden? But nothing could alienate Sir Michael Bishop CBE, chairman of British Midland, more. Not for him the small, informal, minimalist, and less expensive, hotel. His preferred choice when in London is the Savoy on the Strand. This grand, fussy, traditional, big-feel hotel, with its acres of chintz, hallowed halls, array of restaurants and bars, whispered tones and stiff formality, suits the business he's in, meeting stuffy politicians, lobbyists and the like.
Sir Michael wants to be greeted with a 'Good morning, sir', rather than a 'Hi' from some callow youth dressed in designer black. If that's not your style, anonymity is virtually guaranteed in the big, cookie-cutter hotels, whereas the movers and shakers who book into the designer hotels want to be noticed.
Where you stay says a lot about you. And that can be an advantage and a disadvantage. Be too ostentatious in your choice of hotel and the potential buyer you're hoping will sign a contract over a genteel afternoon tea could take one look at the surroundings, conclude that the price is too high and end negotiations.
Conversely, stay in a basic, budget-priced hotel on the outskirts of town and you will lose all credibility with the agent you are trying to sell a range of luxury goods to. One 50-year-old Australian businessman staying at the Metropolitan for the first time jokingly remarked: 'We never felt so out of it in our suits. We needed to go out and buy a five-button jacket and a black T-shirt.'
Today, in case you're thinking of making a booking, those fickle Four Ms (music, movies, media and modelling) have migrated to two hotels that have stolen the Met's crown: the St Martin's Lane and Sanderson. Both are owned by Ian Schrager, the man who opened the first designer hotel, Morgans, in New York in 1982 and, later, its equally popular siblings.
It was the former Studio 54 nightclub owner's idea to couple up with designer Philippe Starck on the interiors, and a new genre of accommodation was born.
Choosing a hotel is an emotive issue. It's been likened to choosing a company car. Some executives have the choice taken away - a corporate decision has been made at HQ to consolidate all hotel bookings in one city into establishments that offer the best deal. But some employers have learnt not to take such a draconian approach with their highly prized top execs. Instead, they tackle the part of the travel budget that stings most: buying airline tickets. They go as far as dictating airline class of travel and even choice of airline, but woe betide them if they venture into the sensitive area of restricting where their executives stay.
Surveys bear out the fact that most execs deviate from company policy to do their own thing, resulting in higher travel costs for their employer.
The highest percentage that do so are British (75%), says the annual OAG (Official Airline Guides) Lifestyle Survey, which sampled more than 3,000 travellers from around the world who make an average of 20 business air trips each year.
Says Paul Reeve of specialist UK corporate hotel agency Hotelfile: 'Businessmen are only on a flight to continental Europe for a couple of hours, but they stay in a hotel for at least half a day, often more. So of course they want a say in where they're going to eat, sleep and drink.'
Kevin Roberts of Saatchi's has particular criteria for picking the hotels he stays in. And with a gruelling schedule that takes him travelling three weeks out of four from his Auckland base - the company has 160 offices in 91 countries - it's not surprising. Every month Roberts travels to at least four different places. He spends one week in New York, one in London, another in Auckland, and in the remaining week he visits other company offices.
The new breed of designer hotels generally fit the bill. 'It's got to have a big desk, two phone lines, a fax machine, a great bar and it must have a gym, otherwise you can gross out in this business,' he says. 'I work a lot better when I've exercised.' Roberts no longer stays in the Met - he's purchased an apartment instead - but books colleagues visiting London into Sanderson and St Martin's Lane. Elsewhere, he loves the Montalembert in Paris, Das Triest in Vienna and the clutch of Schrager properties across the US.
Unwritten rules help the unwary business exec make the right choice of accommodation. If you're travelling to anywhere in Asia, for example, it's essential to book into a better class of hotel, as doing business in Asia is inextricably linked with status. This is particularly the case in hierarchy-locked Japan, even since the recession.
The good news is that hotels in Asia have never been so inexpensive.
In all probability, you will be able to upgrade to a prestigious establishment without breaking your budget. Deluxe hotel groups such as Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La and Peninsula, which operate arguably the best hotels throughout Asia, are feeling the draught from the business downturn, and their hotel rates have never been more competitive.
If your business trip takes you to a city where your company does not have offices, the obvious choice is to book into the executive or club floor of a hotel. This is effectively a hotel-within-a-hotel and is run like a private club. It conveys status, certainly, but also gives you an instant working office.
