This Business Travel Guide to London is provided in interview with Debbie Carling, CTM’s CEO Europe.
Debbie has lived and worked in London for most of her life, and has more than 30 years’ experience in the business travel industry. Debbie was appointed as CEO Europe in July 2016.
Q. What makes London a great place to conduct business?
A. London is a fantastic place to conduct business, firstly because it is the most connected city in the world. From the five major airports that service the capital, London receives direct flights from over 365 locations globally. London’s history itself stems from growth, trade and business, meaning that you are never short of choice for business hotels, meeting spaces and venues. There is truly something for every occasion and budget.
Q. London is a city of history and tradition – what are the most important cultural dos and don’ts for international business travelers to grasp prior to arrival?
A. While London is indeed a city of tradition, it is also one of multiculturalism and tolerance. There are still a few tips which will come in handy when in and around town. British people queue or wait in-line and as this is not always tradition in every culture, a sure way to upset a Brit is to push in or walk to the front, so best to avoid. Also, smoking in public areas is banned in the UK, so if you need to light-up look for the nearest designated smoking area. But perhaps the number one piece of advice I can offer to you when making your way across London is keep your eyes open; it’s a very busy city, with cars, taxis, trams, buses, bikes and people coming at you from every direction. Oh, and probably best not use your phone as you’re walking. But do try and sample fish and chips if you can. Or pie and mash if you want to be a true Cockney.
“A sure way to upset a Brit is to push in or walk to the front (of a queue)”
Q. In the past five years, what has changed most about the business travel experience in London?
A. Goodness, what hasn’t changed? Gatwick, Stanstead and Luton Airports have all undergone (and are still undergoing) major investment, improvement, expansion and refurbishment. As I mentioned before, the area around King’s Cross and Pancras is practically unrecognizable and Euston Station (which links London to the northwest of England and Scotland) is currently being transformed. The Night Tube is now operational on some of our Underground lines, which means you’ll never be stuck for a route home. Uber has launched. Also the number and variety of accommodation options has also increased dramatically, giving business travelers so many more options to suit their budgets and business requirements.
Q. In your opinion, which is the best area of London to stay in when traveling for business, and why?
A. I guess that depends why you’re in London and where your meetings are – will they be in the City, Canary Wharf, the West End or near one of the major exhibition and conference centers.
The great thing about London is that there is no shortage of accommodation and travel is easy so the city is pretty much your oyster in terms of where to stay. Stay in the City of London and you can stroll past St Paul’s on your morning commute. Opt for Kensington, Bayswater or Mayfair near the West End, and you could walk through one of the Royal Parks to your meetings and blow away the cobwebs in a really special setting. Choose Canary Wharf to experience life near (or even on, if you use the Clipper boat service) the Thames.
A huge amount of investment has also been pumped into King’s Cross and St Pancras in recent years with beautiful hotels and a choice of really exciting restaurants nearby, as well as being the home of the Eurostar and rail links to major cities in the north and north-east of England and Scotland. And if you want to be super hip, head east and stay near Shoreditch – great bars, restaurants and hotels all within walking distance of the City of London.
Q. Where is your most recommended place to conduct business meetings for visiting business travelers, and why?
A. My top tip would be to do business with someone who has club membership, whether that’s one of the Soho House venues, or Home House, Century Club, The Groucho or even the Tate Modern – they are generally quiet during the day – oases of calm in the capital.
“There is no shortage of accommodation and travel is easy so the city is pretty much your oyster”
Q. Best places to conduct a working lunch / dinner in the city?
A. Again, it depends where you’re staying. If you’re in the City, you could try Sushi Samba on the 38th floor of the Heron Tower with its amazing views. Great views can also be had at Aqua at The Shard and The Fenchurch restaurant in the Sky Garden (also in the heart of the City). In the center of town, Chiltern Firehouse is still popular and any of Jason Atherton’s restaurants come highly recommended. A number of Ivy Brasseries have sprung up across town (Soho, Covent Garden, Kensington), which are great for business lunches – lovely food, buzzing atmosphere and very reasonably priced.
