Business Travel: Rooms with a different view

DESIGN IN BRITAIN: If the monotony of business-class accomodation is starting to get you down, Aoife O'Riordain may have the answer - the `boutique hotel'

YET ANOTHER identikit room in another dreary hotel - does that have to be the lot of the hardened business traveller? The monotony can leave you feeling there is no difference between London, Paris, Hamburg or anywhere else.

This perhaps explains why business travellers are welcoming the emergence of a new type of hotel, which has been christened the design or boutique hotel. While also catering for leisure use, they provide working visitors with more than just a fax machine and conference calling.

Malmaison is one example of the chic hotel. A rapidly growing chain, with hotels in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds, it has individually designed rooms, good service and French-style brasseries. From Monday to Thursday it is primarily inhabited by business travellers, with the leisure market making up most of the weekend trade.

A Malmaison spokesman said: "We don't do anything for the business traveller that we don't do for any other guest - the level of service is the same. What we do ensure - after extensive research, and as the majority of people travelling for work have laptops - is that there is a reasonable size desk in the room. There is also an express checkout, two business lines, a data port and up-to-the-minute technology so we can meet additional requests."

These sentiments are echoed by Mark Mullen, an investment banker based on the West Coast of America, who travels to Europe on average once a fortnight: "The main things I look for in a hotel are a good telephone system, a good, quiet location, and a king-size bed to alleviate jet-lag," he said. "I've stayed in a lot of overpriced hotels in London so now I tend to stay somewhere like One Aldwych. It's comfortable and has the added bonus of a gym, so I can keep up my routine. It's nice to know that you can at least try and unwind in pleasant surroundings that you would even enjoy coming to if it was not for work."

One Aldwych, named AA Hotel of the Year for 2000, takes a fastidious approach to customer service, asking all clients their opinions on departure. The hotel is in elegant, modern surroundings and its facilities include a 30-seat private screening room. Lucinda Buxton said: "We constantly appraise the way things are done.We keep in touch with our customers' needs and maintain a high level of personal service." With business travellers accounting for 65 per cent of hotel rooms during the week, the formula clearly works.

myhotel is another example of the changing attitudes to modern business travel. Opened in 1999 it targets younger, primarily media-based travellers who now make up about 80 per cent of its business. myhotel offers modern feng shuied bedrooms, 24-hour room service, a gym and a residents-only library with computer ports. Guests are given a "mypreference" questionnaire to fill in which is kept on file. On a return journey, your room awaits, complete with your preferred type of pillows and CDs.

These hotels try to provide home comforts away from home. They also aim to offer the business traveller more than CNN for comfort, with buzzing restaurants and bars more associated with leisure travel, and a greater level of service and attention to detail.

After all, which would your rather be doing after a long day's combat in the conference room? Sinking into an Alcantara sofa, nibbling a few choice canapes, or crying into your martini in a deserted cocktail bar?

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