How London’s five-star hotels survived lockdown – and the special offers luring back visitors now

Kari Colmans

31 May 2021

What did the capital’s top hotels do with their facilities during lockdown? Did staff have swimming pools all to themselves? And what happened to all the caviar? Luxury London discovers how the hospitality sector rode out the pandemic and what it’s now doing to charm a domestic clientele.

31 May 2021 | Kari Colmans

D

uring the pandemic, staff at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel in King's Cross were invited to use the hotel as their home-away-from-home, utilising the stunning Queen Victoria suite as a kitchen for daily cooking and the gym to keep active. Any spare food or stock which was due to expire before reopening was offered to staff or donated to local charity, C4WS Homeless Project.

Famously, the hotel has a staircase that featured in the Spice Girls’ Wannabe music video. General Manager Anne Le Grand jokes that she “doesn’t think” any of the team re-enacted the famous scene while the hotel was closed. “But who knows?!”

While the St. Pancras Renaissance remained shut, a scaled-down team kept the hotel operational to ensure the imposing Grade I-listed building didn’t fall into disrepair after 150 years of grandeur. Interestingly, explains Le Grand, the skeleton staff supported a number of film and music production requests over the past year, the hotel frequently being used as a film location while closed to guests (though she remains tight-lipped as to who exactly was walking the hotel's halls while its doors were locked to the public).

Anne Le Grand, General Manager at St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel

Like that synchronised scene from the film Annie, when the spirited orphan pulls up to 'Daddy' Warbucks’ mansion for the first time, Le Grand describes the preparations in the lead up to the hotel’s reopening on 17 May. “Afternoon tea, cocktail and breakfast menus were all refreshed; 300 beds were made, including two for our furry friends; over 1,000 pillows were plumped; the grand double staircase, which is three-storeys high, was hoovered top to bottom; and a number of plants were potted on our roof garden so that the space could be in full bloom for June,” she recounts.

The St. Pancras Renaissance wasn’t the only London hotel to permit its staff to make use of its facilities while it was shut. Every one of the 16-person skeleton team that kept Brown’s in Mayfair going was granted a stay during their rotated days, with many using the hotel’s gym to increase their fitness regimes. As well as permitting its hard-hit staff a few perks, the hotel donated all of its perishable food to two London hospital NHS teams.

Charlie's Restaurant at Brown's Hotel, Mayfair

“Once the vaccine programme was rolled out, a large number of the team volunteered at vaccine centres across the city,” says Managing Director Stuart Johnson. “We have also partnered with Nights on Us [a collaborative initiative that offers ICU Nurses two-night hotel stays] to thank key workers for their hard work over the pandemic.”

The lead up to 17 May 2021 was much like opening a hotel for the first time, says Johnson. “It was so wonderful to hear live music in the hotel on the day we reopened as our pianist played in the Drawing Room for afternoon tea. Seeing the magnificent colours of spring flowers throughout the hotel was a joy.”

The majority of Brown’s staff are now back, but, as was the case with every hotel I spoke to, there were some inevitable redundancies. “It’s very sad not seeing a few faces that I was once so used to seeing,” says Johnson. “However, now that our doors have reopened and business is gradually picking up, we will definitely be recruiting for those who wish to join the Brown’s family.”

Brown's Managing Director, Stuart Johnson

The usually bustling, Art Deco-inspired Rosewood London in Holborn managed to remain open from 1 September 2020, despite shutting its doors entirely for the first lockdown in spring. Managing Director Michael Bonsor stipulates that the hotel wanted to prevent closing again in order to be there for business guests.

“More importantly, it gave us the opportunity to make sure we kept as many associates as possible working and engaged,” he says. “Our clients, both old and new, really appreciated it and we were able to forge many new business connections. Our brilliant team was busier than ever in many respects.”

The Rosewood London also provided NHS workers with free meals and donations, while the group as a whole launched a global campaign to offer an ‘Hour of Kindness’ to local communities. “We have a strong relationship with Great Ormond Street Hospital and will be offering very deserving NHS staff luxurious spa treatments to relax and decompress at the hotel,” says Bonsor.  

A room at the Rosewood London
Rosewood's Managing Director Michael Bonsor

Elsewhere, the staff at London’s Corinthia kept themselves busy by replanting window boxes and escorting the resident hawk to the roof to scare off pigeons. The hotel has been welcoming back guests since 17 May.

