In the final instalment of a series on the development, design and now opening of Von Essen's first London hotel, Verta, Janet Harmer checks out the look of the hotel and discovers how it is attracting business to what, at first glance, appears to be an off-beat location.
The setting for Verta is not perhaps the one you would expect for the opening of Von Essen's first five-star hotel in London.
With the company's well-established reputation as the owner and operator of 29 of the UK's grandest country house hotels, it would be reasonable to imagine that its London property would be situated in the heart of the capital's prime real estate in maybe Mayfair or Knightsbridge.
Instead, though, the 70-bedroom Verta, which has been developed at a cost of nearly £50m, is found tucked away behind the back of a garage, just off the York Road running through Battersea. But once inside, observing the helicopters coming and going from the adjacent London Heliport and taking in the spectacular views along the River Thames just a matter of feet away, the position actually makes sense.
It is unlikely that the hotel would ever have been built here if it was not for the position of the London Heliport, the capital's only commercial helicopter port, which was acquired in 2007 by Von Essen Aviation, a division of Von Essen that offers a fleet of twin-engineered helicopters and executive jets for charter.
But now, with the hotel and heliport operating alongside each other in the midst of what is a major area of urban regeneration, Verta can capitalise on its unique position. Major new developments on the horizon in the surrounding area include the relocation from Grosvenor Square of the American Embassy, which has a requirement of 85,000 room nights per year, and the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station.
Already built and occupied within a 10 minute walk of Verta are 10,000 luxury apartments, which should help to fill the hotel's Patrisey restaurant, Vertilon bar and spa with fitness centre.
Initially, the hotel's seven meeting rooms and rooftop event space, together with the bar and restaurant on the ground floor, are the main reasons why people are visiting Verta, with the aviation and transport industries, in particular, showing interest in using the hotel.
"The fact that the meeting rooms all have views over the river is a unique selling point, tied in with the convenience of the heliport allowing people to fly in and out for meetings without having to consider road transportation," said director of sales Douglas Acton, who is working in partnership with the Carino Collection and Mason Rose to drive sales both home and abroad.
One of the first events to be held in the rooftop space was a reception for Bell Helicopter. Director of trade shows and promotions for Bell, Patricia Butler, said the evening was perfect, right down to the last detail, with the company's new 429 helicopter showcased on the heliport.
Interest in the bedrooms is initially coming from Von Essen's well-established country hotels, where high-end leisure business accounts for 75% of all bookings. General manager Andrew Thomason said the company has long been asked when it was going to open a London hotel.
"Verta fits in fantastically well with our existing hotels as it will be used by those guests who visit our regional hotels for social events and want to come into London for a shopping or theatre break," he said.
Major corporate clients which use Von Essen hotels, such as Cliveden in Buckinghamshire and the Royal Crescent hotel in Bath, are also expected to use Verta when in the capital.
Meanwhile, it is expected that Verta will help drive business to the regional properties by acting as a base for overseas visitors before they fly by helicopter to one of the country hotels.
The hotel will appeal to guests who are on their second visit to London and looking to explore the city from a different angle. It will provide a good base from which to visit shops on the King's Road, go to the Old Vic theatre along the South Bank, or attend several nearby sporting venues such as Chelsea and Fulham's football stadiums or Wimbledon for tennis.
With Von Essen's philosophy to grow and improve its group of luxury hotels across the country, it is likely that the arrival of Verta in London will not be the last hotel that the company will open in the capital. Whether a second hotel in London will be a another new build or the transformation of an existing property, which the company specialises in, remains to be seen.
HOW TO SELL A NEW HOTEL
• Use existing databases for sending out personal mail shots. Verta is sending out details of special opening offers on spa treatments, cocktails and dining to 20,000 Von Essen customers.
• Hand deliver details of special offers to neighbouring residents. Verta is posting letters to 10,000 local homes.
• Put together introductory packages. Verta has put together several packages including a luxury London and country house package offering dinner and an overnight stay at the hotel followed by a helicopter flight to Cliveden for lunch.
