The suite life

Why an upgrade to a hotel suite is becoming ever more attractive for the frequent business traveller, as Business Traveller Asia-Pacific’s Michael Allen finds.

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Why shell out for a spacious suite when you stay at a hotel, rather than just staying in a more budget-friendly standard guestroom? Different travellers have different reasons, but the consensus among frequent business travellers is that a standard room often does not quite provide everything you need to smoothly and seamlessly conduct your business when on a trip.

Indeed, trying to conduct your business in too small a room can sometimes lead to embarrassing misunderstandings, as experienced by Business Traveller Forum user Nick Inkster, a UK-based retiree who worked in the hospitality business in CEO roles, during a Canadian hotel stay around the turn of the millennium.

“In Montreal years ago – can’t remember which hotel – I had a colleague come to my suite for a very early conference call. Room service arrived with coffee, croissants etc, and the server, whilst placing the tray on the dining room table, said ‘Good morning, gentlemen, I trust you slept well’. We had both slept well, just not on the same floor of the hotel!”

Such cheek-reddening incidents aside, the Business Traveller readership seems to broadly agree that if you can get a suite for a decent price – or upgrade to one using points from a loyalty programme – it’s often worth it.

“Would I upgrade to one? That would depend entirely on the premium I have to pay and my requirements on that trip – whether I need to invite people into my room or hold meetings etc. However, if the cost is only marginal, I would not think twice,” says Ahmad Attaur Rehman, a barrister who lives in Islamabad and BT Forum user.

ALL SHAPES AND SIZES

Not all suites are created equal. The so-called Grand Suite at Oootopia West, a co-living property in famously space-constrained Hong Kong, clocks in at just under 14.5m2 – much smaller than the average standard hotel room. So, suites come in all shapes and sizes, from the ultra-luxurious to the minimalist and practical. Price points, of course, tend to correlate to the level of luxury you can expect.

Indisputably at the ultra-luxury end is the newly-refurbished Raffles Hotel in Singapore, an iconic property first opened in 1887 that’s probably most famous for creating the Singapore Sling cocktail. It’s an all-suite property with nine categories of suite, and six of the 115 suites have been designated as Residence Suites exclusively for long-stay guests. The hotel says these guests tend to be CEOs and ambassadors in need of a swanky residence when relocating to the Lion City.

“We are an all-suite hotel and all our suites have the same set-up of having their own parlour-slash-living room, followed by the bedroom and bathroom. As soon as you go in, you have your parlour that you can actually make private by closing all the doors and windows into the bedroom – and that space is big enough to host a meeting for three to four people very comfortably,” says hotel manager Chadi Chemaly. “All our suites have the shared veranda, which is also a great space. All through the hotel, you have small corners and spaces of which many are exclusively for residents.”

The daily rate at Raffles Hotel (including a limousine transfer) starts from $764 for a midweek stay in an entry-level 58m2 Courtyard Suite King (in early- December). Whilst many would consider laying down that much cash worth it for a residence at one of Singapore’s most coveted and storied addresses, business travel these days often comes with strict budgets. For a more modest – yet still comfortable and practical – suite stay, Hong Kong’s Harbour Grand Kowloon might offer a good solution for more budget-conscious business travellers.

At the start of August, the hotel, set beside Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong’s Whampoa district, opened 360 new guestrooms (including 100 suites) in its Tower. The hotel’s total room inventory will reach 967 by the middle of next year, including 216 suites.

Of the six room types in the new Tower, four of these are suites, including the Tower Superior Cityview (51m2), Tower Superior Harbourview (41-47m2), Tower Premium Harbourview (56-57m2) and Tower Premium Cityview (52- 58m2).

I stayed in a Tower Premium Harbourview suite at the start of November. My stay was fantastic, but I would not describe the suite as the height of luxury compared with other properties I’ve seen in the Asia-Pacific region. However, it was extremely well appointed, with brand-new furnishings and practical amenities that would definitely make any business traveller’s stay more convenient.

You could even catch a glimpse – albeit a rather distant one – of the city’s Symphony of Lights show that sees several skyscrapers along Victoria light up at 20h00 every night and is a favourite of tourists, who flock to the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront to watch it.

Victor Chan, general manager of Harbour Grand Kowloon, says his intention was not to make the suites “ultra-luxurious or excessive”. Rather, he and his team wanted to design them at a reasonable price point, whilst providing all the amenities necessary to ensure a comfortable and convenient stay for both business and leisure travellers.

