Business World

Tuesday 20 August 2019

A bleisure to do business in the heart of the Asian Tiger

The Prototype co-working space. Photo: What The Fox Studio
The Prototype co-working space. Photo: What The Fox Studio
The view of China’s CCTV skyscraper from Hotel Jen’s gym. Photo: Travel Extra

Mark Evans

It's been featured before in this column, but the coming year could be the one when business-meets-leisure takes off.

Already 60pc of corporate travellers say they're more likely to add on a few days to a work trip to experience the local area, according to recent study by BridgeStreet Global Hospitality, with just under one in three saying they took at least two additional days. And another study found that just under half of business travellers already extend their trips, particularly if they're going long-haul, in what's being dubbed 'bleisure'.

Here in Europe hotel groups NH and Meliá have begun to focus on the booming bleisure market, with major Iberian cities like Barcelona, not surprisingly, in demand for a mix of work and fun.

While the trend started on this side of the world, it's taking off on the other side. Your columnist got to see what's on offer in Beijing, where one chain - Hotel Jen by Shangri-La - is luring the business traveller with a leisure model.

Situated in the city's Central Business District, Hotel Jen is part of the skyscraper-filled World Trade Centre district, close to the Enterprise Ireland offices. A short drive from the historic Forbidden Kingdom, it's slap bang in the middle of the beating heart of the Asian Tiger, an East-meets-West melting pot where you can smell the money (and see the city's notorious smog) as multimillion dollar deals are thrashed out.

The hotel is aimed at all ages, but it's a popular spot for millennials. With a nod to the West, there's Beersmith, a ground-floor gastropub, with its own microbrewery, under headhunted Kiwi brewmaster Tom Ashton.

The key selling point though is Prototype (the first I've seen) - an office floor with 13 meeting rooms available to rent out for events for a few hours or longer. For the solitary road warrior, there's a co-working space that can accommodate 250 people, similar in size and design to our own Dogpatch Labs in Dublin's IFSC. Small details add up - HDMI cables and monitors for small booths and sockets throughout the building which can accommodate either two-pin or Irish plugs, so you can leave the adapters at home.

Recent findings by travel giant Travelport revealed that over half of business travellers avoid hotels that charge for wifi, and here it's fast and free, But if you haven't done China before, be sure to download a virtual private network (VPN) to your phone, otherwise the government's Great Firewall of China will block access to Facebook and WhatsApp, and even Google itself.

A striking feature at the Jen is how the market has adapted from functional to lifestyle-focused - there's a 25m heated pool with views over the city's Blade Runner-esque skyline, and on-order massages available - in-room or in the spa - once you've arrived off that energy-sapping flight.

From experience, there are three types of business travellers - those who hit the beer rather than the gym; those who insist on one, but don't use it; and the small minority who actually enjoy working up a sweat while abroad. Here, you might just be tempted with the most unusual of hotel gyms, which is open 24/7, is enormous (over 3,500 sq m) and doesn't just pay lip service to gym-goers, instead offering classes with martial arts experts, modern equipment and even a boxing ring.

The smart thing is the focus - it attracts leisure clients, but has a business focus without being boring, and also offers optional orientation trips with local guides, through companies such as Bespoke Beijing. Being new, hotel prices are keen, from around €150 a night, which is good for what's branded at just-under-five-star in Beijing.

The only downside is that parent company Shangri-La, despite landmark properties such as its hotel in London's Shard, is primarily positioned in Asia - but a Jen bleisure model here would make those shorter trips to European cities all the more worthwhile.

Speaking of hotels, you'll certainly get a bargain if you like keen prices and couldn't give a stuff about politics. Staying in a Donald Trump hotel is cheaper these days - with prices down as much as 63pc in his Las Vegas property, according to currency firm FairFX.

Good prices can also be found in the convenient Midtown Trump New York (-32pc) and properties in Vancouver (-48pc) and Chicago (-28pc). Issues such as currencies could also be in play, but being president hasn't helped the rates, with local hoteliers (many are Democrats, truth be told) telling this column that Trump's hotel in Manhattan's trendy Soho was feeling the pressure. The only one bucking the trend? Doonbeg in Co Clare - up 7pc.

Sunday Indo Business

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