• Liaise with travel agents and specialist sales and marketing companies.
• Invite journalists to stay.
• Approach celebrity agents and offer the hotel as a location for photo shoots, charity events and book and album launches.
HOTEL VERTA FACTFILE
Bridges Court Road, Battersea, London SW11 3BE
Tel: 020 7979 0875
Opening date: food and beverage facilities opened on 12 September, with rooms being sold from 20 September
General manager: Andrew Thomason
Head chef: Neil Dove
Staff: opening with 80, increasing to 95
No of bedrooms: 70, including two river suites and four junior suites
Room rates: opening offer of £150-£295 per room, excluding VAT
Food & beverage: 48-seat Vertilon bar and 98-seat Patrisey restaurant offer all-day dining with a focus on classic and contemporary British cuisine.
Spa & gym facilities: spanning two subterranean floors, includes four therapy rooms, grooming room, fitness centre, hydro vitality pool, thermal heat cabins and products by Anne Semonin and Comfort Zone
Conference & banqueting: seven meeting rooms and rooftop event space for up to 250 covers
Key interior design suppliers: joinery - EE Smith; external furniture - Conran and PS Interiors; dining room chairs, sofas and bedroom upholstery - Ben Whistler; dining tables, bedroom tables and bedroom joinery - PPT Designs; suite furniture - the Luxe Agency; spa relaxation room beds - European Design Centre; artwork - Haviland Designs; mezzanine floor lighting - De La Espada; bedroom floor lighting - Anta Leuchten GmbH; carpets - Tai Ping; curtains - Tidmarsh; and several vintage mid-20th century items of furniture and accessories have been individually sourced from independent suppliers
THE INTERIOR DESIGN
While essentially a contemporary hotel, the design ethos behind Verta aims to capture something of the glamour of the 1930s when air flight was something new and exciting.
"We have embraced the fact that we are situated next to the London Heliport and employed Robson Brown, a brand agency, to provide a distinctly elegant feel that has been used across the design of the hotel and in marketing material that reflects the imagery of the 1930s," said creative director for Von Essen Andrew Onraet.
The aviation theme is used throughout the property in a subtle way with the colour red - a nod to the colour of the escape tags used on airplanes - subtly highlighted in artwork and the scarves worn by the receptionists.
"Verta is by no means a themed hotel," said Onraet. "Some people get it straight away, while it completely passes others by, which I think is actually a good thing."
Hints of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s are reflected in more than 300 pieces of artwork. Carefully styled hair and red nail varnish and lipstick worn by the receptionists are also a nod to those earlier eras. Meanwhile, a sweeping elliptical staircase, oversized plush emerald green velvet sofas and furniture trimmings of soft gold add to the glamorous vibe.
"Our intention throughout, with both the look of Verta and the service we provide, is to go above and beyond, and hopefully that is what we have achieved," said Onraet.
In addition to direct approaches to potential guests and customers from the sales and marketing team, it is hoped that the more subtle approach of the public relations team will spread the word about Verta to a wider audience over the coming months.
Public relations company the Brighter Group has been working alongside Von Essen's communications manager Peter da Silva to invite a number of key journalists to experience the hotel. It is hoped that as a result of the 35 writers booked into the hotel more than 30 articles will be published. Each journalist will be hosted on an individual basis to strengthen the message of the personalised service that Verta offers. Food writers are not being targeted, initially.
A celebrity interview and photo shoot at the hotel with OK magazine shortly after opening will provide high profile media coverage.
Von Essen's executive director of sales and marketing, Greg Ward, said that PR is vital to the launch of the hotel. "Third party endorsements of our product, communicated through trusted and targeted publications will work to generate interest in Verta and contribute enormously to the success of the opening and beyond.
"Ultimately, PR, dovetailed into the wider communications strategy, will drive business and, as a new hotel, bookings are crucial for this first year to establish the hotel as a London landmark and as the only hotel-heliport solution in Europe."
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