views

Bang for your buck: what the world's best business hotels offer

BUSINESS hotels often promise the world, but they often disappoint. Small things like a slow internet connection, a restaurant that closes early or trouble getting hold of an iron can play havoc with your plans. To work, they have to get so many things right. Let’s face it, you’re only going to remember the one that went wrong. Can they really live up to their billing and – more importantly perhaps – their price? We put one, the Four Seasons in Canary Wharf, though its paces.

I arrived at 7.30pm with Helen – a steel market analyst friend who frequently travels around the world for work. Things started well. Moments after we arrived, the staff had memorised our names. The silky service continued throughout, and was discreet and accommodating.

The room was a two-room suite, steep at £700 per night, but thoughtfully constructed for someone there on business. The first room (with its own bathroom for guests) had a large table which would be handy for working with as many files as you like, sockets near by for laptops and a generous sofa area with a television, big enough for a meeting. It was an ideal working area – that is if you aren’t distracted by the stunning river view.

In the bedroom, the desk was large and faced the river. Nice touches included a US-UK adaptor for laptops (other types are at reception) and a jacuzzi-style bath. Logging onto the hotel’s wireless was straightforward, but it costs £15 for 24 hours. Some time soon business hotels really have to start offering the internet for free. Starbucks does it. Why can’t they?

Shortly after arrival, I headed down to the riverside Virgin Active to which hotel guests have free access (there is an in-house fitness centre too). It is a lovely exercise space: windowy bliss for someone fresh from a flight or a long day of meetings, with a range of spa pools, workout rooms and studios. I did some lengths in the infinity pool on the river’s edge. Running along the river would also be an option.

Returning to the room for a quick change, we headed down half an hour late for dinner at the somewhat clinical Quadrato. Despite our tardiness, they were happy to place us where we wanted, on the terrace. The menu was healthy and light – lots of proper salads and fish – and therefore ideal for those who eat out a lot and need to stay fit and alert. (Richer options are there too). We had salads: lobster with chicory, and teriyaki beef with pineapple and spinach, followed by something from Catch of the Day, in my case gigantic tiger prawns with spinach. Another smart touch with the food here is the “to go” menu. If you want breakfast or lunch but don’t have time to have it in the hotel you can choose something to be packed up and gobble it on the hop – a “brilliant idea” said Helen.

At the end of the meal, around 11pm, Helen needed something faxed to India. The fax lines in the business centre were closed, so the waiter took it to reception where it was taken care of and returned the next morning at breakfast in an
envelope.

This is a 24-hour operation, as it should be. The business centre (minus faxing) is open 24 hours. There is 24-hour clothes pressing and laundry and of course 24-hour room service. After dinner we’d asked for our coffee in the room and it was waiting for us with a plate of biscuits. At around midnight we requested another set of decaf Americanos and they appeared, presented just as promptly and pleasingly as the first lot. I also forgot my toothbrush and toothpaste so a dental kit was zipped up in no time.

Checking out the next morning, I saw a guest leave in a hurry, telling the receptionist he’d left his dry-cleaning on his bed but hadn’t time to put it in a bag or drop it off anywhere. As he dashed out the door, it was already being taken care of.

Our experience was impressive. Is it worth £700 a night? Best ask the boss.

Budget: Premier Inn
www.premierinn.com
Price per night at the time of writing: from £29

They’re not glamorous, true. But Premier Inns are clean, comfortable and perfectly fine for a business traveler on a tight budget. Designer toiletries there are not, but comfortable beds there are.

Business friendly amenities include large desks and wifi access in every room and reception can fax or print at any time. Over 100 hotels have meeting rooms with facilities. The group is introducing self check-in to speed up arrival.

Food: Not something you’d seek out but there if you need it. Hotels such as Corby have a Beefeater. Breakfast is only £7.50 or £5.50 for a Continental.

Best for: Those just after something cheap, cheerful and very good value.

Affordable Boutique: Malmasion
www.malmaison.com
Price per night for a standard room in Glasgow at the time of writing: £170

With 30 branches in the UK, these are four-star hotels just this side of boutique. The balance between character and efficiency is struck well, with tourists and business travellers favouring the somewhat manufactured quirkiness of the hotels and the above average, well-priced food and wine.
There's fast and free internet access, same-day laundry, toiletries that you're encouraged to take with you and morning, night and midnight roomservice.

Food: Locally sourced and well-made. Great wine at a good price. Mains, such as braised blade of beef or pan-fried arctic char (on the Newcastle menu) do not top £15.

Best for: Business people on a bit of a budget who still want style, character and comfort.

Five-Star Boutique: Rocco Forte
www.roccofortecollection.com
Price per night for a standard room at The Charles Hotel in Munich at the time of writing: €350

A collection of 11 individual hotels, each is full of luxurious character but equipped for business travellers with 24-hour business centres, spas and fitness centres, meeting rooms and wi-fi.

Not all hotels offer the same services, but look out for these, as offered at Hotel Amigo in Brussels: instant message delivery, same-day laundry service, free shoe-shine, full concierge service, valet parking and fast check-in and check-out.

Food: The hotel restaurants tend to be major attractions in themselves. The Albemarle at Brown’s in London is excellent; if you’re abroad, expect regional food with a posh twist. In Rome, for example, one main boasts nothing short of grilled veal with Roman broccoli.

Best for: Those who want more than the standard business travel experience and have the cash – or the rich boss – to back it up.

Luxury Corporate: Ritz Carlton
www.ritzcarlton.com
Price per night for a Deluxe Room at the Boston Common hotel at the time of writing: $475

One of the top dogs of luxury hospitality and the Four Seasons’ main competitor. To reap the benefits as a business traveller, you need to be in a Ritz Carlton Club room on the upper levels of the hotel: this will ensure you have a room with a fax machine and other amenities, and access to the lounge area with its numerous international newspapers and array of hot and cold food.

Food: Good chefs, seasonal ingredients and masses of choice provide a safe and happy bet. In the New York hotel, expect the likes of seared Hudson Valley fois gras and east coast halibut with cauliflower puree.

Best for: Those after well-executed, sometimes chintzy luxury in whatever major city they find themselves, kitted out for business travellers and tourists seeking the reliability of a big brand.

Sleek Corporate: Intercontinental
www.ichotelsgroup.com
Price per night for a King Shophouse room in Singapore at the time of writing: SGD380.00 (£164)

These are luxurious hotels, yes. But they are first and foremost, and boldly, business-friendly. Amenities include: courier service, 24-hour business centre, mobile phone rental, technical concierge, private limo, same-day dry cleaning and shoe shine. Travel services include a rental car desk, airline desk, travel agents and currency exchange.

Food: Sleek haute cuisine and excellent wine: at Cafe Paix in Paris, the whole menu changes every two weeks; there are “fashion desserts” designed by catwalk talents and the full American and Japanese breakfasts are renknowned.

Best for: Business travellers after a streamlined, productive visit in an elegant environment, with complex needs that need to be catered to expertly.