International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
“It’s all good!” is a phrase embedded into the Bay Area vernacular. It is used when deals are done, disputes are settled and to simply answer a typical greeting of “How’s it going?”
And good it is for business travellers lucky enough to be visiting San Francisco, a California city blessed with a good economy (some even say the city is in a “bubble” compared to much of the US), good restaurants, good hotels, a good (if not great) international airport and good public transportation.
The only thing that is not so good for visitors are prices. San Francisco ranks as one of the most expensive cities in the US. With the technology bubble and rising demand keeping top hotels and restaurants sold out (reserve early!), rates are naturally on the rise. For example, in February, San Francisco hotel rates rose 16% compared to the same time last year.
But despite higher prices, visitors keep coming back for more. Convention bookings for this year will increase 11% over last year according to the San Francisco Travel Association, and the city consistently ranks as one of the top destinations in the US.
Elegance has gone downhill in San Francisco, literally, not figuratively.
At one time, the city’s poshest hotels could be found perched atop Nob Hill, a steep climb uphill from the financial district and Union Square. But with the recent arrival of five-star contemporary favourites such as the St Regis and or the Four Seasons, located along bustling Market Street, the high end has come down to sea level and into buzzy SoMa, the acronym for the once-gritty-now-booming area south of Market Street.
Nearby, the new turquoise glass-sheathed InterContinental San Francisco, and with its popular lobby bar (Bar 888) and restaurant (Luce), frequently fill with crowds spilling out of the city’s newly re-vamped Moscone Convention Center. To counter the onslaught of contemporary hotel stylings, the old school Beaux Arts Ritz-Carlton recently modernized its famous lobby bar and dining room to mixed reviews. But its classy and exclusive club level remains unchanged and among the first choices of visiting CEOs and dignitaries. In the know celebs and CEOs also keep coming back to the casually elegant Taj Campton Place, tucked into a quiet corner of Union Square.
Technology titans with business south of the city on “the peninsula” or in Silicon Valley now flock to the see-and-be-seen Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park for meetings and meals, or sunset cocktails on the deck at its Michelin-starred Madera Restaurant. For an upscale, outdoorsy experience, check out the skyline views from Cavallo Point, a five-star luxury resort located under the Golden Gate Bridge about 15 minutes from downtown. The cosy resort, restaurant and spa are housed in a collection of impeccably restored buildings that were once an army base set up to protect the bay from invaders.
San Francisco is the headquarters for two of the trendiest hotel brands in the US: Joie de Vivre and Kimpton. Both are known for converting older buildings into hot, new reasonably priced boutique hotels and restaurants.
Joie de Vivre’s flagship Hotel Vitale, ideally located on the Embarcadero (the city’s waterfront), is the chain’s only new-from-the-ground-up hotel. It is frequently sold out, so book early, and if you feel like a splurge, ask for a “circular suite” with panoramic views of the bay, the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge, which connects the city to Oakland and the “East Bay”. Kimpton’s eclectic Hotel Monaco near Union Square wows business travellers with enthusiastic service, free wi-fi, 24-hour room service and popular complimentary wine tastings from 5 to 6 pm each day.
While it is too early to tell if they will be hits or misses, adventuresome road warriors may want to check in at the sleek Mystic Hotel near the gates to Chinatown, or the intimate Inn at the Presidio, housed in a one-time bachelor officers quarters on the western edge of the city near the Golden Gate Bridge.