Business trip: Atlanta
Like its official symbol, the phoenix, Atlanta is rising from the ashes of the recent recession, maintaining its position as the commercial capital of the fast-growing southeastern US.
Over the last five years Atlanta has added a $1.4 billion international airport terminal, opened or renovated a slew of hotels, attracted additional national and regional business headquarters, and spurred development of once decaying downtown neighbourhoods with multimillion dollar mixed-use developments and parks.
Evidence of Atlanta’s comeback: overnight visitation was up 9% in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the city’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. In October 2013, Korean Air added daily 407-seat Airbus A380 nonstop flights between Atlanta and Seoul. The city ranked fourth in the US for meetings and conventions in 2012, after Orlando, Chicago and Las Vegas. Its surprisingly sophisticated and dynamic dining scene continues to enthuse visitors and locals alike – Atlantans dine out more often than New York or Chicago residents, and enjoy restaurant prices well below the national average, according to Zagat.
Most business travellers arriving in Atlanta will meet, eat and sleep somewhere along the north-south corridor, which starts in the city’s central core (downtown) and moves north to Midtown, Buckhead and the sprawling Perimeter Centre/Dunwoody area, which has more office space than downtown. Stick close to this spine and you can get around easily by taxi or MARTA (the city’s rapid rail system). But if business takes you into the tech-heavy northern suburbs such as Marietta, Alpharetta or Gwinnett County, a rental car is necessary to traverse the sprawl.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is located 10 miles southwest of downtown, about 15 minutes away by car, taxi or MARTA. In May 2012, the airport opened the 1,200,000sqft international Terminal F, which, combined with Terminal E, brings the international gate count to 40, with nonstop flights serving cities in 40 countries. As such, getting to, from and through the world’s busiest airport can be daunting.
The most elegant recent addition to Atlanta’s hotel scene is the 127-room Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta, located in a tall, narrow, 42-storey Art Deco tower in the affluent Buckhead district. The refined rooms' design elements recall only hints the luxury chain’s Asian roots, and most have excellent views (ask for one with a private balcony). Wind down at the hotel’s spa (the largest in the city with 14 treatment rooms) or in the hotel's indoor saline lap pool. Invite colleagues to a power breakfast or brunch at the smallish, contemporary Café & Bar, located off the main lobby, and get your day started with the grilled vegetable frittata with cheese and plum tomato compote, or chef Josh Carden’s elegant, sweet-tea-marinated take on a local Atlanta favourite, chicken and waffles.
Half a mile south is the 151-room St Regis Atlanta, a hotel that is as popular with locals as it is with out-of-towners due to its location at the intersection of mansion-lined West Paces Ferry Road and commercial Peachtree Road. In typical St Regis style, a staff of butlers service large, plush rooms with views over Buckhead’s busy streets and forested neighbourhoods. Socialites and business travellers mingle in the sprawling lobby and the buzzy St Regis Bar.
Those with appointments on the city’s bustling northern edge should consider the 275-room Le Meridien Atlanta Perimeter, located on the northern arc of Atlanta’s busy circumferential freeway Interstate 285, referred to as simply “the perimeter”. The hotel’s black, white and grey minimalist decor belies the warm spirit of the hotel staff. All rooms are oversized and come with king-sized beds (ask for a room with two beds and you’ll get a room with two kings). In an unusual design choice, there are tall ergonomic director’s chairs at guest room desks, most of which have bar-height working surfaces.