“Luton is like little London”
Luton is a town highly regarded for rich history, cultural diversity, dynamic innovation and the gateway to not just London but the rest of Europe.
With the town formulating a mix of old industrial buildings and new modern developments, the Luton skyline presents an array of characteristics and views. At the peak of Stuart Street stand two imposing towers which hold much of Luton’s history. Having been left derelict due to Luton’s regeneration plans, it only seemed right to turn them into town’s most epochal hotel. The buildings were purchased by Franco & Lefi Anacreonte in August 2008, with the plan of renovating the 1976 buildings into a luxury boutique hotel. The design mission was to create a four star hotel at three star prices. However, the challenge was to refurbish the two derelict buildings – Allianz Insurance and the Bedfordshire Chamber of Commerce – into one and to add fashionable boutique aesthetics. This coincided with the start of the worst recession in many decades. Despite calls to delay the project due to the global financial uncertainty, Franco and Lefi continued their valiant plans to change the Luton hotel market with this inspiring project.
It was clear the aspirations of the project, the nature of the buildings and the long term prospects of the hotel carried a lot of significance. The name needed to reflect this. Originally the name selected was the Landmark Hotel and this continued throughout the design and building process. However, during the final stages, the name needed to be more chic and the Icon Hotel was carefully selected from a list of five names. The Icon symbolised the buildings, the internal theme and the end service level it would provide for years to come. It was certainly an Iconic choice.
The 20,000 sq ft conversion was carried out over three precisely planned development phases:
– Phase 1 was the lobby, bar & restaurant which was completed by November 2009
– Phase 2 was 31 bedrooms in the tower above the restaurant
(Now known as the 5-wing block which was completed prior to November 2009)
– Phase 3 was a further 29 bedrooms, fitness suite and two conference suites which was completed March and August 2010.
The development project was carefully selected by National broadcaster Channel 4 to feature in an hour long documentary showcasing the progress of the hotel. Screened in late October 2009 the hotel’s newly created website received 29,000 hits in just 24 hours. The television programme was screened worldwide with feedback and good will messages coming from as far as New Zealand. The restaurant, Cappello’s, opened on 27th November 2009 and 31 of the 60 bedrooms were released just 4 days later on December 1st. On the 29th December 2009 the Icon Hotel received its first review on Trip Advisor titled “Greats that’s it” with the reviewer referring to the stay that the “Room was amazing, it’s so nice to stay somewhere people have a taste of design that is functional”. One of Cappello’s partners is Luton Town Football Club and on 15th December 2009 staged a function for 120 guests with great success. January 2010 saw the Club holding small conferences and booking further accommodation including new signings and loan players.
In August 2010 the Icon Hotel opened a further 24 bedrooms for sale which increased the number of rooms available to 55. In December 2010 Cappello’s held a 5 week Christmas events calendar which attracted over 1,000 visitors to the hotel for a variety of lunches, dinners and parties. In March 2011 the hotel was booked out by a large multinational company for 1 week. In time for staging this event, the Icon Hotel completed the development of a further 4 bedrooms, the onsite gym and iConference suite. The event was hailed a success and the company returned in February 2012. In April 2011 Cappello’s opened its terrace with the aim of it being a relaxing environment to enjoy light lunches and cocktails. The year 2011 was a successful year for the Icon Hotel and Cappello’s Restaurant which saw over 12,000 bedroom nights sold and a further 1,000 visitors for the 2011 Christmas calendar of events. September 2011 saw the release of the 60th bedroom.
On the 30th May 2012 the Icon Hotel announced that it has received a Trip Advisor® Certificate of Excellence award 2012. The accolade, which honours hospitality excellence, is given only to establishments that consistently achieve outstanding traveller reviews on Trip Advisor, and is extended to qualifying businesses worldwide. Approximately only 10% of accommodation establishments listed on Trip Advisor receive this prestigious award. To qualify for the Certificate of Excellence, businesses must maintain an overall rating of four or higher, out of a possible five, as reviewed by travellers on Trip Advisor. Additional criteria include the volume of reviews received within the last 12 months.
Perhaps just as significantly, the month of May also saw the Icon Hotel individually selected by the AA to feature in its publication ‘Britain’s Best Hotel’s 2012 – Perfect Places to Stay’ after receiving a massive 81% during an AA overnight mystery shopper inspection. The inspector referred to this score as being the highest in the local area. Cappello’s Restaurant also achieved a 5 star rating from the food standards agency during the unannounced inspection. On the 4th July 2012, a guest reviewed their stay as “Fantastic!!” and commented “I say WELL DONE to the private owners who, in my view, are leading the way for other major hotel groups”. The luxury and boutique Icon Hotel and Cappello’s Restaurant has rapidly become the stylish urban retreat it intended to be. Maintaining full occupancy throughout the year, becoming an established events venue and being the best hotel in Luton is tribute to the original aspirations. For the next three years the hotel continued to function from strength to strength and a host of changes were made to ensure the Icon Hotel remained the most desired hotel in Luton. Corporate customers include one of Europe’s largest commercial airlines, the biggest private jet carrier in the world and one of the most popular couriers in Europe. Some feat against the plethora of multinational hotel’s which dominate Luton. The Icon Hotel introduced an airport shuttle bus, complimentary bicycle hire, a therapy suite, a games console room, business centre and additional lounge (The Library Lounge). This was in addition to maintaining services which have existed since the hotel’s opening such as complimentary parking and Wi-Fi
One of the most prominent additions was a custom built fish tank situated in the centre of the Piano Lounge and Restaurant, accommodating 2000 litres of water, a shipwrecked ‘iconic’ full scale original 1968 Vespa scooter and 80 African Cichlid multi-coloured fish. The fish tank measures one meter wide, one meter high by one meter deep. The glass thickness is 25mm. Exactly how the fish are protected from a rusting Vespa remains a closely guarded secret. A combination of five local companies were involved in the project and the construction and cost in excess of £25,000. Shortly afterwards the Icon placed a 1970 Fiat 500 on the canopy roof of the main entrance. After lengthy negotiations the Icon was allowed to close part of the roads around the hotel to allow this technical installation which required much precision. Luton was stood to a standstill as the Fiat was craned 100ft into the air and pivoted over the dual carriage way to accurately position it in the centre of the canopy. Adding to the prominence of the building, the Fiat 500 has become not only a talked about landmark but also a marker for providing directions around the town.
On 1st August 2017 the Icon Hotel was proud to announce that it had been upgraded to four star accreditation by the AA Hotel Services. This followed an unannounced and unplanned overnight inspection by the AA hotel services which took place on Wednesday 26th July 2017. It was a fantastic achievement and acquired through passing stringent inspections covering cleanliness, service, food, bedrooms, bathrooms and hospitality. All good things come in threes and this was the third high profile award achieved in the last two months. This was accompanied by achieving a five star hygiene rating from Luton Borough Council’s Environmental Health Department and a 2017 Certificate of Excellence Award from Trip Advisor. The awards coincided with a refurbishment of the hotel costing in excess of £300,000 which included a newly designed bar and lounge area, a new front of house desk, upgraded Wi-Fi system, website and additional bedrooms. “This is a very proud accolade for all involved and we would like to thank everyone who has helped make this prestigious award possible” said Michael Bugler, General Manager at Icon Hotel Luton. “There is no greater way of achieving such accreditation than through a mystery shopper experience and this award is testament to the team and our approach. We have purposefully made ourselves unique and very different from the array of multinational hotels in Luton and I hope this adds to this approach. I am delighted for the hotel but also the town and I am confident that being a four star hotel will be a welcome boost to not only the Hospitality and Leisure sector of Luton but the entire business community”.