The usual arrangement is that one or two floors of the hotel have been built with larger rooms or rooms with more or better amenities. These include somewhere to sit privately each morning for breakfast, a lounge and/or meeting room for use during the day, free afternoon tea and evening cocktails. Items such as daily newspapers and business weeklies and monthlies are on tap, so too is a workstation to utilise and someone to send faxes and the like without having to chase downstairs and queue up at the business centre. The Ritz-Carlton group of hotels have some of the most luxurious and clubby executive floors.
These extra facilities don't come free, but the all-inclusive, premium price you pay - usually between 10% and 40% above the official rack rate - represents great value for money. By the time you add the charge for breakfast, a drink at the bar, room service and the fee to rent a boardroom for half a day, you'll be quids in.
Female travellers in particular plump for executive floors, for both the added security and privacy they give. Often, access is arranged by use of a room key in the lift to stop it at the right floor. Booking into an all-suite hotel affords similar advantages for female execs wanting to have a meeting in their room without their colleague catching sight of the bed. It also avoids the cost of renting a boardroom if the meeting is for just two or three people.
Conrad Hilton's oft-used phrase 'location, location, location' - the three-in-one criterion by which a hotel should be chosen - has almost outlived its usefulness. Good hotels are everywhere nowadays: at airports, satellite business districts, financial districts and in good neighbourhoods and bad neighbourhoods (but who is brave enough to stay in downtown Johannesburg?).
If you're jetting into Amsterdam for a meeting, why waste more precious time getting downtown when a perfectly good meeting venue is under your nose? Airport hotels have undergone something of a renaissance as the airports turn themselves into 21st-century city centres. The smart business traveller lands at an airport and remains there, maximising his or her time by staying put and tapping into all the facilities now on offer within the airport environment. Today, you're more than likely to find exhibition centres, offices, business centres, conference halls, transit facilities, hotels and shopping malls within walking distance of airport terminal buildings, if not actually inside them.
If you have to leave really early in the morning it makes sense to stay at the airport the night before rather than battle your way there at four in the morning. And for continental or international sales meetings it makes sense to meet at an airport location.
Deyan Sudjic, author of The 100 Mile City, views airports as the new city square. 'The airport has become not just a gateway but a destination in its own right,' he says. He cites Los Angeles international airport as a surrogate downtown, with its main distributor road, an extension of Century Boulevard, one of the busiest pedestrian streets in the city.
Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, too, offers somewhere to sleep, get clothes pressed and do business, and somewhere to gamble, shop and occupy children.
Booking a hotel room at an airport need not be expensive, as they offer half-day rates. The 46-room Mercure Hotel at Schiphol's terminal offers day rates (between 10am and 7pm) for pounds 50; the Hilton Hotel at London's Heathrow airport, connected to Terminal 4 by a five-minute link bridge, has day rooms between the hours of 9am and 6pm for pounds 99; Sheraton's seven airport properties around Europe have daybreak rooms (available between 8am and 6pm) priced at half the overnight room rate; and at Hong Kong's futuristic airport, Chek Lap Kok, day use of the Regal Hotel's rooms and health club is available.
Take advantage of the spread of hotels in cities. Don't, for example, automatically choose a midtown Manhattan hotel when your business is in the financial district; there are great hotels in lower Manhattan, such as the Regent Wall Street and Soho Grand. The same goes for London, with the Great Eastern and Four Seasons Canary Wharf hotels.
Being umbilically linked to your office throughout your stay is now assumed.
Most hotels, from three-star houses to the deluxe, pride themselves on the number of telephone lines, modem points and fast, in-room internet access. There's no let-up for the 21st-century road warrior. Pacing yourself during foreign trips is therefore essential. Most business travellers believe themselves immune to jetlag and stress. Ego and status usually prevent them giving in to either, or admitting that their travel schedule is too much for them to manage.
Yet flying through time zones does negatively affect the circadian clock in our brain, which in turn controls our 24-hour rhythms. If we don't manage eight hours' sleep in any given daily cycle, we accumulate a sleep debt. This has been scientifically proved by Mark Rosekind of US-based Alertness Solutions, who highlights that we suffer from 20% more memory loss, five times the attention lapses, double the mood swings, 75% loss of vigilance, 50% in decision-making ability and 25% in reaction time.
