The general manager of the Shangri-La hotel - due to open in the Shard at London Bridge in May 2013 - has unveiled details of what will become the UK's first elevated hotel. Janet Harmer has a sneak preview
Darren Gearing, who arrived in London three months ago after spending 24 years working overseas, is currently building the management team of the 202-bedroom Shangri-La hotel that is due to open in the Shard at London Bridge next year. He is also finalising the concept of the property's food and beverage outlets.
Gearing spent 21 years working for Shangri-La in Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore, and is thrilled to have been given the chance to introduce the Asian luxury hotel brand to the UK.
"Certain opportunities don't come up too often and this, being a unique hotel, is one of them," he says. "I was very happy to accept the position."
The uniqueness of the hotel stems from its location spanning levels 34 to 52 of the 310m building, which is the tallest in western Europe. Each of the bedrooms - with an average size of 42sq m - will enjoy wide reaching views, from floor to ceiling windows, across London and beyond.
a grand entrance
Arrival at the hotel will be via a welcome and concierge desk on the ground floor - alongside an upmarket cake shop and deli - on St Thomas Street, from where guests will be taken by lift to the reception area on level 35, with views overlooking St Paul's Cathedral. The restaurant, details of which are still being finalised, will also be on this floor.
A function room, which will accommodate up to 100 for dinner or 180 for cocktails, and business centre, will be located on level 34, while the bedrooms, of which 17 are suites, will be located on levels 36 to 50. Meanwhile, a signature bar, swimming pool and gym will be on the 52nd floor (level 51 is a void).
The interior design, which Gearing describes as being "contemporary, very comfortable, user friendly and luxurious, but not overly designed" is by Hong Kong-based Steve Leung and Andre Fu (the bar).
The Shangri-La will have 300 full-time employees. Three of the senior management team are from London - Fiona Stilborn from the Chancery Court as director of sales and marketing, Jose Ruiz from the Berkeley as director of HR and Guy Lwin from the Royal Lancaster as chief engineer; while the three other key positions of executive chef, director of food and beverage and director of rooms are being filled by internal appointments with the company.
"It is important that the top operational positions are taken by people who understand Shangri-La's service standards, while the other key roles have been filled by people who have excellent local knowledge," says Gearing, who last worked in London in 1988 at the Marriott hotel on Grosvenor Square.
All heads of department are expected to be on board by October, with general recruitment taking place between December and January, with a starting date of March 2013.
"We expect to recruit the majority of the staff locally and are working closely with Southwark College and Team London Bridge on this," says Gearing.
One of the cornerstones of training for the team will be Shangri-La's Asian-inspired service culture, the details of which Gearing does not yet want to give away, but it involves staff taking a genuine interest in guests, being sincere, helpful and pragmatic.
For many of the employees, it will be their first experience of working in an elevated hotel - an unusual proposition for Europe, but one that is familiar in Asia with the likes of the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo and the Ritz Carlton in Hong Kong.
"For the guests it is a marvellous, seamless experience with stunning views," says Gearing.
"The staff, meanwhile have to very carefully choreograph the storage of all goods, the delivery of all produce via the service elevators and ensure the careful disposal of all waste."
RESTAURANTS AT THE SHARD
Negotations are currently taking place between the developer of the Shard, the Sellar Group, and a number of operators regarding the letting of floors 31 to 33 for restaurant use. The space. measuring nearly 30,000 sq ft, will include a triple height atrium facing towards the north and west of the city. Potentially up to six restaurants and bars could occupy the three floors, just below the Shangri-La, but it is more likely to be three or four.
By Janet Harmer
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