The great and the good of the world of successful and smaller brands of luxury hotels gathered in London 3-5 November 2017 for the first-ever meeting of the Global Hotel Alliance (GHA) held in the UK capital. CEOs came from as far west as Irving TX and as far east as Hong Kong, about 40 delegates in all, and I was extremely fortunate to be invited by GHA’s boss Chris Hartley (who had flown in from Dubai) to join the party for the first evening. Everyone checked in to Corinthia Hotel London and typically, with its MD now Thomas Kochs, there were goody bags with such essentials as umbrellas, hand cream and a superb local guidebook: Secret London: An Unusual Guide, by Rachel Howard and Bill Nash.
First on the evening’s program was a marvellous personal tour of the Houses of Parliament, given by a former Cabinet Minister and first female Speaker of the House of Lords, Baroness Hayman, GBE, PC – yes, networking is the way of life today, as we all know, and one of her four sons is a close friend of Chris Hartley. Lady Hayman is super, so warm and sharing, and she took us through the Lord Chancellor’s private apartment as well as both the tiny House of Lords chamber, which only has enough red leather seats for half the ennobled, and the green-leather House of Commons (loved the glass-covered gold stationery rack, which looked as if it had been borrowed from a Versace hotel).
Next came a 180-metre walk to the Red Lion, one of parliamentarians’ favourite watering-holes – there has been a drinking-place here, apparently, since 1434. We went downstairs, to the private Cabinet Room, where the bartender pulled whichever pint the thirsty hoteliers wanted. But the evening was only just starting; next came dinner in The Coral Reef Room, the private basement of Richard Caring’s phenomenally successful, and incredibly noisy, Sexy Fish restaurant. The Coral Reef Room, which is surrounded by fish tanks, was launched by Kosovan-born singer Rita Sahatçiu Ora, but tonight it was no less powerful. First, we were entertained by Sarah, Duchess of York, showing off her shoes, but, more seriously, explaining her highly commendable charity, Children in Crisis, and also sharing details of her new venture, tea from Rwanda.
The Duchess also handed out the first-ever GHA awards. From GHA’s now-35 brands, as Chris Hartley explained, best customer service is currently from Alila, with best loyalty performer being Minor’s multi-labels, and, overall, best performer is Kempinski, whose CEO Markus Semer collected his heavy glass prize against a backdrop of multicoloured fish. Finally, of course, came the food, an exquisite set six-course meal that started with yellowtail sashimi and a side of salt-and-pepper squid and culminated with a four-chocolate and praline fondant, and the Château Lassègue 2008 St-Emilion was superb. So, that was Friday, and after a too-short night at UltraTravel’s current best luxury hotel in the world, Corinthia Hotel London, there was a Saturday of meetings, hosted by Pat King, CEO of The Doyle Collection at that company’s The Marylebone Hotel. The day finished with a ‘GHA experience’ evening of Shakespeare, West End and dinner at Somerset House, built in 1547 by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, who was executed five years later. Another half-day of meetings followed, and, come Sunday afternoon, the CEOs, their minds full of ideas and enthusiasm, flew home, to California, Texas, Norway, Dubai, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, wherever.
I must point out, incidentally, that host hostelry, Corinthia Hotel London, knows how to do everything with style. As preamble to breakfast, for instance, it was essential to pay a visit to the gym, which of course is 24/7 and naturally has not only Technogym equipment, but the latest range, and lots of it – and, thoughtfully, Pilates balls and weights are hidden out of general sight, cocooned from the fray.
Now I have raved before about this hotel and I am sure I will do so again. Next month it celebrates five years and I asked Corinthia’s CEO Simon Naudi the secret. It was minutely planned before its opening, 3 December 2012. He worked with those who knew and executed the best, such as interior designer Terry McGinnity of GA International, and ESPA’s Sue Harmsworth on wellness. But, says Naudi now, every little detail has to be looked at afresh. He points to a china pot holding sugars, takes up the pot’s sugar tongs, explains that he has asked recently arrived Thomas Kochs, who is best known for his earlier spell at Claridge’s, to look again at every minutiae. I hope they do not change too much: outside every bedroom, for instance, a waist-high table sits in a recess, not protruding into the walkway but there to hold morning newspapers so much more elegantly than if they are put in a door-hung bag, or just placed on the floor.
Simon Naudi is going to change breakfast slightly. Yes, you will still enter Northall restaurant via the hotel’s florist – he is actually going to have florists put into public areas in all Corinthia hotels (why hide them away, he asks? This is the most colourful department of any hotel). But Northall is two big rooms, with a small lobby between, and right now the buffet is on the bar-counter top of the first room. It will be relocated to the rear room, which makes sense. Oh the buffet, it is superb, and, by international standards, excellent value at £35, including a selection of hot dishes. This includes lots of berries, and open bowls of yoghurts as well as designer-pots from the globally-renowned Ferme des Peupliers and an English craft-yoghurt, from Hot Jam Lady in Poole, on the South Coast.
Butter is in individual-portion greaseproof paper wraps (no plebeian ‘butter tubs’ here) and preserves jars are from The Wooden Spoon in Kent. Toast, made from really healthy bread, is brought in silver racks. The growing number of discerning Chinese at this luxury hotel find congee and dim sum on the buffet, and of course they, and anyone, can order from the pale turquoise leather-covered à la carte menu. This suggests brainpower dishes, say gluten-free quinoa porridge with flax seeds, linseed and coconut water – or go the opposite extreme, with Corinthia hot chocolate, with chocolate flakes, marshmallows, and, you guessed it, whipped cream. I am more impressed by one of the GHA delegates who is obviously an avo addict: from the menu, he chooses both avocado with his eggs and a side order of crushed Hass avocado on toasted sourdough. Yes, in today’s world every top hotel, wherever, has to be up-to-date.
Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com