Archive for the ‘business’ Category

Where to do business in Budapest?

April 22, 2009
View of Parliament from Castle Hill on the Buda side

View of Parliament from Castle Hill on the Buda side of the Danube

I’m just back from a trip to Hungary‘s capital Budapest, checking out hotels for ttgluxury. I visited several fine hotels in the city, different in style but they all had things in common: they’re all finding the current climate a challenge, and consequently offering excellent rates and deals. And, they all to varying degrees have business traffic as a significant part of revenue.

Budapest is a 2.5 hour flight from the UK. We flew with national carrier Malev from Gatwick (from £87.70 inc taxes, business class £341.70 ). Business class gets you the Aviance lounge at Gatwick and the comfortable Malev lounge at Budapest airport, with bar, nice snacks and free Wifi − plus friendly, attentive service onboard and rather palatable Hungarian bubbly.

The city is actually two – Buda and Pest, joined by name but split by the mighty river Danube, on its 2,850km route from Germany to the Black Sea.

Budapest is a dazzling showcase of architectural styles, from Baroque to Bauhaus via Arts Nouveau and Deco. Some buildings are meticulously restored, others crumbling and pocked with bullet holes from the 1956 uprising.

Museum of Fine Arts

Museum of Fine Arts

There’s plenty to keep delegates entertained when not working: river cruises, traditional thermal spas, countless world-class museums, a busy year-round cultural programme, great walks and cycle rides and buzzing night life. Find out more here

InterContinental

InterContinental

With its brand-new executive Club lounge facilities and vast conference floor with multiple layout options, the 400-room InterContinental is the obvious choice for corporates. The 1960s block is no architectural gem but is in a beautiful spot right on the banks of the Danube in the heart of the city with wonderful views.

Another modern five-star option is the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, with state-of-the art conference facilities and separate reception for 450 delegates. When I visited, a gleaming S-class Mercedes stood centre-stage in the lobby, to demonstrate how the hotel can incorporate promotional events such as car launches.

There’s also the stunningly palatial Boscolo New York Palace, and for smaller events (80 capacity theatre-style) the Bauhaus-style boutique Andrassy Hotel. The Andrassy’s location among most of the city’s embassies and close to several corporate headquarters ensures a steady flow of business traffic.

For exclusive and memorable events, the landmark, exquisitely restored Art Nouveau Four Seasons Gresham Palace says business traffic makes a small but significant portion of its revenue.

Four Seasons Gresham Palace

Four Seasons Gresham Palace

Make your meeting a gastronomic event

February 1, 2009

A good spot to meet up for business and pleasure: Le Pont de la Tour, in the lively Shad Thames area, with views of Tower Bridge and over the river to the City. pont-de-la-tour

 

Just visited for lunch and to meet up with head chef  Lee Bennett – a Yorkshire lad with a stellar CV, which includes lengthly stints in Paris and at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants in London and Dubai.

 

The food was memorable and delicious – more of that later. First the business: meetings can be hosted in the atmospheric brick-vaulted wine cellar – private in the evenings when it’s not serving as the wine shop; and the Salon Prive, which can hold up to 22 and features a laptop-compatible wide plasma screen. They can arrange menus from simpler table d’hote lunches to multi-course tasting menu feasts.

 

We sampled a mouth-watering range from the a la carte: we started with a quirky seafood platter − frothy lobster bisque with a hint of Pernod served in an espresso cup, fresh raw scallop briefly marinated in tangy citrus juice, a three-layer chilli prawn cocktail topped with watercress mousse, oyster en gelee, native potted crab with dill butter…

 

Then a mid-course of John Dory in a rich saffron squid broth, followed by some meltingly tender lamb shoulder with haricot beans in a rich jus, creamy risotto topped with oxtail… there were two of us sharing this by the way − before accusations of ‘fat bastard’ start flying…

 

Well OK, there was pudding as well: forced rhubarb with bavarois cream topped with strawberry ‘cloud’ and fragrant Rosemary shortbread,  an aromatic basil and mint ice cream… Yes we were pretty stuffed.

 

The restaurant has had a clean, crisp revamp and shed some of its pompous old-school Parisienne image, with less eye-watering prices – though as it’s still an iconic London venue and couldn’t be described as cheap.  

 

Definitely worth considering as a distinctive place to do business, just a river crossing away from the tumult of the City.

