Travellers increasingly are finding no reason to leave their plush hotel lounges, writes Tamara Thiessen.
'I have not put my nose outside the door for three days,” says French businessman Patrick Benoist, cocooned with his laptop, vin rouge and camembert at a window table of what could be a glamorous Parisian lounge bar.
The Horizon Club in the Shangri-La hotel in Kuala Lumpur is a hotel version of something like the famously chilled Buddha Bar in Paris's 8th arrondissement, with white marble floors and ebony walls, plum velvet lounges and cream padded chairs, quartzite bars and plasma screens.
Those here for work do not really appear to be working in the lounge's well-designed spaces for mingling, doing discrete business, conversation or solo lounging; and those here for a break in KL may never see much of the city.
After a million-dollar "re-imaging", the Horizon Club is at the vanguard of a trend by luxury hotels turning their executive lounges into elegant, exclusive living rooms with extravagant pampering and impeccable service.
Those staying in the Shangri-La's premium rooms gain immediate entry to the club, with lavish spreads of food laid on several times a day and facilities including wireless internet, work stations, boardrooms, reading rooms and smoking rooms. Other guests can pay a supplement to gain access to the club.
At cocktail hour every evening, a smartly dressed crowd makes a meal of the mini quiches, European cheeses, sushi and salads and tucks into the bottomless supply of spirits, Australian and South American wines and alcohol-free cocktails.
Unbridled indulgence is vital to please an increasingly discerning clientele in a competitive market, says Rosemarie Wee, the area communications director of Shangri-La hotels in KL.
It's hardly a surprise that some travellers, like Benoist, remain in these lounges for days: eating, drinking and reading, conducting business, listening to music, watching DVDs and meeting friends and strangers.
“The quality is way above the norm,” says the Frenchman, who believes the 200 ringgit ($70) a day club supplement is good value. “I have not eaten lunch or dinner outside once – I live in a closed circuit, even conducting meetings here, so I can justify it to [my] company as I will not be claiming any other expenses.”
Benoist thinks the Shangri-La in Beijing is equally impressive – “worth every cent for the price-quality difference between its club rooms and a standard room at the Westin or Sheraton".
From the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco to the Sheraton Stockholm, luxury hotel clubs are being revamped and flagging themselves as "hotels within hotels" and "private oases". Hotels including the Hilton, Intercontinental, Marriott and Sheraton are seeking to provide premium guests with exclusive retreats combining excellent food and innovative interior design with exclusivity and personalised service.
"Enhanced services" are the buzzwords at the Hilton executive lounges. From Amsterdam to Hilton on Park Lane and London Metropole, the hotels are upgrading food and beverages, lighting and art works in their lounges to create "an even more exclusive experience".
The most common complaint about executive lounges, such as London's Renaissance Chancery Court and the Marriott Park Lane, is that you have to pay for alcohol. Others, such as the Club Intercontinental in Cologne, have Laurent-Perrier corks popping all day.
The New York Palace is rated one of the top executive lounges in the world. “You get the same concierge-level service as you do at some of the Marriott lounges but this lounge is the real deal with great views and it just keeps rolling out the treats from dawn until sunset,” says Dave, a guest from Malibu at New York Palace in Manhattan.
Treats for club guests come in many forms. At Sydney's Shangri-La, the Hilton Paris Arc de Triomphe and New York Palace, for example, the continuous canapes and aperitifs are capped off by the best views in the house.
I have a habit of becoming something of a hotel-room recluse, so a revamped lounge allows me to step into a crowd easily and socialise while also enjoying some of life's little luxuries. Benoist agrees. “If I was in a hotel room normally I would die of ennui as I have nothing else to do other than work on my computer – here there is no shortage of divertissements and pleasures to help me along with my work,” he says.