Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Beijing's the Thing
China and the Hotels of Tomorrow
by Sylvie Greil

Banyan Tree Ringha

China’s decision to adopt a capitalist take on communism has turned it into the world’s fourth-largest business travel market, and the hotel industry knows it. Mega-hotels for folks with suits and expense accounts have become ubiquitous in the dense silhouettes of Chinese metropolises, but now we’ll get treated to the kinds of sprawling luxury resorts that offer a chance to get away from the crowds. Since 2005, Banyan Tree has been running the magical Banyan Tree Ringha in China's Yunnan province. It’s an awe-inspiring natural setting that will make you forget the Dow Jones ever existed. In fact, as decreed by the Chinese government, it's the official Shangri-La.

The most recent group to eye China is Best Western International, with twelve new properties in the works and plans for 60 hotels offering 10,000 rooms by 2009. This will make the group the fastest-growing hotel chain in China. They announced this fall that these new hotels will not be no-nonsense roadside options for travelers on a budget, but four- and five-star properties in Beijing, Shanghai, the Pearl and Yangtze River deltas and elsewhere. Best Western currently has seventeen hotels in China.

The Ritz-Carlton, Sanya

As we’ve hinted at, China isn’t just all work and no play. Also expanding behind its red (increasingly pink) curtain is The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company with The Ritz-Carlton, Sanya on the attractive South China Sea—its first resort to launch in 2008. It will feature a luxurious 30,000-square-foot spa, 451 rooms, suites and private villas, the signature Ritz Kids Club, three restaurants, tennis courts, swimming pools, a fitness center and, of course, conference facilities. The leisure traveler will also find Ritz-Carlton hotels in Beijing-Financial Street (2006), Beijing-China Central Place (2007), Guangzhou (2007), Shenzhen (2008) and Hong Kong-Kowloon (2009).

Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong

Four Seasons, which has been running the Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai since 2002 and Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong since 2005, will open the Four Seasons Hotel Beijing in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The 300 rooms are minutes from a number of international corporate offices, major exhibition centers and very close to the Forbidden City and Tian An Men Square. (Four Seasons is also expanding in the world’s other fast-growing sector, India, with the 2007 opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, which will offer ayurvedic spa services and views of the Arabian Sea.)

Hilton, which now has five hotels in China, including ones in Shanghai and Beijing, will open the upscale, 358-room Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Tianjin in 2008.

InterContinental is already ahead of the gang with four recent newcomers: Holiday Inn Jasmine Suzhou, Crowne Plaza Fudan Shanghai and the more leisure-focused Crowne Plaza Changshu and Holiday Inn Sea View Qinhuangdao, situated in an emerging tourist area.

Starwood is currently building 27 new hotels in China, with plans for 100 by 2010—50 branded hotels have also been reported. Meanwhile, Super 8 has the honor of being China’s largest foreign economy hotel operator with 96 properties open or opening in 54 cities. That’s a lot of beds!

The Commune by the Great Wall Kempinski

The most fabulous newcomer on the leisure front comes courtesy of the Kempinski group with private access to an un-restored section of the Great Wall. Open since September 2006, the modernist The Commune by the Great Wall Kempinski is a design-award-winning former-museum/commune/celeb hangout (Renee Zellweger and Anthony Minghella have been spotted here, among others) that has been transformed into an official hotel. Spa suites include those for couples with partial views of the Great Wall and furniture designed by Philippe Starck and other luminaries.

Of course, spa-goers will want to partake in China’s new glamour. Massage addicts will be able to enjoy the Angsana Spa at Sofitel Fizi Tianmu Lake, Jiangsu, China in 2007. Angsana Spas, managed by the Banyan Tree Spa group, are among the best in the world.

For those who don’t have time to be pampered on the company’s clock, the strictly business-oriented Swissôtel Foshan will launch in 2008 at the 250-story Foshan International Plaza in that city’s business district, offering an Executive Club Lounge and conference facilities.

You get the idea; name the hotel group and they have or are building a presence in China: Accor, Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts, Marriott, Park Plaza, Shangri-La, Shilla, and the list goes on.

All is not rosy, however, as the golden child of Asia is guilty of piracy, counterfeiting U.S. goods and not living up to its trade obligations. Also, according to a recent Reuters poll of more than 100 economists in twelve countries, China will see its growth diminish into single digits for the first time in five years. But these are not things we worry about. On our mind are luxe spas, Frette linens, a good hotel restaurant, an infinite number of pools and a future that looks very bright. Aside from hotel buildings, architecture in general is exploding. Top architect Rem Koolhaas is creating the innovative 5-million-square-foot, 54-story television authority headquarters in Beijing, to open in 2008. We have also heard rumors that China is getting serious about producing wine.

And it’s not like we’re invading China with our Louis Vuitton luggage in tow, while the Chinese sit around at home as we prowl their streets. Would you believe 700,000 Chinese tourists visited France in 2005? The World Tourism Organization (WTO) predicts 100 million Chinese will make trips abroad each year by 2020, with an emphasis on Europe and France in particular.

By that same year, coincidentally, the WTO predicts China will be the number one tourism destination in the world. So let’s start practicing "a room with a view" in Mandarin and let’s see what 2007 and the Olympic spirit of 2008 will bring.

(Updated: 07/16/08 HC)

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