Now, think again; do you really want to make a major decision when you're jetlagged?
< amsterdam="" pinstripe:="" hotel="" de="" l'europe="" -="" overlooking="" the="" river="" amstel,="" its="" classical="" grandeur="" and="" 19th-century="" paintings="" mix="" with="" modern="" comforts="" and="" digital="" sockets="" for="" mobile="" working.="" owned="" by="" the="" heinekens,="" it="" is="" close="" to="" the="" main="" rail="" station="" and="" is="" famous="" for="" its="" excelsior="" restaurant.="" royal="" dirt-digger="" kitty="" kelly="" is="" a="" guest.="" designer:="" blakes="" -="" owned="" by="" british="" designer="" anoushka="" hempel,="" partner="" of="" insurance="" mogul="" mark="" weinberg,="" it="" is="" the="" same="" kind="" of="" refined="" oasis="" as="" its="" london="" sister="" the="" hempel.="" liked="" by="" bankers="" and="" lawyers,="" it="" offers="" tinned="" o-pure="" oxygen="" (pounds="" 45),="" relaxing="" lotions="" and="" beluga="" caviar.="" its="" rooms="" are="" individually="" styled="" and="" arranged.="" off="" the="" rack:="" ambassade="" -="" made="" up="" from="" a="" cluster="" of="" houses="" -="" hence="" the="" warren="" of="" corridors="" -="" this="" hotel="" is="" in="" the="" elegant="" herengracht,="" with="" its="" beautiful="" canals,="" away="" from="" the="" red-light="" district.="" it="" serves="" only="" breakfast="" -="" a="" good="" excuse="" for="" eating="" out.="" reckon="" on="" pounds="" 225="" for="" two="" nights.="" you="" might="" spy="" john="" le="" carre="" or="" colin="" dexter.=""> BRUSSELS PINSTRIPE: THE AMIGO - When hotelier Sir Rocco Forte started on his comeback trail, he made this grand 183-room hotel his fourth acquisition (for pounds 16 million). Built in the Spanish Renaissance style and just a two-minute walk from the Grand Place, it is being refurbished but remains the preferred choice of top business people, opera stars and politicians. DESIGNER: THE CONRAD HILTON - Five-star luxury: oversized bedrooms, extravagant bathrooms and expensive even by Brussels standards (pounds 250+ a night). Ex-cabinet minister Jack Cunningham stayed at taxpayers' expense - to meet other Euro ministers. But it didn't keep 'Junket Jack' out of the firing line. OFF THE RACK: THE BRISTOL STEPHANIE - Next to the Conrad on the fashionable Avenue Louise, the Stephanie is attractive for its location and relatively decent rate of about pounds 170 for a standard room. A popular venue on the conference circuit, with an indoor pool (rare in Brussels), its 10th-floor suites are in the style of a Scandinavian chalet. > DUBLIN PINSTRIPE: THE MERRION o- An award-winning conversion from four Georgian houses in the centre of the capital, it is renowned for its cosy opulence. At up to pounds 600 a night it's not cheap, but the likes of Kofi Annan and Mo Mowlam have warmed their hands at the hotel's peat-burning fireplaces. DESIGNER: THE CLARENCE - Part-owned by Irish rockers U2 and situated in the ultra-hip Temple Bar area, this 46-room hotel has a cool-but-comfortable style, courtesy of Keith Hobbs, who also designed the Metropolitan. It's a big hit with media and music types. Tina Turner thinks it's simply the best. OFF THE RACK: MORGAN'S - With rooms from about pounds 100, this chic and minimalist hotel offers Temple Bar street-cred to those on a fairly modest budget. Jury's Inn is handy for the stock exchange and its basement pub is popular with executives from Bass. > FRANKFURT PINSTRIPE: THE FRANKFURTERHOF - A century-old institution in Germany's financial centre, its top rooms run up to pounds 500 a night. Some see the Frankfurterhof as a bit impersonal, but you will find the international banking elite here, including staff from the EU's 'glistening bank', the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. DESIGNER: THE HILTON - It speaks volumes for Frankfurt that its most fashionable hotel is the Hilton, even though it bears the stamp of a hotel chain. But this state-of-the-art glass tower (built in 1998) sits pleasantly in a park near the stock exchange. High-tech rooms, a health club and swimming pool help sell it. OFF THE RACK: THE MARITIM - Handy for the city's main conference centre and convenient for the airport, the Maritim is modern and comfortable but not strong on character. It is situated in the Darmstadt suburb, famous for its Jugendstil architecture. > LONDON