Right in the very heart of any city – London in particular – is probably not the first place one thinks of when ‘affordable accommodation’ is mentioned. But with the opening of Premier Inn’s new, technology-focussed ‘hub’ hotels in the English and Scottish capitals over the last 12 months, that is now a distinct reality.
Invited to take a look around the Westminster, St. James’ Park property earlier this year, which had opened in the October of 2016, I walk through the rather unassuming entrance and am instantly faced with a very impressive digital display complete with locale information and guest guidelines which makes up part of the check-in process for guests.
And this marks the very heart of this new concept from Premier Inn; tapping into the app-driven travel culture. With an app already downloaded, guests can use it to book a room, to check-in, get recommendations on things to see, do, eat and drink in the surrounding area – and ultimately limiting interaction with staff.
Speaking to Toby Wait of project management company TowerEight during my visit, he tells me how much travelling (for business or pleasure) has changed and continues to change. “The way apps have revolutionised our daily lives, it was only a matter of time before it became the norm in the hospitality world,” he says.
While there is no restaurant as such, the hotel does boast a lounge next to the lobby. This is a great concept – being seen more and more in economy-driven properties – with free coffee, tea and pastries all day and complimentary ‘light bites’ offered after 5pm, as well as other drinks available for purchase; it’s a modern, well-designed and well-appointed place for breakfast or evening networking drinks.
The rooms themselves, which come in ‘Standard’ and ‘Bigger’ sizes are also an excellent example of modernity and inch-perfect use of space. The white and olive-green colour scheme is tasteful and keeps the rooms feeling light and airy. A strategically positioned mirror adds to the illusion of space.
The aforementioned app allows guests to control room temperature, lights, change TV channels and take advantage of an in-room ‘augmented reality experience’ – all very clever, but for the less technically adept, there is also a perfectly functional touch screen to perform those tasks by the bed. Providing both UK and European power sockets is another thoughtful extra – meaning that guests are covered should they forget their adaptors.
Due to the size of rooms, it is to be expected that storage space is at a premium, which for couples using a ‘Standard’ room might be a bit of an issue. But for solo travellers or those who pack light, the architects have made use of some clever solutions to optimise space. Plus, this is central London after all. Bathrooms are, again, ‘cosy’ but have everything a guest will need for a short stay.
A recent Telegraph Travel survey found that technology-focused hotels are becoming increasingly common and popular with travellers; with the findings showing that 42 percent of UK guests preferring to operate a room’s lighting, air conditioning and television via a display instead of using a separate remote control or switch.
With that in mind, Whitbread and TowerEight have tapped perfectly into this sector in the market with the ‘Hub’ concept. With seven London properties (including the Westminster, St. James’ hotel) and two in Edinburgh, the concept lives up to its promise and delivers both superb locations and a staggeringly competitive room-rate. In London, especially, that is a rare combination and one that I expect will only become more and more popular…
Based on a visit in January 2017
Photos: Whitbread PLC // Daniel Fountain