Luxury checks in at new Hong Kong hotels

Hong Kong’s high-end hotel sector just got more luxurious with a spate of new openings and refurbishments designed to cash in on the Chinese city’s newfound position as a top travel destination.

Spurred by a strong economic recovery from almost seven years of decline, record growth in tourist arrivals and increasing foreign investment, the city got its first new hotels in 15 years this autumn.

The much-anticipated Four Seasons business hotel and the Landmark Mandarin Oriental boutique hotel generated a groundswell of refurbishments at the city’s other four- and five-star properties.

As a result, the city now has arguably the best rooms in the world, travel-industry experts say.

“Hong Kong is now competing with the likes of London, Paris and New York. It rates very close to the top,” said Paul Husband, of Husband Retail Consulting, which specialises in luxury retail outlets throughout Asia.

“New York may just pip it for variety, but Hong Kong has the edge in service — that’s something all of Asia does very well,” he adds.

The sleek steel and glass Four Seasons was billed as Hong Kong’s first six-star hotel ahead of its opening in September, a tag general manager William Mackay has studiously tried to avoid.

“That was not us who came up with that,” the Englishman says. “There is no standardised rating system and hotels that give themselves such awards base them on no objective criteria. I don’t even like to say we are a luxury hotel — that implies an element of wastefulness.”

Nonetheless, the arrival of the 399-room Four Seasons — and its associated serviced apartment block next door, Four Seasons Place — heralded nothing short of a renaissance in the territory’s business hotel sector.

High-end property the Island Shangri-La completed a huge refurbishment programme ahead of the opening and the venerable Mandarin Oriental embarked on a huge refit. Many of the city’s four- and three-star properties also decided to up the ante.

“I think the Four Seasons is very good for business because there is so much demand and it helps generate even more,” said Island Shangri-La general manager Franz Donhauser.

“There is a relation between the different strata of hotels — if the five-stars get better, then that tends to make the four-star hotels better and that brings up the three-star hotels,” he added.

Hong Kong’s biggest year, for hotels at least, was 1997, when all rooms were filled with travellers curious to see the last days of the former British colony and the first days of China’s resumed rule.

Since then, the sector has been plagued by an economy that slumped in the wake of the Asian economic crisis and the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak of 2003, which decimated the tourism industry.

But growth in China, which fuels resurgence in the local economy, has brought more international business travellers to the city, and industry professionals hope the opening last month of Hong Kong Disneyland will help boost leisure arrivals, especially from mainland China.

The Hong Kong government now estimates a record 25-million people will come to the city this year, making it the second-most-visited Asian destination after China.

With recovering demand for tourism in Hong Kong, Thailand is unlikely to see 13-million visitors this year, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Meanwhile, the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, a smaller 119-room property in the heart of downtown, is hoping to clean up in the high-end leisure market, filling a yawning gap in the boutique market.

“Hong Kong’s hotels are responding to the city’s economic buoyancy,” said luxury retail specialist Husband.

“The long-term view of Hong Kong when you put together what it has to offer — and combine that with the casinos in Macau and the big convention centres opening nearby — is a compelling global offering,” he added.

That’s great news for the likes of Island Shangri-La’s Donhauser, who predicts this year will be the best on record for his hotel.

“There is just so much happening in Hong Kong’s favour at the moment,” he said. — AFP

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