2009 set to be a big year for Vilnius

January 2, 2009

Happy new Year to Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius. The city celebrated the start of its year as European Capital of Culture 2009 with an extravaganza of music, theatrics, lights and fireworks. Vilnius is also celebrating its millennium: the first time the city is mentioned is in chronicles from the year 1009.


I visited Vilnius last year on a Baltics press trip hosted by Reval Hotels, to write a feature for ttgbusiness


vilnius1

I’d not been to the region before, I think I was expecting some sort of grim, grey hangover from the soviet era.


What I found was an immaculately restored, Unesco world heritage site, packed with beautiful architecture and fascinating history, and brimming with optimism and confidence.


The Hotel Lietuva was symbolic of this new confidence: the 22-story tower was the old, KGB-bugged soviet Intourist hotel − now totally revamped into a slick, modern property with cool Scandinavian décor and state-of-the-art conference facilities.


The country has enthusiastically embraced the EU in its eagerness to cast off the shackles of its hulking neighbour. Initially it suffered a major brain drain as many of its bright youngsters fled to all points in western Europe. But people say there’s now a steady trickle back.


The excellent tourist guides are full of fascinating tales, from ancient empires through to Nazi horrors, then KGB antics and Cold War paranoia. But they are more keen to talk about Lithuania’s bright future, rather than dwell on the past.


Of course in the current economic climate, the country’s immediate future is as uncertain as everywhere else. But Vilnius is definitely a destination to watch.


Happy new year everyone.

Living it Taj: back in business

December 18, 2008

It’s heartening to see the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai announcing that it will be reopening on Sunday (December 21). This seems a remarkably quick feat given the amount of damage to the hotel we saw on TV during those appalling terrorist attacks.

I hope it’s equally disheartening for the terrorists to see such a determined return to “business as usual”. 

In the words of the Taj homepage: “You will feel the buzz of business as usual and experience hospitality that is quintessentially Taj.” taj-exotica-maldives27

OK, there’s a dash of PR cliché, but I think I can agree there is something “quintessential” about these hotels. I’ve stayed in two of them, the Taj West End in Bangalore and the Taj Exotica in the Maldives. Very different – the West End is a business hotel in the heart of a global commercial hub, while the Exotica is a romantic hideaway resort on a tiny Indian Ocean atoll.

If you missed them, here’s the Maldives and India (Golden Chariot train journey) stories for ttgluxury: http://www.ttgluxury.com/

In both properties I found the staff and management – how to describe? I don’t know, beyond the usual exquisite Asian levels of service, they’re sophisticated, intelligent, without too much fuss.

Bangalore’s West End with its tranquil pools and tropical gardens is a calm oasis in the crazy tumult of this full-throttle city.

The Exotica in the Maldives is… well, OK, the picture you see is my snap of the sun rising over the aircraft carrier-sized infinity pool on my presidential water villa. But that doesn’t mean I’m totally biased.

Now, you may think an impoverished travel journo is easily taken in by a bit of five-star hospitality. But most writers have been around long enough to distinguish between quality service and bullshit and bling. In fact anyone who’s bought a surly, crap coffee for the wrong side of £5 in London, Paris or anywhere else will understand.

Anyway, good luck to the Taj for its fast-track reopening on Sunday. And when you’re next inviting those freeloading ladies and gentlemen of the press to sample your wares, bugger the firebombs – I’ll be there.

 

 

MPI gets into the Christmas spirit at the Mermaid

December 8, 2008

Just attended the MPI (Meeting Professionals International) Christmas dinner at the Mermaid conference centre overlooking the Thames.

From there I could see our offices (Ludgate House) on the southside of the river, bathed in winter sunlight – which was nice for me because I could almost see colleagues slaving away at their desks while we enjoyed Prosecco, psychic magicians and wonderful Indian food (a great alternative to turkey and trimmings).

Sponsored by Reval Hotels and Downs Racecourse, it was a gathering of M&E buyers, planners and suppliers from around the world.

If this sounds serious – it wasn’t! Good food, crap jokes (mainly from the crackers), ESPA goodies and lots of laughs. The party is still going strong as I totter over Blackfriars bridge to write this…

Pictures and more to follow, watch this space…

Islanda in the sun

December 4, 2008

Thailand: it seems the travel industry – along with many other sectors – could be on the road to recovery with the airport siege being resolved. But business has already has already taken a massive hit, running into millions a day since the siege started.

