Far from the mad­den­ing crowd

Ex­ec­u­tive lounges en­cour­age us to re­lax. Please don’t…

Business Traveller (India) - - OPINION - MARTIN DONO­VAN ED­I­TOR OF MIX MAG­A­ZINE

They are a clever idea, ex­ec­u­tive lounges. For the price of up­grad­ing from the stan­dard ho­tel room to the club room, you get the same size ho­tel room (per­haps on a higher floor and with bet­ter toi­letries in the bath­room) and ac­cess to the ex­ec­u­tive lounge. It’s some­where most ho­tel guests can’t ac­cess, and so is by its na­ture ex­clu­sive – far from the madding crowd.

Perks might in­clude a more dis­creet check-in/check­out ser­vice, meet­ing room fa­cil­i­ties, and a break­fast that can be en­joyed a safe dis­tance from the din of the all-day din­ing restau­rant. It’s some­where you can ac­cess through­out the day, to catch up on work, have a mid-morn­ing cof­fee and snack, or just un­wind – par­tic­u­larly in the evening, when another buf­fet of free snacks and drinks (in­clud­ing al­co­hol) is laid out for the ho­tel’s top-tier guests. As I say, a clever idea, but not per­fect…

I’ve spent a lot of time in ex­ec­u­tive lounges, and I value them for the peace and quiet. I like the op­por­tu­nity of get­ting ahead with work in hushed en­vi­rons, pe­rus­ing the news­pa­pers de­liv­ered en masse to the world’s ho­tels and gaz­ing sagely at the 24-hour news chan­nels and ticker-tape head­lines of stock prices reel­ing be­low talk­ing heads.

Un­for­tu­nately, oth­ers see these lounges as, well, their lounges – like at home. They greet the at­ten­dants as though they are pri­vate but­lers or even friends (do you ask your friends to serve you drinks and ar­range taxis around town?) and we are forced to lis­ten to their plans for the week­end, or in­depth con­sul­ta­tions over what is go­ing to be of­fered in the spread that evening.

Then there are ex­ec­u­tives on busi­ness away from loved ones. Voices carry well in these hushed sanc­tu­ar­ies, and there’s no hid­ing from – or hush­ing – an English­man boom­ing cheer­fully over Skype to his teenage son on the other side of the world. It’s not that one is eavesdropping – it’s that you have no choice. It’s a Fri­day morn­ing and the ex­ec­u­tive would rather be home for the week­end. Well, me too. But mean. while he finds out about the com­puter pro­gram the boy’s been try­ing to code for a school project; how he’s get­ting along with his friends, and whether his mother is go­ing to come to the phone at all. The son, pre­sum­ably, is aware that his dad still hasn’t bought any head­phones for his iPad, and that his own voice is be­ing broad­cast to a dozen or more strangers in a ho­tel in Asia. Per­haps that’s why he sounds so dis­tant…

In China, the club lounge is used like another of­fice, so here we have the boss sum­mon­ing lo­cal fac­tory man­agers to the lounge at XYZ ho­tel in Jiangsu or Guang­dong prov­ince. The sub­ject of the in­qui­si­tion tends to re­volve around a quan­tity of ma­te­rial missing in the de­liv­ery, or the wrong pan­elling, or flim­sier fin­ish­ing than that spec­i­fied in the plans. “Our cus­tomers in Dus­sel­dorf and Mu­nich are very up­set – this is un­ac­cept­able. Now… ex­plain to me again why this hap­pened?”

And, of course, there are also those who use the lounge as an ex­ten­sion of their room. In Sin­ga­pore, two Amer­i­can women swan in breezily to break­fast in their ac­tive wear (most club lounges have a dress code, but lit­tle did they care). As their forks stab their grape­fruit, they sum­mon one of the lounge staff:

“We want a list of the finest… no, bet­ter even than that… the top, the most high-class restau­rants in town. Only the best… we want a table for six. Thank you, have a nice day.” An hour later they have trans­formed into board­room garb that would’ve made Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada look like she wore char­ity-shop castoffs. You can’t blame the staff for be­ing con­fused.

De­spite the ster­ling ef­forts of lounge staff from the wel­come re­cep­tion to the cooks and friendly servers, there is pal­pa­ble ten­sion when­ever busi­ness is mixed with leisure. Put your­self at ease by stay­ing in your room to work, read or catch up on that HBO se­ries. Mind you, I tried that but fell into re­lapse – club lounge dra­mas are far more grip­ping than what ca­ble TV has to of­fer!

There’s no hid­ing from – or hush­ing – an English­man boom­ing over Skype to his teenage son

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