Having spent a large part of my recent 10 years living in excess of 200 hotels, I have developed definite favourites for business, leisure and events around the world including Australia. There are many fantastic hotels in Sydney and one of my preferences is The Westin Sydney, voted 2011 Best Australian Hotel in the Luxury Travel and Style Magazine Gold List for 6 consecutive years.
Martin Place / Image by Adam.J.W.C. of wikimedia commons
Conveniently located in the business district central of Sydney, the hotel provides easy access to offices and business meetings in the city as well as the surrounding restaurants and boutique shopping within Pitt Street Mall. Overlooking Martin Place, this 5 star hotel has front row seats to several of the city's key ceremonial and recreational activities including the annual giant Lord Mayor's Christmas Tree and Anzac Day commemorative services. These and several other reasons make The Westin Sydney a preferred hotel whenever I'm in town for business or leisure.
One of the reasons I enjoy staying at The Westin Sydney is the rich history of its Martin Place location and the redeveloped historic General Post Office building. A quick visual scan of Martin Place displays clear evidence of its role as the financial and insurance centre of Sydney. As home to some of Sydney's historic landmarks including the General Post Office (GPO) and the Cenotaph, Martin was added to the Australian Heritage Commission's list in 1989.
Over the 1970s, the section of Martin Place between Pitt and George Street was converted into a pedestrian plaza where many significant Sydney events now take place including Anzac Day commemorative services and the largest Christmas tree in Sydney. You can't get any better front row seats than The Westin Sydney. I enjoy sitting at the steps of GPO, watching the ebb and flow of people that fill this thoroughfare and being the occasional spectator to charity events the likes of Oxfam, walkabouts on jobs and occasional demonstrations by Occupy Sydney. Martin Place is truly the heart of Sydney.
The Westin Sydney located in GPO is right at the centre of this heart and the history of GPO being the traditionally gathering place for locals to receive news of national significance. Constructed from 1866 to 1891 by architect James Barnett, GPO is a neo-classical sandstone marvel with a landmark clocktower. Refurnished in 1996, key features of the original interiors were retained and eloquently contrasted with modern contemporary designs. The Westin Sydney stands in the former courtyard, now converted into an atrium while shops and restaurants dot the ground and below ground levels. The hotel had also restored the city's iconic bells of the GPO Clock Tower installed in 1890 to their original glory. The 5 bells produce the full Westminster Chimes and are reputed to be one of the best quarter chime in Australia.
The Westin Difference
Leaving busy Pitt Street and stepping into Westin is usually welcoming experience with the friendly and helpful concierge through to a relatively painless check-in process. Voted 2011 Best Hotel in Sydney by the Readers of DestinAsian Magazine, you can expect the efficient Westin service from front door to room but it lacks when the hotel gets busy with queues at check-in and check-out times. The limited number of staff to guests at those times means applying a bit more patience, which unfortunately I lack at times of early international arrivals.
With Westin, there's always a familiar consistency of décor, comfort and 5-star level of service that commensurate with the room rate. Spaces are essentially modern contemporary and in the case of Sydney property, a little touch of heritage. There's my Heavenly Bed with Luxurious king-size mattress complete with 7 layers of soft cotton sheets, plush feather and down doonas and pillows of my choice that make for a much needed restful sleep especially after a long day of back-to-back meetings. I have to confess I enjoy the overhead drenching showers and additional massage rose in the luxurious bathroom. The recently refurbished Executive Lounge provides a quick brekkie, meetings over afternoon coffee and pre-dinner drinks. There's also the In-Room Spa service, SuperFoods and Westin Kids Club for guests looking for a message, health-enhancing meal and amenities for children.
