With its unrivalled views over the capital, the £90m-plus Shangri-La hotel at the Shard has become one of London's most anticipated hotel openings for years. General manager Darren Gearing tells Janet Harmer why the hotel will soon become known for much more than its views
There was never any doubt that the launch of the UK's first elevated hotel within the tallest building in Western Europe was going to attract a great deal of interest. The opening of the £90m-plus Shangri-La hotel at the Shard on Tuesday (6 May) has already resulted in more than 350,000 enquiries for restaurant reservations over the next three months and bookings have been flooding in for the 202 bedrooms, at an average cost of £450 a night.
While many are eager to be one of the first to experience sleeping in rooms that appear to be almost floating over the capital, or to sit down to a meal and see up to 35 miles in every direction, general manager Darren Gearing is under no illusions that the hotel is going to have to offer a great deal more to encourage
customers and guests to come back.
"I firmly believe people will return because of our service levels, which are tied to Shangri- La's core values of sincerity, respect, courtesy, humility and helpfulness," he says. "These values are linked to the way we deal with fellow members of staff and our guests, as well as being supported by the experiences we provide for our customers."
a bottle of water with their towel; and anyone being collected from the airport can select the temperature and the music in their limousine, as well as being given the use of an iPad with free Wi-Fi while being transported to the hotel. These may appear to be minor touches, but they are consistent and help guests feel they are the focus of attention.
However, service aside, it is impossible to ignore the impact of the views and the location of the hotel, which spans levels 34 to 52 of the iconic building, which has swiftly become an integral part of the London vista.
The elevated position of the Shangri-La creates considerable challenges, not least the sharing of lifts, utilities, window cleaning and management of the perimeter of the property.
"We can't think of the hotel as a freestanding property where we are the master of our own domain," says Gearing. "The reality is that we are part of a city in the sky and have to be interdependent with our neighbours. It is nothing new for Shangri-La, however, as the company operates several elevated hotels in locations such as Beijing and Tokyo."
Enjoying what are the best views by some way of any London hotel will also provide a considerable challenge in managing visitors who just want to take snaps of the city from the hotel reception, rather than pay £29.95 fora ticket to visit the Shard's triple-level viewing platform between levels 69 and 72.
"We will be welcoming to everyone," says Gearing, diplomatically. "However, for the first three months, we shall offer tours of the hotel, twice a day at 11am and 4pm, to people who want to just come in and take a look around."
Numbers coming into the hotel will be controlled at the entrance lobby, located on the ground floor on St Thomas Street. Strict fire regulations for the Shard mean capacity numbers cannot be exceeded, so customers for the food and beverage outlets will be invited to have a drink in Lang, the ground-floor café-bar, if they arrive early. And it is for this reason that Gong, the highest bar in Europe on level 52, will operate a reservation policy from when it opens on 19 May, to keep its capacity within the limit of 90 covers.
Opening a hotel in London has been a strategic move for Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, which owns and manages more than 80 hotels under its luxury brand, predominately in the Far East but also with a presence in Australia, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. The company only recently established a presence in Europe, launching in Paris in 2010 and Istanbul last year.
For Gearing, the opening is the culmination of what, at times, have been two very challenging years. Originally due to launch in May 2013, the project was delayed when the main contractor,John Sisk & Son, was removed from the project and replaced by the Chorus Group.
Gearing returned to the UK in 2012 to oversee the hotel's opening, having spent 24 years overseas - 21 of which he worked for Shangri-La in Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore. Now, after the long gestation period of the London property, he is delighted with the forward bookings and believes that the opening of the hotel is a huge good news story for the rapidly improving London Bridge Quarter, the development that encompasses the Shard, the Place (a 17-storey office building), the train station and retail space.
While some doubts have been raised about how a luxury hotel like the Shangri-La will work in what was once regarded as a fringe district away from the capital's hotel hot spots of Park Lane and the West End, Gearing says this is a view that no longer applies.
