The latest hotel guest amenity has nothing to do with the room, a welcoming fruit basket or fancy soap in the bathroom. Fancy hotels have at least one. And now, so do dozens of middle-priced hotels.
It's called the hotel limousine. Whether you're staying at the Peninsula in Hong Kong or the Drake in New York, there seems to be a luxury car waiting for you.
At certain hotels and resorts around the world, limousines virtually are expected. At the train station in Milan, it is not an abnormal sight to see Mercedes limousines picking up passengers from the Orient Express for a leisurely drive to Villa d'Este on Lake Como.
Rolls-Royce limousines are a regular fixture at the Palace Hotel in St. Moritz. And in Washington, the Hay Adams wouldn't be the Hay Adams without its limousine.
But hotel competition has become so fierce that a growing number of guests almost can expect to find a luxury limousine at their disposal.
When the 288-room Four Seasons hotel opened on Boston's Back Bay in June, the hotel offered free limousine service to guests. The Drake Hotel in New York offers limousine service to guests, including a free Cadillac used for its Wall Street shuttle each morning.
The Huntington in San Francisco just bought a 1962 Silver Cloud II Rolls-Royce and offers the car to its guests on a complimentary basis. And the Park Hyatt Hotel in Chicago has acquired a vintage, elegant 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III.
"One of the first things we did after renovating the entire hotel," said Gary Sain, corporate vice president for the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C., "was to come up with a proposal for our own limousine. We recognize its importance as a necessary convenience for a hotel of our caliber." The new Ritz Carlton limo will be available for all guests during peak morning hours for their downtown appointments, and by reservation at other times.
At Washington's Watergate Hotel, managing director Paul Astbury was one of the first to provide complimentary limousines for his guests.
In Hong Kong, the Peninsula, a hotel that seems to define the word service, was one of the first to make use of luxury limousines on a grand scale. The hotel's fleet of dark green Rolls-Royces is nothing less than legendary.
Since 1970, Peninsula guests have been transported royally by Rolls-Royces. In fact, when the hotel made its first order for seven Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow models, it made news in England. Rolls-Royce announced it was the largest single order for one model ever received.
The Brewster Green saloons quickly became the hotel's trademark around the world. (In 1974, when the hotel tried to replace the limousines with Lincoln Continentals, the move was met with nearly unanimous disapproval by guests. The U.S. cars were soon replaced by Rolls-Royces.)
In 1980 the Peninsula placed another record order for nine Silver Shadows. The Peninsula uses a team of 17 chauffeurs to operate its Rolls-Royce fleet.
"We look at our Rollses," said Lynn Grebstad, spokeswoman for the Peninsula, "as an integral part of our hotel. And so do our guests. After all, what would coming to the Peninsula be without arriving via Rolls-Royce?"
Indeed, few Peninsula guests arriving at Hong Kong's Kai Tak Airport leave for the hotel in anything but a Rolls-Royce. The ride from the airport becomes a welcome buffer between the airplane ride and the frenetic pace of the city.
The cost of using one of the Peninsula's limos: about $40 an hour. However, many guests prefer to hire the cars for a full-day rate of about $200. One exception is for guests staying in the hotel's Marco Polo suite. A Silver Shadow is put at their disposal 24 hours a day, included in the room rent.
Fleet of Stretch Cars
"Hong Kong is tailor-made for limousines," said Rudolf Greiner, general manager of the Regent, which, like the Peninsula, defines the state of the art of limousines in the crown colony. Greiner commands a fleet of seven Mercedes stretch limousines, two Phantom Rolls-Royces and 10 showcase Daimlers.
As a result, the long, circular driveway of the Regent, decorated with a moving parade of dream cars, is truly an impressive sight.
At the Regent in Bangkok, general manager Clyde Min presides over a fleet of beautiful white Mercedes limousines. Anyone who has ever stayed in Bangkok knows that the Regent's limousines are not only the nicest, but the most necessary of hotel amenities. The hire fees are about $15 an hour, the drivers are knowledgeable and have mastered the most difficult art of negotiating one of the toughest traffic situations in Asia, if not the world.
Perhaps the ultimate limo perk is in Hong Kong. The Miramar Hotel there has become the first to have its fleet of Mercedes limousines licensed to operate in both Hong Kong and mainland China.
The hotel limousine also has invaded Hawaii. Almost all the major hotels in Waikiki offer limousine service. More often than not, the cars are used for airport pickups and deliveries.
First to Have Fleet