Q. Any watch points for transiting international business travelers at LHR?
A. There are five terminals at Heathrow accommodating over 200,000 passengers daily traveling to and from 194 destinations so you might find this ‘flight connections’ video useful to watch. CLICK HERE.
Q. What is the best way to get from Heathrow to the city?
A. Heathrow Express is super quick – just 15 minutes from Heathrow to Paddington station. From late 2019, the new Elizabeth Line will be fully open providing a direct link from Heathrow through the City, Canary Wharf and the Docklands and further east.
Q. What are your top tips for conducting business at LHR?
A. Each of the terminals at Heathrow has its own lounge or choice of lounges, including the SkyTeam lounge in Terminal 4 and the Aspire Lounge in Terminal 5, which even has a spa. The lounges are a great pace to hold informal meetings, catch up on email and relax between and before flights. Outside of the lounges, Heathrow offers all passengers free Wi-Fi, which can be upgraded if you register for pay-as-you-go. Meeting rooms are available with full office facilities at Terminals 2, 4 and 5, with the Plaza Premium Lounge at Terminal 4 open from 0500 to 2200.
Q. Must-have app for navigating ground transport options in the city?
A. That’s easy, you’ll do well with Citymapper or Moovit and the official TfL (Transport for London) app with its Tube maps is also useful.
“LHR’s lounges are a great pace to hold informal meetings, catch up on email and relax between and before flights”
Q. What’s the best way to manage foreign currency in London?
A. All the foreign exchange shops and counters in the UK are safe and tend to be similar. It’s good to shop around for the best price on the day but there are plenty of places available at the airports or if you are in the city at an ICE exchange which have great rates on Euros and US dollars if you visit their website for a code before exchanging.
Q. Any traveler safety tips while visiting London?
A. Traveling in London is no different to traveling in any other major capital city in the world. Be aware, be alert, be sensible and you’ll be fine. Just bear in mind to be extra vigilant where there are big crowds of people, whether that’s traveling on the Tube or walking through major tourist spots.
Q. Any advice for female travelers to maximize their safety while in London?
A. Whether you’re traveling as a lone female or not, my advice remains the same – be alert and be sensible. Plan your route back to the hotel and let people know your location and ETA en route. Avoid dark streets or quiet neighborhoods at night. Be careful how you use your phone in public to avoid it being snatched and use a zipped, cross body bag to keep your valuables close to you.
Q. What should every business traveler experience while in London?
A. If you can, try and squeeze a leisure trip in. London has got the most amazing cultural and sightseeing spots in the world – from the architecturally astounding modern buildings in the City, on the Southbank (The Tate and The Shard) and the new Design Museum in Kensington, to the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace – even the beautiful old merchants’ cottages around Spitalifields and Brick Lane. We have some of the best theater – head for the West End for that – and gastronomy. And also some of the best open spaces – the Royal Parks, Regents Park, Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath.
Q. What is your top tip for getting the best value out of a business trip to London?
A. Travel on the tube (London Underground) – it’s quicker and cheaper than taking a cab – and check Time Out London Offers or Open Table before you visit, as they offer great prices for three course meals at some of the best restaurants in London (and even more affordable if you are lunching) as well as great theater discounts.
Q. In your experience, what is the most common mistake business travelers make when visiting London?
A. Taking a black cab from Heathrow into town. Black cabs are great – the drivers are knowledgeable and helpful and know London like the backs of their hands – but that commute from the airport into town can be incredibly slow and expensive. Definitely take the train or pre-book a fixed fare chauffeur.
All opinions and recommendations are the interviewee’s own. CTM recommends all travelers conduct their own thorough, independent research into their travel destination(s) prior to making any travel decisions, and take out adequate travel insurance prior to travel.
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