Who didn’t grow up believing that Hilton hotels were the last word in luxury and sophistication?
It seems strange that this famous name has gone so far down market, but fear not: perhaps the Conrad brand, named after the chain’s legendary founder and purporting to fill the vacuum with luxury and a “contemporary attitude”, is just what we have been looking for.
The first Conrad opened in Australia in 1985 and by 2011 there were a further 17, including the Tokyo hotel which opened in the Japanese capital to something of a fanfare in 2005. With this in mind I checked in expecting the best. Conrad was a man who knew a thing or two about luxury and service. Despite the fact it occupies the top floors of an office building – as many hotels in Tokyo do – I can’t imagine Conrad would have been shouting from the rooftops about this place.
Situated in the brand spankingly rejuvenated district of Shiodome, it is well placed for access into the fashionable Ginza shopping district. The area may lack character, feeling a bit like London’s Canary Wharf at the weekend, but just considerably easier to get around. With the hotel being so elevated it’s best if you can be one of the first to jump in the lift for reception. The style of the hotel is modern and inoffensive, but markedly on the bland side. The rooms are fairly big by Japanese standards, their standout feature being a glass-walled bathroom with an electric blind a perfect reminder that this is a society obsessed with modesty.
What really makes the difference in this class of hotel is the service, and that’s where the Conrad falls down. The concierge service messed up one restaurant booking for us and refused to organise anything outside of the city. Even more surprising was the large queue for (the very mediocre) breakfast – prompting staff to suggest we go to Starbucks instead of waiting. If you want to spend this sort of money on a hotel in Tokyo, there are better places to stay, including our next one. Sorry, Conrad.
If Hilton was the name you grew up hearing then the opposite is probably true for Shangri-La. Until recently the brand has been confined to Asia but is spreading its wings – watch out for the London Shangri-La, due to open in the Shard.
One of the best things about travelling in Japan is the train system – faster than flying and with none of the hassle. Arriving at Tokyo Station we are met on the platform by a porter who helps us with our bags on the short trip to the hotel, which is located in part of the station complex. First impressions are that the strongly Asian décor may have a few touches considered gaudy by Europeans, but it is distinctive. Our corner room has superb views, but the extraordinary thing is the attention to detail. The room is full of cubbyholes containing everything you might have forgotten to pack, and plenty you didn’t even realise you needed.
Clearly a lot of thought has gone in to place. Service is noticeably reverential, apparently a trademark of Shangri-La, but exceptionally friendly and helpful too, with the concierges repeatedly going beyond the call of duty.
It will be interesting to see if Shangri-La’s European expansion can keep up the same standard. The Conrad Hilton brand should pay attention too. DAVID WALSTON