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Boutique hotels in China: The second-tier rush is on
Boutique hotels in China are moving into the smaller cities, to offer a refined alternative to the branded chains
No one needs reminding of just how keen Chinese consumers are on branded goods.
Hong Kong’s Louis Vuitton stores seem perennially beset by queues of mainland Chinese tourists and super cars parade the streets of second-tier Chinese cities.
But this obsession with brand names also extends to travel.
According to a survey released last month by leading publishing group Hurun Report, 64 percent of the 463 Chinese millionaires and billionaires interviewed admitted that ‘brand’ was an overriding factor when it comes to choosing hotels.
More specifically, they chose cookie-cutter luxury hotel brands such as Shangri-La, Hilton, and the Ritz Carlton.
But this is all set to change, industry experts say.
Boutiques are spreading
Mid-range boutique hotels are trickling into the mainstream in mainland China. Not only in first-tier metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai, where they’re already common, but in second- and third-tier cities like Huangshan, Shaoxing and Wuzhen as well.
China’s growing sector of high-end consumers are looking for something different, and are willing to spend, according to Deloitte corporate finance partner Ronald Chao.
“In the past few years, (there have been) very significant changes in the characteristics of travelers,” says Chao. “For instance, individuality and family orientation have become a trend.”
“Traditional five-star hotels may not entirely meet the requirements of more discerning guests,” he adds.
That’s where boutique hotels come in.
Often situated in areas of rich historical or architectural interest, with a higher level of personalized service, boutique hotels in China are trying to attract a younger generation of inbound travelers.
And while China’s first-tier cities are already saturated with boutique offerings, China’s second- and third-tier cities still have plenty of room for more, says CEO of Rhombus International Hotels Group Calvin Mak.
Crazy about boutiques
Moneyed, Western-educated Chinese who have returned to lesser-developed parts of central China to make a living are “limited to where they are,” Mak says. “And they are crazy about boutique hotels.”
According to the Hurun Report survey, boutique hotels are the second most preferred hotel type among well-heeled Chinese, ahead of serviced apartments and behind luxury hotel brands.
Mak has four boutique properties in Hong Kong, and plans to open a fifth in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China, in October this year.
He is also currently thinking of remodeling a property as a boutique hotel in Zhengzhou, a city in the province of Henan in north-central China.
For hoteliers, the perks of operating a boutique hotel are greater flexibility and lower costs.
Rather than complying with brand standards, such as a specified hotel area and a minimum number of guests rooms, boutique hotels can be built on irregular pockets of land and don’t necessarily have to have a full set of facilities.
“In main Chinese cities where land is so expensive now, to create a boutique hotel is much better than to create a 120-floor skyscraper,” says Mak.
“The boutique concept is attractive to developers because you can put so much of your ideas in there, but it won’t cost as much as building a skyscraper.”
Here's a roundup of boutique hotels that are leading the pack in second and third-tier cities in China.
Regalia Resort & Spa Nanjing Qinhuai River
This highly-rated boutique hotel sits on the Qinhuai riverbank. Each of the hotel’s 37 suites comes with private Jacuzzis overlooking the river.
To match the spa theme, rooms are decorated with Thai motifs, such towels folded into the shape of elephants, and Thai wall hangings.
The friendly service and thoughtful details, such as L'Occitane toiletries, are frequently commented on by guests.
Building E5 1865 Originality Park, Qinhuai District, Nanjing 210006, 400 115 3388, www.regalia.com.cn. Reservations can be made on its official website.
Laojieyuan Jingpin Hotel
A major selling point of this 80-room boutique hotel is the scenery. It is located on the historical street of Laojie and overlooks the picturesque mountain of Huashan.
Dayu Kaiyuan Shaoxing
Situated in a scenic region in southeast Shaoxing, Dayu Kaiyuan aims to blend in with local features. Its architecture mimics the style of houses in the Jiangnan region.
The hotel claims that none of its 100 rooms is identical in design. Rooms open to private or semi-private courtyards.
Run by Thai luxury hotel group Aman Resorts, Hangzhou Amanfayun is located in a property that has sections dating back to the 1800s. The resort is surrounded by tea fields and bamboo groves. Guests rave about its award-winning spa.
22 Fayun Nong, Xihujiedao Xihufengjingmingsheng District, Hangzhou 310013, +86 571 8732 9999, www.amanresorts.com/amanfayun. Reservations can be made on its official website.