Last updated: 09:30 AM ET, Mon December 07 2015

Hyatt Regency Versus Swissotel Chicago, Who is the Victor?

Hotel & Resort | David Cogswell | December 06, 2015

Hyatt Regency Versus Swissotel Chicago, Who is the Victor?

PHOTO: The view from 1407 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. (photo by David Cogswell)

After spending one night in the Swissotel — which was functioning as a spillover hotel for the USTOA Annual Conference and Marketplace — and then moving to the Hyatt Regency where the conference was headquartered, comparisons between the two hotels were unavoidable. Both accommodations have pros and cons.

The Swissotel could never accommodate a large convention like the USTOA Annual Conference and Marketplace. The Hyatt, on the other hand is a conference hotel. That seems to be its core market.

It’s a huge, sprawling property with two towers bisected by a street that are connected via skyway. In terms of being able to accommodate a conference, the Hyatt would certainly be the preferred hotel. No contest.

But in terms of basic individual accommodations, amenities and comfort, the Swissotel takes the cake. In fulfilling its role as a conference hotel, the Hyatt seems to have overlooked some of the details that effect the quality of guest experience. Or maybe there are just some qualities that tend to get lost when an operation reaches a certain size.

The Swissotel is relatively small and quiet, with eye-catching, colorful design features. It’s an architectural novelty built on a triangular footprint. My roughly triangular-shaped corner room had lots of window glass and phenomenal panoramic views of Chicago.

My first impression upon approaching the Hyatt Regency was the intense activity of hundreds of people, a teeming crowd seemingly moving in all directions at once. Individuals arriving, leaving, catching cabs, sitting in the restaurant/bar near the entranceway, riding up or down the escalators from the front door to the check-in counters one flight up, buying coffee drinks and nibbles at the coffee bar or heading off every whichway to conference meetings at one or another of the numerous function spaces in the hotel.

The service at the Hyatt is great. The employees are uber friendly — far beyond the minimum requirements of the job, and they are well trained. There are often people standing near the check-in desks or near the front door to assist people in finding their way. However the hotel is so huge and labyrinthine that even the employees are often stumped as to where a particular function space may be found. It is one of those gigantic conference hotels where there are always a number of people at any given moment wandering around lost.

My room at the Hyatt overlooks the Chicago River at a point very close to what I could see from my room at the Swissotel. But what a difference! The view from the Hyatt is literally a small fraction of what I saw from the Swissotel. The room at the Swissotel had two outward facing walls lined with picture windows that together provided a spectacular panoramic view of the surrounding Chicago skyline, the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

My relatively small window at the Hyatt faces out onto an enclosed corner of the building. A part of the building juts out there so half of the view is blocked off by dark bricks.

At the far left is a nondescript brown paneled steel and glass office tower that blocks that the left end of the view. The center left part of the view is the best, a splendid view of the serenely flowing Chicago River, the car-filled Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue and the glorious Wrigley Building.

Unfortunately that part of the view is smudged to the eye by a thick coating of dirt on the window. After experiencing the expansive, exhilarating views of the Swissotel, it’s a bit claustrophobic and depressing to be shut in behind dark brick walls and a small dirt-covered window.

Just as small group tours can gain access to places and experiences that are not available to large groups, large conference hotels have certain challenges in accommodating huge numbers of guests.

I went down to the lobby restaurant for breakfast with a half an hour to spare before my first conference activity and I asked the nice gentleman hosting the restaurant how I might best find seating. He pointed to a long, winding line and told me there would be about a 20-minute wait. When I told him I couldn’t possibly do that he suggested trying the coffee bar where I might be able to grab a pre-packaged sandwich.

I took his advice and just settled for a latte breakfast. There was a line at the coffee bar too, but the wait was only a few minutes. Then I went on to search for my first function of the day.

The Hyatt Regency is a good hotel overall. It's a business-oriented hotel, designed with mostly muted beiges, browns and greens. But it has some striking features, such as the bar on the second floor above the lobby near the check-in counters. Behind the bar there are giant picture windows with stunning views across the Chicago River and the skyline beyond. That window, by the way, was spotless and the effect was staggering. There was an arresting circular tower over the bar with many layers of shelves covered in colorful liquor bottles.

The ceiling over the lobby towers over two floors, high above both the entrance lobby and the check-in area one flight up. The ceiling is enormous and spectacular, with an arty design composed of wooden slats with lights in between changing colors. Giant Christmas tree ornaments were hanging from the slats for the holiday season. The colossal scale of the ceiling gives the effect of a huge, secular cathedral. 

Conferences have their own magic. The gathering of hundreds or thousands of people together to focus on shared interests creates a level of human energy that cannot be duplicated any other way. To accommodate that takes a lot of space and specialized kinds of functions. The Hyatt has it down. It can do conferences and pull them off without a hiccup.

But for personal comfort and a cheerful and uplifting room environment, I would choose the smaller Swissotel down the street.

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