HM checks in to three luxury boutique hotels in London’s fashionable Knightsbridge to discover that the outlook is positive for 2013 – just what the doctor ordered after a year that couldn’t have been any bigger. By James Wilkinson in London
Boutique hotels in the heart of London are expecting a strong 2013, boosted by a solid second half finish to 2012 and increased interest in the British Capital in the wake of the successful hosting of the Olympic Games last year.
In Knightsbridge – an affluent area normally known for its world-renowned department stores, car showrooms and tailors – boutique hotels have been setting up shop and for two of the newcomers, 2012 proved to be the ideal time to open.
At the Bulgari Hotel and Residences London, one that opened just prior to the Olympic Games, the news on 2013 is all good.
“The property is performing extremely well and at higher occupancy than anticipated,” Bulgari Hotel and Residences London General Manager, Sylvain F. Ercoli, told HM. “Within the first six months of opening we were thrilled to be among the first five hotels in the marketplace.”
Does Ercoli credit the strong performance to the Olympics? Not entirely.
“London as a city has always had, and continues to enjoy, incredible attraction so it is hard to link that with events such as the Olympic Games,” he said. “However there is no doubt that the Olympic Games and other prestigious events such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee further influenced the occupancy of London’s luxury hotels.”
He said the London Olympics met expectations from a performance perspective, however, the hotel’s prominent brand and luxury location are two main reasons why the hotel is enjoying a successful first 12 months.
“Location is definitely a strong selling point,” he said. “The hotel is a jewel in the prestigious area of Knightsbridge.”
The 85-room property’s design, Ercoli said, was also a major factor for the hotel’s guests.
“The design, by Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel and Partners, and the incredible attention to detail, also lends a unique quality, which is often commented on,” he said.
There’s also the service, which given Bulgari’s luxury standing in the retail space, means guest expectations are going to be high.
“Visitors of the hotel always comment on the people who welcome them and the impeccable standards of service offered throughout a stay… [alongside] the stunning Bulgari Spa, the generous space of the rooms and suites and the comfort,” Ercoli said.
Australian travellers, he said, were a growing market for the hotel thanks to a strong Australian Dollar that’s seen London become more affordable than ever before, particularly with luxury hotels.
“We see more and more visitors from the Australian market,” he said. “We have been lucky to have some great publicity on the hotel over there and as such people are intrigued.”
A strong Aussie influx is also being reported at fellow under-12 month old boutique hotel No.11 Cadogan Gardens, a property located in a former members club near Sloane Square at the south end of Knightsbridge.
“We are certainly seeing an increase in Australian visitors as the Aussie Dollar is at an all time high,” No.11 Cadogan Gardens’ General Manager, Soliman Khaddour, told HM.
“Historically London was seen as an expensive place to visit, but now it’s become a reasonably priced destination for Australians.”
The 54-room No.11 Cadogan Gardens is proving popular for its range of quaint accommodation which stretches up to four, one-bedroom Mews Suites which come complete with a garage, something ideal for both the international and domestic markets alike.
It’s the design of the rooms that many guests take a shining to, Khaddour said.
“Built on the former cricket grounds of Buckingham Palace, No.11 Cadogan Gardens is a tranquil and elegant boutique hotel,” he said. “But behind the classic Victorian façade, No.11 Cadogan Gardens has a distinctly eclectic style with a sophisticated finish of unassuming luxury.”
That eclectic style certainly seems to be winning many guests over.
“Guests love the décor of our fashionable five-star property which is overflowing with character and charm,” Khaddour said. “And we also receive praise for our award-winning Concierge and the warm and friendly reception from the front of house staff.”
He said business is good at the inn and the Olympics helped ensure, like Bulgari, a solid first 12 months will be recorded.
“There has been a definite increase in the number of tourists visiting London since the Olympics,” he said. “It really put the ‘Great’ back in Great Britain.”
Expectations are high for a strong 2013, particularly thanks, he said, to the hotel’s membership with Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH).
“The hotel is running at high occupancy and since becoming a member of SLH, the number of overseas guests staying at the hotel has risen substantially,” Khaddour said.
“We are incredibly proud to be a member of this prestigious collection, encompassing some of the most exclusive properties in the world. We are forecasting an excellent first half of the year in 2013 in both the business and tourism sectors.”
Over at fellow SLH-member property The Levin, also located in Knightsbridge and next to popular department store Harrods, the forecast for 2013 is also positive.
Owner David Levin, who also has neighbouring hotel The Capital in his portfolio, told HM that 2012 was a challenging year, but it was so far so good for 2013.
“We [still] ended the year with an 80 per cent room occupancy and an increase of 15 per cent on room rates,” he said. “We would normally expect 85/88 per cent and with the Olympics, we certainly should have achieved that.
“2013 will be good as I feel that the publicity gained by the Olympics will stimulate new business… so I am very hopeful that we will have a good, but not exceptional, year.”
The Capital has been in Levin’s hands since the early 1970s and in that time he has built a strong following and not simply because of his location.
When HM asked him what makes his properties so unique in his opinion, he said that was “an easy one to answer”.
“Because I built and opened The Capital in early 1971, we have earned a very strong and loyal clientele having the same porters for many years and few changes of staff in other departments,” Levin said.
“Also over the last 40 years we have always had a great reputation for our restaurant. Nathan Outlaw is now cooking here and he is a two-Michelin starred Chef.
“And finally our position in Knightsbridge, 50 meters from Harrods store puts us in a very enviable position.”
Having been in the hotel business for so long, what’s the key to success in such a strong and challenging market like London then?
“Consistency,” Levin said. “We have lots and lots of clients who say to me and members of staff, that they feel The Capital is their home away from home.”
HM flew to London with Virgin Atlantic. Virgin flies to London via Hong Kong and the author recommends flying in Upper Class (Business Class), which features fully flat-bed seats, hundreds of hours’ entertainment on demand, a very good selection of food and wine, plus a cocktail bar, complete with stools. For bookings, visit www.virginatlantic.com