Executive Lounge / Image courtesy of The Westin Sydney
Westin is one of the Starwood brands and members of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program will automatically earn points on their total spend in the hotel, which are redeemable for free nights, room upgrades, award flights, merchandise awards etc in more than 1000 hotels in 100 countries. In addition, cumulative qualifying nights of 25 and 50 in a calendar year will earn you additional benefits. The general peeve I share with others is the absence of express check-in and a relatively small executive lounge in Westin Sydney unlike in other Westins for SPG Platinum and Gold members. Service levels are generally high but are sometimes challenged by the high guest traffic and demands of a business hotel.
Guest Rooms and Experience
As a result of its unique interiors, The Westin Sydney offers two distinctive styles of accommodation, all of which have views of the city. The 50 rooms in the Heritage Wing are all carved from the original 3 floors of the GPO block and each average 36 to 62 square metres. The 31 storey modern tower block provides guests rooms averaging 35 to 65 square metres, fitted out in typical Westin contemporary design.
Heritage Superior Room / Image courtesy of The Westin Sydney
I particularly enjoy the views of the city at day and night through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the living and bedroom of the Executive Suite. The separate living room with work desk and seating for 4 is a convenient office and meeting room when I'm there on extended stays.
All rooms feature the Heavenly Beds and luxurious bathrooms and the basic facilities you can expect from a Westin hotel – turndown service, work desk, high speed wireless internet access, cable TV, make-up or shaving mirror, bathrobes and slippers, mini bar, coffee & tea making facilities. The Tower and Heritage wings are connected by three bridges on levels 1, 3, and 6.
A convenient space to meet and chat over drinks is the Lobby Lounge with its social atmosphere. It is a no-frills venue for light meals and beverages seven days a week but I enjoy the open and airy feel with daylight peeking into the lobby from the stunning glass ceiling that stretches from the tower to across to the GPO. High tea is also available daily from 2:30pm until 4:30pm.
The all-purpose Mosaic Restaurant offers modern Australian cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner in a similar open setting to the Lounge and bathed with natural light from the atrium. Breakfast is a visual delight with a rich array of fresh juices, fruits, pastries, cold cuts and hot items. I believe the menu is designed with the business guest in mind and this makes Mosaic a convenient place for a meeting over decent lunch or dinner. There's the easy option of 1, 2 or 3 course all served with a glass of house wine for AUD38, AUD58 and AUD68 respectively. On Sundays, the restaurant features a buffet brunch of breakfast favourites, soup de jour, starts, mains and deserts at AUD60 per person from 12pm to 2.30pm.
Well prepared and presented food at Mosiac / Image courtesy of The Westin Sydney
Overall the dishes are generally well prepared, tasty and competitively priced but don't expect Michelin star or hats. If you are looking for greater variety, the GPO building also houses 14 restaurants and bars in the below ground level.
Meetings & Events
Grand Ballroom banquet style / Image courtesy of The Westin Sydney
You can't operate 5-star meeting venue without wireless connectivity in all rooms and public areas and a 24 hour business centre. In addition to these amenities, my office informs me that The Westin Sydney contains the largest pillar-free ballroom amongst the hotels in Sydney. The Grand Ballroom can accommodate up to 1,000 guests for conferences or gala functions. It also sits up to 1,400 theatre style for events.
Heritage Ballroom banquet style / Image courtesy of The Westin Sydney
A quaint space unique to The Westin Sydney is the Heritage Ballroom in GPO wing, ideal for banquet dinners or weddings. It was once the site of Australia's first public telephone exchange installed in 1882. This Victorian styled room boast a spectacular 11 metre high dome ceiling to wow up to 300 guests. 8 smaller meeting rooms are available in the GPO wing.
Heritage Boardroom / Image courtesy of The Westin Sydney
The continued investment into improving the hotel's meeting and event spaces and experienced team as explained by Mark Burns, General Manager of The Westin Sydney, has paid off with the property recognised as Australasia's Leading Meetings and Conference Hotel at the 18th World Travel Awards ceremony in 2011 via a voting campaign by 183,000 travel and tourism hospitality professionals across the globe.