Chan says Harbour Grand Kowloon has listened to its customers and the suites were designed based on customer feedback, rather than looking at what other hotels are doing.

“This hotel has been around for 20-plus years. We have a good base of regular customers who have given us feedback. That is more important than looking at other hotels’ suite features and trying to copy them,” he says. “The in-room sockets are very handy – which is something that people always look for. The first thing they do in a hotel room is plug in their USB, be it by the bedside or the writing desk.”

With ultra-luxury suites, hotels cannot afford to omit anything a guest might expect to find in the room. In order to offer a suite at a good price point, Chan says therewere some features the hotel did away with because they are not strictly necessary.

“We could quite easily have included an in-room mini-bar,” he says. “But we don’t really see the point of that. Our in-room dining is offered 24 hours a day, around the clock – mini-bars are something which I believe more and more hotels are doing away with.”

MADE FOR MEETINGS

The priority of business travellers is to get work done in the most efficient manner possible – whether that be hunkering over spreadsheets or entertaining clients and business associates.

“I often hold meetings in hotels and prefer the privacy of a suite in which to hold them. So, for me, it’s essential the suite can be divided with a closing door. I don’t want guests looking into my bedroom, especially if housekeeping hasn’t got round to cleaning it when I have a very early morning meeting,” says “LuganoPirate”, a user of Business Traveller’s online forum.

Business travellers may also be keen to take advantage of the “bleisure” trend – the fine art of mixing business and leisure when travelling – and its increasing acceptance amongst employers.

Jean-Philippe Jacopin, general manager of Orchard Hotel Singapore, understands that trend well. He says it’s important for business travellers to have separation between sleeping and the living areas in their accommodation.

“Business travellers staying at our Premier Suite with their families can host business meetings in the comfort of the suite’s living room, while their families relax in private in the fully-partitioned bedroom. The two separate entrances are also useful for this function,” he says.

However, mixing kids with business does carry some risk and guests may wish to warn their children in advance not to enter the working area of the suite and interrupt mummy or daddy’s meeting or phone call. You may remember that in 2017 Professor Robert Kelly was explaining South Korean politics live on the BBC over video link when his two young children barged in – instantly making him a viral social media sensation.

Another area that business travellers like to keep separate in their suites is their own personal bathroom. Fortunately, many suites – though not all – offer a guest washroom. However, guest bathroom etiquette seems to be lost on some people.

“I remember staying at the Lanesborough in London once, where I had three meetings but only the one bathroom,” says LuganoPirate. “On each occasion my guests nicked some of the toiletries, and the last one to leave took the whole lot. I was quite embarrassed having to ask housekeeping each time to come back and replenish them.”

Once your formal business meetings are over, that same suite space can also be used for a more personal kind of entertaining, suggests one hot-blooded Business Traveller reader!

“A separate dining area, with a nice table and service entrance, along with mood lighting and built-in speakers, could turn a heavy day’s business into a ‘Barryof what guests consume and what they don’t.

“With the turndown amenities, we need to be on brand. We try to avoid any low-class, calorie-full items. If you’re serving something in the luxury way, we need to check if it’s chocolate, not cheap chocolate from the supermarket; it’s high-quality dark chocolate,” he says. “With our fruit platters, not all guests like to eat all types of fruit. Our butlers will understand what the guests’ habits and preferences are. If we notice on the first night that the guests really like bananas, we will add extra bananas.”

Whilst bowls of fruit are a pretty universal welcome gift, some hotels like to shake things up a bit and offer their suite guests something unique to the local culture. For example, at Conrad Guangzhou, which has 62 suites in four different sizes, guests get a daily savoury Chinese welcome soup served in a beautiful painted lacquer container inspired by the traditional food basket.

“Normally, guests arrive in the rooms around 15h00 to 16h00. A cup of soup is a benefit for them before they join the dinner outside or in the hotel,” says general manager Ken Chow.

ENDURING POPULARITY

The majority of hotel guests stay in suites as a luxury upgrade from a standard room. However, a select few seem to love staying in suites so much that they try to book them on a more permanent basis – think the CEOs and ambassadors moving to Singapore who set up residence in the Raffles.

Sometimes guests even try more unorthodox methods of establishing semi-permanent residency in a suite.

“I recently had a long-time customer who has an office here in the neighbouring office block, but he also wanted an office in the hotel and wanted the furniture moved to make it into an office,” says Chan of Harbour Grand Kowloon. “We found that a bit unusual, but it’s something we can accommodate. Though as a permanent office use – that’s not encouraged.”