"The change in the area around the Shard during the two years I have been here has been extraordinary. We are now a real destination in our own right, with Borough Market, Tate Modern, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London all on our doorstep.
"Not only is this a great leisure location, but it is also becoming a strong business district with around 50% of the commercial space in the Shard occupied by companies such as broadcaster Al Jazeera and investment bank Duff & Phelps.
"News International - owner of The Times and The Sunday Times - is moving into the Place next door later this year. This will be a wonderful boost for us, as will the completion of the redevelopment of London Bridge station." I
It has been a long time arriving, but Gearing, for one, is certain that the future is rosy for London's newest luxury hotel.
SHANGRI-LA HOTEL AT THE HARD FACTS AND FIGURES
Bedrooms 202 including 17 suites
General manager Darren Gearing
Executive chef Emil Minev
Director of sales and marketing Fiona Stilborn
Staff 270 with an additional 40 to be hired over the summer
Food and beverage Lang artisan pÁ¢tisserie, café and deli on the ground floor; Ting restaurant and lounge on level 35; and Gong Champagne and cocktail bar on level 52
Meetings and events Located on level 34, Ren provides reception space for 140 guests, Li can host a dinner for 30, and Yi is available for small receptions (20 covers) and dinners (10)
Leisure Infinity pool and 24-hour gym on level 52
The building The hotel has become the most high-profile occupant of the distinctive building, designed by architect Renzo Piano, which is intended to disappear into the air like "a 16th-century pinnacle or the mast top of a very tall ship".
Jointly owned by the state of Qatar and the Stellar Property Group, the building stands at 309.6m high. In addition to the hotel, it comprises the View from the Shard viewing gallery, 10 residences, three restaurants (Hutong, Oblix and Aqua Shard) and 600,000 sq ft of office space.
Hong Kong-based Steve Leung Design has created an understated interior with a nod to the Orient - a fundamental part of the Shangri-La brand DNA. It is both contemporary and comfortable, while allowing the view to be the star of the show.
Artworks from contemporary Chinese artists Chen Yu and Huang Zheng and British artists Sally Fawkes, Benjamin Storch and Peter Millard are featured in the ground floor entrance lobby. The first of a number of bespoke chandeliers - a key Shangri-La design statement - is found here, alongside one featuring Wedgewood teacups in the adjacent Lang pÁ¢tisserie.
After being whisked up to the 35th floor, guests arrive in the grey-marbled reception lobby, where surrounding floor-to-ceiling windows provide unrivalled views of the London landscape.
With a lack of distinct barriers between reception and the neighbouring Ting lounge and restaurant - to ensure guests can always enjoy an uninterrupted 360Â° outlook - there is always a feeling of space.
The Chinoiserie theme of the Ting lounge is defined by golden translucent screens lined with Chinese ink paintings, while furnishings in oyster greys, soft yellows and rich sea blues enliven the sophisticated design. An Á la carte menu of Asian specialities will be served there, in addition to English and Asian-inspired afternoon teas.
The restaurant itself offers a modern European menu with a hint of Asian flavours. Dishes include scallops with carrot, ginger and a yuzu and grapeseed oil dressing; and Welsh lamb glazed with mirin, sake and soy sauce with root vegetables and Kent apples.
Gong, the bar on the 52nd floor, is the one area of the hotel not designed by Steve Leung. Here, André Fu from Hong Kong has been inspired by the dou-gong - interlocking wooden brackets used in traditionalChinese architecture - to create what is being marketed as the highest bar in Europe.
A seven-metre long bar, made of solid Arabescato Orobico Italian marble, dominates the space, while an infinity pool features a pair of oversized ivory paint scrolls, which appear to float directly overhead. The bedrooms, on levels 36 to 50, will vary in design due to the Shard's spire-shaped architecture. Guests will sleep in the patented Shangri-La bed, and operate the blind system at a flick of a switch.
Frette linen, Japanese Toto toilets with heated seats, and Acqua Di Parma toiletries are standard in every room. It will be the binoculars provided in each room, though, that will be the most useful amenity.