London has always been a world-class destination, but its hotels have often fallen behind, especially in the 1990s and 2000s, as new American hotel chains rapidly expanded and design-minded resorts in Asia perennially raised the bar on service. South America, Africa and Oceania also saw unprecedented growth. London was a place to escape from, not to escape to; rooms with views were reserved for Paris and Tuscany.
But how the times changed. As London prepared for two back-to-back mega events last year, the Queen’s Jubilee and the Summer Olympics, its hotel sector began to make some notable strides, the likes of which are still dazzling visitors. The new generation of hotels, all of which opened between 2011 and 2013, include the work of three starchitects—Renzo Piano (Shangri-La), David Chipperfield (Café Royal) and Sir Norman Foster (ME London), while big-name designers (Kit Kemp, Tara Bernerd, Anouska Hempel, David Collins), chefs (Nobu Matsuhisa) and hoteliers (Ian Schrager) also got in on the action.
“This is an exceptional period for hotel openings in London,” says Darren Gearing, vice president and general manager of the Shangri-La. “The announcement of the Olympic Games back in 2005 was a catalyst for new development, renovations and hotel conversions. There has been exponential growth, particularly in the luxury sector away from the traditional areas of Park Lane and Knightsbridge.”
That sentiment echoes throughout the hospitality world. “London has one of the best collections of luxury hotels in the world today,” says John Stauss, general manager and regional vice president of Four Seasons Hotel London Park Lane. “After the Olympics we are left with a legacy of wonderful memories and the satisfaction in knowing that London as a destination did a great job creating a front-of-mind awareness for global travelers.”
But will all this competitive one-upmanship affect the traveler and hotel rates, which remain some of the world’s highest? “This year and beyond will not necessarily be easy for the luxury sector in London,” reminds Gearing. “With the increased room inventory there will be more competition for market share. London continues to be one of the world’s favorite destinations, and with increased global awareness and an improving infrastructure, hotels who provide outstanding service in beautiful and memorable surroundings will naturally thrive.”
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