“Our produce orders increased, and we increased our fine wine and champagne orders,” says Hotel Manager Jochem Meijerink. “But we are not yet at pre-pandemic levels in terms of staffing. As with all luxury hotels, we rely on international travellers as well as corporate groups and events, all of which contribute to our occupancy levels.” The hotel has launched a charitable initiative to donate 30 spa experiences and 20 champagne afternoon tea experiences to essential workers.

The Whitehall Penthouse terrace at Corinthia London
The spa at Corinthia London

Throughout lockdown, City-based hotel and members’ club, The Ned, turned its attention to digital platforms, ensuring it held onto the vast majority of its members. “We ensured that they received relevant updates, digital events and special ‘at home’ experiences,” says Managing Director Gareth Banner, with content highlights including head barber Tom Harrigan’s hair maintenance tips, playlists from Nick Grimshaw and Daisy Lowe, virtual wine tastings and yoga masterclasses.

In April 2020, the hotel teamed up with charities Centrepoint and Fare Share, as well as local community initiative The Bike Shed, to feed homeless Londoners. “The goal was a shared commitment to provide homeless young people with nutritious meals during the pandemic,” says Banner. “Working together we created and delivered healthy, home-cooked meals to Centrepoint hostel residents every day between April and September.”

A dining booth at The Ned
A bedroom at The Ned

While London’s hospitality sector might slowly be getting back on its feet, the consequences of the pandemic, according to a recent report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, could be worse than the effects of the 2008 Financial Crisis. It is unlikely, says the accountancy firm, that hotel revenue in London will return to 2019 levels in real terms before 2024.

With business trips and international travel still off the cards, the domestic market has never been so important. So, when it comes to unwinding in one of the world’s greatest cities, London’s hotels are hoping to prove that there’s no place like home.

Pop-ups, parties and upgrade packages: the events and offers designed to entice you back this summer 

Afternoon Tea at The Corinthia

Whether you live in a penthouse flat in the City, a charming red brick in Hampstead or a marble-flanked mansion in Mayfair, after more than a year in and out of lockdown, everyone is in need of a break from their own four walls, no matter how grand they may be. Thankfully, London’s top hotels have come up with a slew of initiatives to help you make the most of your own backyard.

Eat…

... at Charlie’s, one of the most quintessentially British restaurants in London. Michelin-starred chef director Adam Byatt has given the menu a fresh spring makeover, including a signature steak tartare, crispy skinned seabass and a raspberry and elderflower tart.

Charlie’s at Brown’s Hotel, 33 Albemarle Street, roccofortehotels.com

Drink…

... at the Macallan Manor House courtyard pop-up at the Rosewood Hotel. Bringing the heart of Scotland to the centre of London, this al fresco hub will be playing host to a number of live musicians throughout the summer.

Macallan Manor House at Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, rosewoodhotels.com

Party…

Restaurant Kaia at The Ned

... from your table until 21 June, but still, it’s music to our ears. As part of its Summertime Special makeover, which is all about reclaiming the British summer holiday, head over to The Parlour, a new jazz and cabaret club at The Ned. Musician residencies include saxophonist and clarinettist Giacomo Smith and his five-piece band; British singer, songwriter and pianist Reuben James; and Seattle native artist Kimberly Nichole, former mistress of ceremonies at The Box, NY. Saturday nights see Black Cat Cabaret take to the stage with ‘High Society’, a theatrical experience fusing contemporary circus and burlesque.

The Parlour at The Ned, 27 Poultry, thened.com

Relax…

... at the St. Pancras Spa with its new turn-back-time facial. As part of many of the hotel’s 10th anniversary initiatives, visitors desperate for a post lockdown glow should opt for a 60-minute Ko Bi Do Fountain of Youth Facial, designed to make you look and feel 10 years younger and reduce the havoc of the past year’s stress.

From £110 per person, Euston Road, Kings Cross, stpancras-spa.com

Sleep…

... and rediscover the joy of summer in the capital with the Corinthia’s London Calling package, which includes early check in and late check out, a room upgrade, hotel credit and complimentary parking. Explore your home town like never before.

From £605, Whitehall Place, corinthia.com

Read more: London's best five-star hotels