It's the south bank of the Thames, not the Himalayas. But the view should be great, anyway.
When the Shangri-La hotel opens next month on 18 floors of the tallest building in Western Europe, it will be an attempt to bring Asian-style accommodations to business travellers in a Western financial capital.
A Shangri-La hotel lobby can verge on sensory overload, with chandeliers of softly chiming crystals, and carpets and tapestries that depict images reminiscent of the paradise described in the James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon, from which the Asia-based hotel chain takes its name.
Then there's the signature Shangri-La scent: a fresh, flowery essence at once clean, exotic and comforting.
Those flourishes will be evident when a Shangri-La opens in London on May 6. As the chain heads deeper into Europe, after openings in Istanbul and Paris in recent years, Shangri-La is landing in London, but not in the affluent areas of Kensington or Hyde Park already flush with five-star hotels. Instead, it will be in the Shard skyscraper near London Bridge, making it the first five-star skyscraper hotel to open south of the Thames River - and the city's first skyscraper hotel.
The hotel's presence in the Shard, a tower designed by architect Renzo Piano, could prove to be this Shangri-La's biggest selling point. The Shard, which opened last June, has offices below the hotel and apartments above it, and the building is topped by a public viewing deck that has become a major tourist attraction.
Positioned on Floors 34 to 52 in of the 72-floor building, the London Shangri-La resembles many of the hotel's Asian properties. Founded in 1971 in Hong Kong and known across Asia as the ultimate homegrown luxury hotel brand - more than 50 locations in mainland China alone - many of its high-rise hotels are valued for their location above the urban clamor.
"In the Middle East and Asia we are used to having hotels at the top or middle of a building, but this is the first luxury elevated hotel in Western Europe," Darren Gearing, the London hotel's general manager, said during a recent interview in the newly opened coffee shop on the ground floor.
"The guest goes in at the ground level and is ushered into one of two elevators, and all of a sudden, 28 seconds later, they're 125 metres in the air and they've got the London skyline."
Shangri-La remains unknown to many Western business travellers. Its only properties in the Americas are in Vancouver and Toronto. The other 110 properties are scattered around Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, from Mongolia to Australia to Oman. The company plans to open 10 more hotels this year and about 20 more through 2017 throughout China and elsewhere in Asia, while expanding into countries like Ghana, Qatar and Sri Lanka.
"When we look at Shangri-La, it reminds me of when Four Seasons Hotels was created in Canada about 30 years ago," said Stefan Fraenkel, a professor of hospitality at the École hôtelière de Lausanne, in Switzerland.
At first, nobody outside Canada knew about Four Seasons, Fraenkel said. "As a North American company, it was like 'Go west, young man,' as the company focused on Europe and North America," he said. "Today, with Shangri-La, it's 'Go east, young man.' And the two brands are very similar in that they're very focused on the individual.
"Shangri-La has a bit of the same DNA, in that it's trying to position itself into something in the industry we call 'the experience.' But it's more of an Asian experience."
The London hotel's crown on the 52nd floor will be the Gong, the highest bar in London, conceived by Hong Kong-based interior designer André Fu. On the same level will be a swimming pool, also the city's highest, and a 24-hour gym - although no spa, because of space limits.
The hotel's one restaurant, Ting, will serve three meals a day. The T lounge, with a view of London over St. Paul's Cathedral and westward, will serve Asian dishes in a bar atmosphere. The hotel will be one of the few Shangri-La properties without a Chinese restaurant, again because of a lack of space, Gearing said. But Asian food of many kinds will be available through room service.
"If someone has come in from Singapore and wants a bowl of wonton soup at midnight, they've got it," Gearing said.
Room sizes will range from just over 300 square feet to more than 2,000, or about 30 to 188 square meters; marble-clad bathrooms will have heated floors and mirrors with integrated television screens. Standard room rates will start at 450 pounds, or about A$809.31, a night, excluding breakfast. The Shangri-La suite, on the 39th floor and offering 180-degree views of the city, will go for £19,000 (A$34,170.34) a night.
All business offerings - including video conferencing and the three conference rooms - will be available 24 hours, as will at least one staff member who speaks Mandarin, in addition to numerous other languages spoken by the 300-person staff.
Tapping the London market is essential for Shangri-La, given that 10 per cent of its clientele worldwide is British. The company is expecting that corporate travellers will make up 40 per cent of its clientele at the London property.
"Since it's London, we know the leisure market will be strong, because our guests can walk to the Tower of London, the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe," Gearing said.
The usual Shangri-La offerings will be on hand: a welcome cup of tea, butler service in the hotel's 17 suites, free Wi-Fi in all rooms.
And then there's that ever-present fragrance - Essence of Shangri-La, which is piped into the ventilation system and is even bottled and sold on the company's website and in its gift shops. The company describes it as a mixture of vanilla, sandal, musk, bergamot and tea spiced with ginger. It's the fragrance that greets Shangri-La guests when they return from the humidity and heat of Bangkok or, with the new opening, the drizzle and crowds of London.
Or the boulevards of Paris. On a recent sunny April day in the French capital, the Asian touches were on display at the Shangri-La amid the quiet common areas of the former palace of the French imperial prince Roland Bonaparte, great-nephew of Napoleon.
"For me, the thing about Shangri-La that sells it every time is the size of the rooms and the little Asian touches that you can't find anywhere else," said Didit Ary Kurniawan, a resident of Jakarta, Indonesia, and a longtime Shangri-La customer who was visiting the Paris property for the third time.
"The smell is the same everywhere you go, and it's relaxing and a little exotic," Kurniawan said. "No other hotel chain that I stay in has that sense of comfort that comes so easily."
The New York Times