PINSTRIPE: THE SAVOY - Supremely elegant and a contender for the world's most pukka hotel, the Savoy is popular with knights of the realm such as Lord Bell and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber; the DORCHESTER, less formal, is the choice of US business leaders like Andy Grove of Intel and Viacom's Sumner Redstone. DESIGNER: THE SANDERSON - Ian Schrager's hotel has taken over from the old favourite Metropolitan (haunt of Saatchi's Kevin Roberts) as the place to be seen. Regulars such as father-and-son fashion duo Nino and Julian Cerrutti enjoy its Philippe Starck furniture, trendy restaurant and good-looking staff. OFF THE RACK: THE ACADEMY - The Bloomsbury location isn't ideal for business but comes into its own after work, with Soho and West End theatres minutes away. Rates are reasonable, as indicated by its popularity among accountants from KPMG and PriceWaterhouse Coopers. > MILAN PINSTRIPE: PRINCIPE DE SAVOIE - With 257 rooms in the heart of the city (some of which have their own pool), this is a Grand Hotel in the traditional style. It's opulence and its proximity to the Monza racing circuit make it popular among the Formula One crowd. DESIGNER: THE FOUR SEASONS - A converted 15th-century monastery in the quadrilatero d'oro fashion district, it is frequented by the couture crowd at about pounds 300 a night and is home to Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, when she is in town. OFF THE RACK: THE REGENCY - A more modest pounds 85 will get a room in this relatively modern (well, 18th-century), attractive and comfortable hotel, but its suburban location is less prestigious and less convenient than a city-centre address. > NEW YORK PINSTRIPE: THE PIERRE - For seamless luxury, Salvador Dali's favourite is now the hothouse of the fashion crowd and a regular rendezvous for arty magazine editors and the likes of Chris Gent of Vodafone. Guests enjoy twice-daily maid service and afternoon coffee in the fresco'd Rotunda - all for dollars 480 (pounds 330) a night. DESIGNER: THE MERCER - A former Manhattan warehouse transformed by Andre Balazs into the place to hobnob with celebrities. The quieter place to lay your head, it attracts figures like Leonardo DiCaprio and John Rocha with its stylish decor and snazzy Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant. OFF THE RACK: WASHINGTON SQUARE - The haunt in the 1960s of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, this now-refurbished Greenwich Village hotel serves both Midtown and Wall Street. Rooms are modern (if not vast) and the century-old architecture in European style provides a comfortable setting for business. > PARIS PINSTRIPE: THE FOUR SEASONS and THE RITZ - These share the honours in Paris. At pounds 350 a night, the Four Seasons still attracts media moguls and software whizz-kids. The Ritz, made even more famous by Diana and Dodi, attracts everyone from the Spice Girls to Lord Hanson and execs from Goldman Sachs. DESIGNER: HOTEL COSTES - Designed by Jacques Garcia and owned by brothers Jean-Louis and Gilbert Costes, this chic hotel is where the beautiful people like to be seen. Film stars and supermodels are frequent guests, so it's a great place for celeb-spotting, especially during the Paris fashion shows. The Costes is so hip and expensive that it isn't even mentioned in most guide books - perfect for the publicity-shy. Fashionably situated on rue St-Honore. OFF THE RACK: HOLIDAY INN, PLACE DE LA REPUBLIQUE - The dependable Holiday Inn chain has been providing accommodation for nearly 50 years. One of several in central Paris, this is located in a historic building around a pleasant courtyard. Not an exciting choice, but for about pounds 70 a night you won't get any unpleasant surprises.
[QQ]BEFORE YOU CHECK IN ... A CHECKLIST
- Be kind to yourself and spend as much time organising the spread of appointments outside the 3-5pm body-clock 'low' as you make the travel arrangements.
- If you're Asia-bound, upgrade to a better hotel.
- Book into a hotel's executive or club floor to make use of a wide array of extra benefits and services.
- Female travellers should consider executive floors and/or all-suite hotels for added security.
- Research the price difference of renting an apartment over that of a long stay in a hotel; an apartment becomes viable for any stay lasting more than a week.
- Choose a hotel near where your business is.