Pocket-friendly stay in London

RHEA LOBO | Updated on March 12, 2012 Published on March 08, 2012

Eye on budget: Premier Inn London County Hall.

Olympic countdown.-RHEA LOBO

Budget hotel chain Premier Inn's frills-free service is a winner, especially in these recession-hit times.

Purple and black are not colours you normally associate with a hotel. But they lend a regal look to budget hotel chain Premier Inn's Bath Road property, a few minutes' drive from London's Heathrow Airport. Equally convenient are the check-in kiosks for guests who pre-book their room. Gerard Tempest, Sales and Marketing Director of Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants (which manages Premier Inn), says eight out of 10 bookings at the 600-hotel chain are made online.

A good night's sleep is top priority at this hotel; you'll find out just how serious they are about it when you attempt a back-first free-fall on the soft and cosy Hypnos bed — the very brand the British royal family, no less, uses. “Instead of being a brand that excluded a lot of people, we are a brand that includes a lot of people,” says Aly Shariff, Managing Director, South Asia, Premier Inn. Guests are charged per room — a maximum of two adults and two kids below 15 years can share a room.

The Bath Road property with 590 rooms is the biggest in the chain. The recently launched Premier Inn at Terminal 5 offers great views of the runway at Heathrow, one of the world's busiest airports; guests get to see airplanes arrive and take off every other minute.

Given our packed schedule, a fellow journalist and I ventured out early to experience London at dawn — and were surprised to discover the city bright awake, buzzing with activity at 7 a.m. Hoping to relive scenes from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, we walked excitedly to Trafalgar square (15 minutes from Premier Inn London County Hall) but were disappointed to see not many pigeons there. The fountain was still too. But what we did see was a huge digital display of the countdown to the London Olympics!

On how the budget hotel plans to increase its profit margin, Shariff says, “For this we need to increase revenues. We are already running at 88 per cent occupancy in the UK. And we can't increase prices; else we'll stop being a budget hotel.” So they've expanded to West Asia and India, where the chain is present in Bangalore and Delhi. Chief Operating Officer John Forrest says, “Twenty-five years ago, every hotel offered soaps. But we broke the mould. We offered what is most important to people — a good bed and cleanliness. People don't want to pay for something they didn't use.” Although Premier Inn has replicated its UK hotels in India, it has made some changes to suit the Indian traveller, such as providing a full-length mirror. As Shariff says, “It's for the Indian women who wear saris.” The domestic travel market, particularly the middle class, is what they want to tap in India: “India has 705 million domestic travellers, as against 15 million foreign tourists,” says Shariff.

The budget concept extends to the food too. The ‘kids eat free' concept is quite popular both in the UK and India. If you pay for one adult at the hotel's in-house diner, two kids below 15 can eat free. Our English breakfast at the hotel's Thyme restaurant — complete with sausages, mushrooms, bacon, croissants — was appealing and delicious, though I discovered that all over London the food lacked enough salt for an Indian's liking. But one drink deserves an honourable mention — Costa Coffee's hot chocolate scores a ten on ten for its creamy texture and intoxicating taste.

There was one constant in the many Premier Inns that I visited, and perhaps that is the best thing going for it — its affable and approachable staff; they seemed to genuinely care about making our stay comfortable. And that perhaps owes to the fact that the chain looks for, more than educational qualifications, the right attitude. Forrest says, “High school is enough, or even people who didn't finish school. If they are employed by us, they can opt for the national vocation qualification and get themselves an education. We even have chefs who are doctors, who have completely changed professions.”

Premier Inn received the World's Leading Budget Hotel Brand award at the 2011 World Travel Awards.

And interestingly, while many companies were trying to stay afloat during the recession, the chain thrived. Shariff says, “We were most successful during the recession, because CEOs said ‘no more fancy hotels, my company is going to cut costs so you'll have to downgrade'.”

For the London Olympics, The Premier Inn Stratford hotel has a fantastic view of the stadium. During the Olympics, the hotel chain is capping the room rent at £199.

Published on March 08, 2012
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