Mark Jones: The last place you want to be – the hotel business centre


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The Independent Travel

The hotel tour is one of the small inconveniences of the travel professional's life. For 30 minutes you trudge in a group from floor to floor, room to room, trying to think of something polite to say. ("And here is the bedside table." "Yes … it is.")

But even those rudimentary manners fail when you get to the business centre. The best your eager guide can hope for from the group is a sulky silence and a few unsubtle looks in the direction of the bar. There are specialist magazines devoted to conferences and incentives. If you don't work for one, you wonder why 15 non-recoverable minutes of your life have been spent inspecting flipcharts and lecterns. And the carpets are always awful.

I'm always mildly surprised that hotels want to show us their business centres. In their shoes, I'd try to hush them up. You're transported from the glam and gloss of the lobby to a subterranean cell where blameless men and women are sentenced to endless days of weak coffee, PowerPoint presentations, doodling, action points and excruciating team-building games. Yet the hotel sales and marketing people seem inordinately proud of them.

But in fact it's not so hard to see why. They love their business centres because they get much-needed revenue from them on a wet winter Tuesday, and because they get to exploit space they can't credibly use for something nice, like a restaurant or a bar. That's why so many of these rooms are underground. The people who design conference facilities all seem to have read the same textbook that says: "To perform effectively, business people need to be denied natural light. They should be seated in two lines facing one another. Avoid paintings, comfortable furniture or anything that might distract them or, even worse, stimulate the imagination."

I work for a company where away days and conferences are an occupational necessity. Despite the bad press these events – known as "boondoggles" in the US – get, I'm a believer: some of the most notable breakthroughs we've had as a business have been on these supposed jollies. (We've also experienced some of our most toe-curling moments, usually at the hands of certain executive coaches.)

So we go to hotels. Some of the more enlightened places have open, creatively designed spaces that actually help you think. Gold stars here to The Grove in Hertfordshire, Coworth Park in Berkshire and almost any property in the Hotel du Vin chain.

But now we've given up on business and conference facilities. Instead, we grab a suite for the day instead. You get natural light, soft furnishings, a view – and you can always import your own flipchart.

Mark Jones is editorial director of British Airways' 'High Life' and Best Western's 'Do Not Disturb' magazines