by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua & Chief Marketing Officer, SITE
April heat in London
T.S. Eliot’s famous line that it’s “the cruelest month” might be the saying most associated with April but My Dad also had a great one: “April – in like a lion, out like a lamb”. I thought of my Dad’s expression when I touched down in Heathrow and, upon deplaning, was assailed by heat more usual in Lusaka than London. April’s weather skittishness was obviously alive and well as London baked under 30 degrees of heat – for at least a few April days!
I was back in London for the #MeetGB promotion followed quickly by another sojourn to moderate a debate about commissions, organised by SITE GB. Our opening presentation for the #MeetGB educational sessions was a brief canter through “What’s happening these days in Business Events”. One of the trends that @Supergreybeard and I highlighted concerned destinations and how, on the one hand, there’s a definite, discernible rise in high profile, mega-cities while, on the other, there’s an equal and opposite focus on unknown, hidden gem locations.
London & Great Britain: Cities & Nations
Explaining this mega-cities trend, I questioned whether New York, London and Shanghai had more in common with each other than with their respective “host” nations the United States, Great Britain and China, I further asked whether the future of destination marketing might crystallise around mega-cities. After all London, New York and Shanghai would always outperform other destinations with better access, better infrastructure and, of course, bigger budgets to create demand and tell their story.
@Supergreybeard countered this by reference to the dramatic rise in 2nd and 3rd tier destinations driven by a changing zeitgeist that favours the undiscovered, little known, off-the-beaten-path locations where you can access local experiences and immerse yourself in neighbourhood “authenticity”. This strongly emerging trend is bringing welcome new group and incentive business to places like Nashville, Bratislava, Slovenia and Belfast, amongst others.
Both / And NOT Either / Or
But, of course, the two are not mutually exclusive at all. New York, after all, is scarcely homogeneous with 5 very distinct neighbourhoods or boroughs, all with its own colour and personality. Yesterday’s dilapidation can often become the very foundation of today’s appeal and Brooklyn, in particular, once off limits for any corporate activity, is now first choice for the creative industries who are natural early adopters of alternative locations … and the edgier, the better!
London, too, has many faces and this past week I experienced two of them as different from each other as Dublin is from Dubai, Berlin from Barcelona, Sydney from Shanghai. The #MeetGB was hosted at Hilton Bankside, a deceptively large property with wonderful meeting facilities. Located along the Southbank, this hotel takes its interior cues from its surroundings and, in particular, its proximity to the Tate Modern, the iconic art museum that occupies a huge plaza between Blackfriars and Southwark bridges.
London 1 – Hilton Bankside
Hilton Bankside – an no insult intended to Hilton – has far more in common with up and coming independent hotel brands like Citizen M and the Hoxton than with other Hiltons across London. If Hilton is mainstream like Ed Sheerin, then Hilton Bankside is indie like the Shins. The massive graffiti panels mounted prominently on the wall of the arrival canopy sets the tone for a hotel experience with buzzy lobbies, distressed wood and shared bamboo bicycles.
Guest rooms are accessed via spacious light filled corridors with impactful art pieces and a reassuringly plain colour palate. The guest rooms are contemporary with beech wood accents throughout for warmth and restfulness. This is designer-led, upscale chic and as far from bland as Nile Rogers is from his namesake Kenny.
London 2 – The Dorchester, Park Lane
Across the river, meanwhile, on Park Lane facing Hyde Park you have another, totally different London. Mayfair is an old money haven of period residences, private banks and upscale automotive dealers. The very air you breathe there spells discretion and luxury is an ingrained habit not an vague aspiration. Some of London’s best known iconic hotels are there including that majestic behemoth, Grosvenor House. New kids on the block include a very dishy Four Seasons, Park Lane.
I was at The Dorchester and, for one night only, got to experience a hotel at the zenith of elegance, refinement and sheer class, delivering perfect hospitality since 1931. Legacy hotels like The Dorchester come heavily pregnant with expectation but, a bit like Hilton Bankside, my expectations were not met. I imagined a fussy, slightly condescending hotel with a battalion of over-solicitous, ultra-polite associates moving in an opulent, luxurious setting, the air thick with conspicuous prosperity. I found, instead, an intuitive, light touch approach delivered with genuine sincerity by liberated associates not fearful of colouring outside the lines of a SOP manual. Expectation shattered, experience exhilarating!
Purpose built as a grand hotel in the early 1930s, The Dorchester is a significant piece of real estate on Park Lane with 250 guest rooms and, most surprisingly, almost 1600 sqm of meetings and banqueting space. Besides the food and beverage outlets controlled by its executive chef, The Dorchester boasts a 3 star Michelin restaurant under the baton of Alain Ducasse and the stunning China Tang, a basement level authentic art deco space with a cozy gin bar and multiple private dining rooms.
The guest room count at The Dorchester includes 50 suites of varying sizes but the entry level room comes in a generous 38 square metres, decidedly over-sized for an property in a tier one global city. The rooms are magnificently appointed and set out behind heavy mahogany doors around a marble tiled vestibule separating the light filled bathrooms from the sleeping quarters. Beds are dressed opulently with high thread count linen and duvets that make you think you’re sleeping in a cloud. Perhaps surprisingly, the in-room technology is as up-to-date as a newly built luxury property in Las Vegas.
Event spaces at The Dorchester are far more extensive than one might imagine and give the hotel a competitive edge when it comes to high end incentive groups seeking that rare combination of individual and group facilities. There are 10 distinct events spaces at The Dorchester including a magnificent ballroom seating 500 diners and an outdoor terrace, added in 1950, that gives you the London skyline as the backdrop to your cocktail party.
The Promenade, arguably The Dorchester’s most recherché location, does 5 daily seatings for afternoon tea. At different times of the year the tea experience is themed to suit the mood of the city with ballet performers gracing its hallowed hall during London’s ballet festival. For the Chelsea Flower Festival, it works the other way around with The Promenade re-created at the festival site.
London – a tale of many cities
London is indeed a tale of many cities, its eclectic neighbourhoods and personality-led boroughs ensuring you never have to visit the same city twice. Bankside or Mayfair? Hard to say, it’ll always depend on who you are and what you want from your experience. For groups and incentives both are perfect solution in a truly world class city.
Pádraic Gilligan, Patrick M Delaney & Aoife McCrum are SoolNua. We help destinations, hotels and venues with strategy, marketing and training for the Business Events sector.