So anybody doing business in southeast Asia – think about this little gem as an incentive/meetings venue with a difference. The Islanda resort is utterly charming and the perfect place for some “blue sky” thinking.

Islanda Resort, Koh Klang, Krabi

Islanda Resort, Koh Klang, Krabi

A five minute long-tail boat ride from the mainland town of Krabi, the island of Koh Klang is a step back in time: buffalo standing in vivid green rice fields, and no cars – the largest vehicle on the island is the resort’s ornate tuk tuk. Alarmingly young children whizz around expertly riding motorbikes.

The resort is blissfully peaceful and has a conference room which can host up to 50 delegates. The large infinity pool is definitely the place to recharge between brainstorming sessions.

A few minutes away on the mainland, the Maritime Park & Spa Resort, owned by the same group, has a convention centre which can host up to 1,000 – and its conveniently close to Krabi airport.

Perhaps a creative events organiser could use the little sister resort on the island as an exotic and exclusive breakout room?

Meeting in Phuket: more conference/events news from Thailand here

Shangri La refugees, part 2

December 1, 2008
This morning we met our host at the Shangri La, Rosemarie Wee, area director of communications.

She told us the political situation in Thailand was causing a significant blow for the group: the Shangri La in Chiang Mai was due be official host of the 2008 ASEAN Summit, with hundreds of politico/economic VVIP attendees from across the region. It’s now been postponed.

This high-profile event is The Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ annual meeting discussing the region’s economic and cultural development. Global strategic and security issues are also covered.

Shangri La refugees

December 1, 2008

Ok, so here’s how we escaped from Thailand. Our wonderful hosts at the Pakasai resort in Krabi, arranged a minibus to take us to the town of Hat Yai. We left at 6.30am, driving like the clappers in the pouring rain.

Arrived at Hat Yai with 10 minutes to spare, and board our coach for the long journey south. The border was horrendous – both chaotic and slow – queuing for the best part of three hours to exit Thailand. Then all over again to enter Malaysia (this time quicker).

Foreigners swapped war stories about the Escape from Bangkok, out doing each other with convoluted journeys.

Then the long journey through the rainy night to KL. But several hours in, comes good news via Blackberry – we’re being hosted at the utterly gorgeous Shangri La.

So after about 18hrs of gruelling travel, we shed our skins and swap our grime for five-star bliss!

Escape to Malaysia

November 29, 2008

Bangkok airport siege day 4: We’ve now hatched a plan to travel down to Malaysia by road and catch a flight from Kuala Lumpur.

The situation is as deadlocked as ever with both sides deeply entrenched, and the army seemingly unwilling to do the PM’s bidding and get heavy with the protestors.

The staff and management here at the Pakasai resort in Krabi have been incredible, helping in every way, including booking our flights from KL and tomorrow driving us the four hours to the border to meet our coach – everything done with friendliness and good humour. All those clichés about Thai hospitality are true.

The tourist trade is being hit heavily, to the tune of millions of dollars a day. Visiting the Maritime Park & Spa Resort today, the owner, Khun Pimrapee (who owns four resorts including this place) told me occupancy at the Maritime is booked for around 80% – but it’s currently under 30%.

There are an estimated 100,000 people stranded in Bangkok.

Bangkok blues

November 27, 2008
Krabi, Thailand: We’re meant to be flying to Bangkok tomorrow (Friday) to connect with an Eva Air flight to London.
Everyone’s watching and waiting as the stalemate at Bangkok airport drags on: prime minister, protesters and army holding their positions.
Saw it first on the news on Wednesday morning – then nothing this morning: the hotel’s only English-language news station CNN has not mentioned Thailand since the ghastly events in Mumbai unfolded.

The news websites are highlighting how PAD’s airport blockade is damaging Thailand’s “vital” tourist industry.

The resorts here are working round the clock to keep on top of events: incoming guests are cancelling because their flights haven’t arrived, outgoers are staying longer because they can’t get home.

Apart from this, it’s hard to imagine anything’s wrong with the world – in the Pakasai resort set in lush rainforest gardens, its rooftop pool overlooking the Andaman sea, life goes goes on its languid pleasurable way.

But the people working here are saying that for the tourism industry, on the long hard-working road to recovery after the tsunami, this is the last thing they need.