As the nature of business evolves, hotel business centres are following suit diversifying to other parts of the property and offering more to help get the deal done, says Rebecca Lo

If there was a poster child for today’s business hotel, it would be Courtyard by Marriott in Shatin. Opened in March 2013, the 539-room property with interiors courtesy of Hong Kong’s Perception Design is conveniently located near the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Science Park, two complexes that have the potential to keep it consistently occupied.

Its business centre is an open, self-service area off the main lobby. One side consists of several flatscreen Apple Macs in semi-private stations, while a serpentine bench is outfitted with sockets for guests to recharge handheld devices. A bar off to the other side provides refreshments.

On the other side of the concierge, a GoBoard – Marriott’s one-stop self-serve information hub – lets people check flight details, breaking international news and recommended restaurants in the area.

A 515 square metre ballroom on the level above can be subdivided into three units and accommodates up to 28 tables of 12 laid out banquet style – it is already proving to be a popular venue for weddings and MICE events. On the top floor, its executive lounge contains soft seating for groups of two to six, three additional Mac stations, a boardroom to seat 10 that can be booked for private meetings and a staffed reception area that will attend to guest needs.

Wrap around full height glass walls offer views overlooking the green mountains of Ma On Sha and the Shatin racetrack.

Courtyard Shatin shows that the business centre is no longer a bunch of meeting rooms staffed with secretaries and equipment. With technology shrinking, allowing people to become more mobile, guests are now working everywhere and in more casual environments.

They are also doing more for themselves. CEOs and chairmen may still have assistants to help stem piles of administrative tasks, but many are perfectly happy to whip off their own emails on smart phones.

And while some of the more conservative industries still require enclosed rooms, suits and ties for doing deals, many in creative and technology industries are comfortable with signing on the bottom line in cafes, lounges and other informal settings.

 

‘Anything, anywhere and everywhere’

“We are no longer building huge business centres,” admits Byron Wong, head of design and regional director of technical services for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group (MOHG). “Instead, we bring the services available in business centres to our guests. The location of a business centre then becomes irrelevant, as its services are anything, anywhere and everywhere.”

Unlike many other operators, MOHG does not have an executive floor with an executive lounge. Instead, guests pay a premium to use the club lounge and have the option to stay in any of the rooms throughout the hotel.

“There is a higher level of service in our club lounges,” says Wong. “Depending on the individual property, we offer at least two meeting rooms that guest can reserve. In Tokyo, for example, the meeting rooms are situated elsewhere in the property.”

Tom Schmidt is an architect who has been working on the operational side of hotels for decades, repositioning, adapting and renovating them to suit owners and operators’ latest agendas. He feels that people work better in more casual environments, and that the traditional business centre is now a waste of real estate as they are often under utilised.

“The best type of business centre for me is an open lounge or workstation,” he says. “It could have sliding panels or glass walls for privacy but it shouldn’t be cut off from public areas. With labour costs continually rising, business centres are now often combined with the reception, administrative offices or executive lounges and share staff.

“Meeting rooms are geared for hourly use and are more flexible. For impromptu meetings with less than an hour’s notice, guests will go to executive or lobby lounges. They don’t necessarily need a lot of privacy but want the interaction of other people and some F&B service.”

When in China’s capital, Schmidt makes use of the lobby lounge at Langham Place Beijing Capital Airport.

“It works well because there are a lot of nooks and crannies for checking emails or [holding] an informal meeting,” he says. “It’s close to the bar and offers some high communal tables. It’s a good set up for solo business travellers.”

He believes that in major cities across Asia, the trend is for shrinking business centres – with the exception of mainland China. “There, you will still find secretaries typing for executives,” he notes. “The business centre is really a box for hotels to tick off so that they can get a certain domestic star rating.”

He feels that a way forward is for voice and optical character recognition software to help out ‘old school’ executives who rely on their secretaries in order to work more independently. This allows them to dictate letters or hand write documents that are converted into soft files.

Other gadgets more prevalent in hotel business areas are high quality printers and scanners along with fast, reliable Wi-Fi.

“Plug and play with universal sockets are also the way to go – it avoids people having to muck around with adapters,” Schmidt says.

“Screens should be sizeable and flat; touch screen table tops may become more popular if their prices go down. And in fabrication centres such as Guangzhou, 3D printers let manufacturers quickly produce a prototype of any new idea even from halfway around the world – although I don’t know of any hotel right now that can afford it.”

 

Rethinking space

Workspring, a furniture and partition solution by American manufacturer Steelcase, has been in installed in Marriott Redmond Town Center and is a way to rethink how people work today with flexible spaces for groups and individuals to do their jobs more efficiently.

Although global roll out is far in the future, it gives food for thought to the traditional American business centre model. In the recently open Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou, Tony Chi has devised a multi-functional meeting table that consists of two overlapping circles of different heights for working, dining or anything else they may fancy in the privacy of the guestroom.

“People don’t want to work in an office type of environment,” says Wong. “In Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, our lobby is small but we find that people meet in the facilities throughout the hotel, such as the Clipper Lounge or Café Causette. Guests use the entire hotel as their place to entertain – whether for business or pleasure.”