Once again London is remaking itself. The self-deemed Millennium City is undergoing a huge development boom, fueled in part by millennium celebration projects such as the Millennium Dome and the Millennium Wheel, but certainly much broader than that. A boom in hotel development includes the expansion of the Hilton Metropole, formerly the Stakis Hotel. (The Stakis chain was bought by Hilton International, and those hotels are being rebranded Hiltons. Hilton International is spending millions in acquisitions to become the largest hotel operator in the U.K.) By October, the hotel will be the largest convention hotel in Europe, featuring 1,073 guest rooms and 37 meeting rooms, with a theater-style capacity of 1,900 in the largest, which features 44,000 square feet of pillar-free function space.
Other new hotels in 1999 include the Four Season Hotel Canary Wharf, Ian Schrager's 204-room St. Martin's Lane, and the 390-room Marriott Heathrow. The 200-room London Marriott Hotel, County Hall, opened in 1998 on the city's South Bank by Westminster Bridge. Featuring outstanding views across the River Thames to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the hotel was the home of the former Greater London Council. A huge spa, with 25-meter pool, and the 150-seat County Hall Restaurant (excellent oyster and seafood bar) are just a few amenities at this well-sited hotel.
Mady Keup, head of the London Convention Bureau, estimates that about 4,500 hotel rooms are currently under construction within the city, with planning permission given for another 12,944. With more and larger hotels, association business is increasingly important, she says. Indeed, the American Bar Association will hold its annual meeting in London this summer, a large event utilizing a total of 76 London hotels.
And there is no shortage of new and unusual special event venues for meeting organizers, especially on the lively South Bank, where planners will find the newly restored Shakespeare Globe Theatre (with private function rooms for small groups); the new wing of the Tate Gallery; and Vinopolis, an elegant, newly opened museum of wine with exceptional purpose-built venues for banquets and meetings, the largest of which accommodates up to 650 people for banquets and 1,300 for receptions.
Virgin Atlantic was our host airline into and out of Heathrow and Gatwick airports in England. Virgin's new Upper Class service includes drive-through check-in at Heathrow and Gatwick. The clubhouses at these airports feature massage, haircuts, and manicures. Upper Class cabin redesign includes a sleek sit-down bar; a new cuisine and wine service, with cooked-to-order meals; plus onboard massage. With treatment like this, passengers may not want to disembark.