The secret to a well-run hotel

Image of Tyler Brûlé

When it comes to hotels, I’d like to say that I’m adventurous and up for trying anything but the truth is that it’s very hard to get me to break with tradition. Once I’ve found a place that works you’ll have to pry my fingers from the doorframe to get me to move and it will take a lot of persuasion from a new hotel, or a massive screw-up at a much-loved property, to get me to sample something for even one evening.

I know there are bigger suites and a better bar on offer at a well-respected property just along the harbour in Hong Kong, but I’m happy with my current set-up at the Grand Hyatt. For sure, I could have a better room and more services at a variety of hotels in Munich, but I opt for the simple set-up at the Cortiina. And in Osaka I could check in with a well-respected, exquisitely run five-star, but I’m much happier with the tiny rooms, well-stocked bakery and excellent location of the Dojima Hotel.

General managers (GMs) often ask what it would take for me to break my well-worn habits. Could we do something to improve the spa? Is there something special you’d like to see stocked in the mini-bar? Do we need to improve our meeting facilities? What about if we get the chef to prepare a special meal in your suite for you and your clients? Would a complimentary car and driver for your entire stay be of interest?

By this point I’m usually blushing and nodding sympathetically and trying not to raise expectations but it rarely works (good hotel GMs are a particularly persistent breed). “So, what will it be? What can we do for you?” While I know they might be thinking about special mattresses, a bigger terrace or the world’s thinnest and biggest flat-screen, I’m thinking about something that’s a bit beyond their control.

As the GM blinks at me expectantly, searching for that little tip that will get me to part with the rival property across town, I finally say it. “You could move the hotel.” At first this generates a laugh, then a wide-eyed look of confusion, then more laughing and then an uncomfortable adjustment of the arms. “What’s wrong with our current location? It’s perfectly located for easy airport access, close to most places people need to see clients and good shopping and dining is right out the front door,” explains the GM.

I continue to nod and probably scrunch my lips and squint with concern. “I absolutely agree,” I start. “The main problem is that there’s nowhere to run in the mornings. Your location is great but you lack a decent park nearby or any leafy boulevards for a brisk 5km.” This normally comes as a surprise and the GM starts to muster a response but he’s stumped. “You don’t like running in our gym? It’s really quite nice and we’ve just invested in all the latest machines.”

While it’s not always a deal-breaker, and I do occasionally pound a treadmill (almost essential in sweaty Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong), a city (and hotel) is best enjoyed if you can pull on your socks, shoes, shorts and T-shirt and find a pleasant running route with minimal fuss. The fewer busy intersections between the lobby and a perfect jogging path the better, but I don’t mind a meandering interlude that offers a glimpse of a city going through its morning routine – shopkeepers pulling up shutters and watering plants, schoolchildren chattering and walking to the bus and cafés filling up for early morning meetings.

I often feel that my love of Tokyo has a lot to do with my running circuits that go with my various hotels. The Peninsula offers up a perfect 5km trot around the Imperial Palace, the Park Hyatt has Yoyogi Park out its back door and at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi I’ve come up with my own circuit that cuts through the streets of Nishi-Azabu and Hiroo. The latter’s not the most relaxing route as it crosses main streets and demands maximum attention. Yet it also slips by the fastest as I’m always contemplating what life might be like if I lived in one of those low-rise concrete mansion blocks and had so many amazing services and restaurants on my doorstep.

Other hotels that top my rest and running list are the Park Hyatt Sydney and the run around Circular Quay and the Botanical Gardens; the Crosby Street Hotel and the dash over the running lanes along the East River (occasionally a bit far if you only want to put in 30 minutes); Copenhagen’s Nimb and a lap around the reservoirs; and the Esplanade in Stockholm’s front door access to the inner harbour and the straight route down to the wilds of Djurgården.

I often think hotels with access to great running routes could make more of their perfect locations in their marketing material and less of their coconut bum scrubs and odd spa treatments. I’m also waiting for a hotel with a special side entrance for sweaty joggers like me who hate walking through a lobby (or worse, a breakfast room) dripping wet while guests are checking out or trying to enjoy their toast and eggs. Another one for the GM’s wish-list.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

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