It seems true what they say, that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. While budget hotels have seen a push of late, the very tip-top end of the spectrum is where the rest of the hotel growth is happening. The ‘squeezed middle’, it appears, are too squeezed to prop up the mid-range venues. London is welcoming more Tune Hotels at one end – and a Bulgari and Shangri-La at the other.
Over the weekend I was very lucky to be invited on a fam trip to Basel with a group of UK buyers, staying at the gorgeous, privately-owned Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois (the owner is a dental implants magnate, which might explain why those are so expensive). It’s a gorgeous property, right on the Rhine, with a two-Michelin-starred restaurant. Its Sunday brunch has a six-month waiting list. The walls, though appearing to be wallpapered, are actually hand painted. The service is sparkling; the chandeliers gleam, as does the 24-carat gold-leaf ceiling in the Cigar Bar. Smoking laws, you say? These are circumvented by guests choosing their cigar using an iPad which allows you to see inside the (walk-in) humidor to make your choice. They then pick up their drinks and cigars from the adjacent bar without staff having to enter the smoky quarters.
Recession? Eurozone crisis? Well, let’s just say on the weekend we arrived occupancy was so high we had very few rooms to look at. A Russian wedding was occupying the (lovely) ballroom space and a pharmaceutical advisory board meeting was taking place in the meeting space (somehow dodging pharma code regulations). Even the presidential suite (with its rooftop sauna and spa - rack rate CHF4,500 or £2,985) was occupied.
We started talking price; the business development manager remarked: “People don’t really ask the price when booking.” As in: if you’re asking, you probably can’t afford it. While pharma regulations have hamstrung meetings business from big hitters Roche and Novartis, who both are headquartered in Basel, Switzerland’s financial industry and other corporate clients – not to mention Basel Watch Fair participants - have kept the hotel busy.
The city is keen for events business, boasting the Congress Centre Basel, while the adjacent exhibition space is undergoing a huge redevelopment. All the hotels in town offer free public transport cards to those staying, while a segway tour is a fun means of getting around. Unique venues range from an unconsecrated church to the various community meeting places of the local carnival ‘cliques’. But if high-end is your thing – and apparently for some it is still definitely on the agenda – then I know just the place.