Small hotel equals big numbers

Since 11 September London has seen large numbers of holidaymakers from America cancelling bookings. Those still travelling to the capital are opting for smaller venues in a bid to find less "prominent" accommodation. The winners are the growing number of town-house hotels.

Since 11 September London has seen large numbers of holidaymakers from America cancelling bookings. Those still travelling to the capital are opting for smaller venues in a bid to find less "prominent" accommodation. The winners are the growing number of town-house hotels.

Nigel Massey of the Massey Partnership, which handles public relations for a number of London hotels, says the smaller town-house venues are recording 80 per cent occupancy, compared to bigger establishments, such as the Savoy and the Dorchester, which are seeing occupancy rates of around 10 per cent less. The town-house concept isn't new. Before the Gulf War (which also brought a drop in US tourists) two people, David Naylor-Leyland and Christina Ong, who were behind the Egerton (1990) and the Halkin (1991) respectively, recognised a demand for a smaller, more intimate style of hotel.

The Cranley (10-12 Bina Gardens, South Kensington, London, SW5; 020-7373 0123, www.thecranley.co.uk) is a 38-room town house that mixes Victorian and contemporary decor. It is reporting a steady rise in American guests in the past few weeks, after the initial post-11 September decline. Guests often say they feel less exposed and more comfortable in an intimate boutique-style property compared with large chain hotels in high-profile locations.

This feeling is echoed by several other town houses, such as the Franklin (28 Egerton Gardens, Knightsbridge, London, SW3; 020-7584 5533, www.franklinhotel. co.uk). The general manager, Duncan Couper, says: "The whole point of town-house hotels is that they create a home away from home. Because of the current world crisis, people have started to opt for small and more intimate hotels."

Susan Burns agrees. She is the managing director of Parkes Hotel (41 Beaufort Gardens, London, SW3, 020-7581 9944), which opened in 1984 and was taken over by its management in 1994. Parkes, in a tree-lined Victorian square 100m from Harrods, has 33 suites, each individually decorated. Burns says: "There are far more people looking for something different, whether they are modern travellers or seasoned veterans. We are benefiting from word-of-mouth recommendation and the fact that people regard Parkes as a home away from home."

A discreet, low profile hotel offering the highest levels of comfort is always going to be attractive, whatever the world situation, says Tom Orchard, the resident manager of the Halkin, (5 Halkin Street, London SW1X; 020-7333 1000, www.halkin. co.uk). But it's not cheap; the Halkin will quote you from £295 to £375 for a room and from £450 to £995 for a suite. That's a lot of money, however striking the decor.

Orchard says the Halkin is doing as well now as it was before 11 September, and he attributes this to its reputation for personal service. Of course, it's easier to build a closer relationship between staff and guests in a smaller hotel. In the meantime, it's comforting to know that things seem to be improving, if only for a select section of the hotel market. Duncan Couper says: "Obviously there will always be a place for the big hotels, but I imagine people will start staying in the small hotels more because they get more back from the experience."

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