Hotel ICON: Where students get to play GM

Hotel ICON: Where students get to play GM

Hong Kong PolyU's reputable School of Hotel and Tourism Management starts building its first ever teaching hotel, Hotel ICON
Hotel ICON
Hotel ICON's topping-up ceremony held yesterday.

Hotel ICONHotel ICON's credibility depends on it's profitability, says GM Richard Hatter.Hotel ICON will be Hong Kong's first teaching hotel fully owned by Polytechnic University's School of Hotel and Tourism Management. The hotel held it's topping-up ceremony yesterday at its Tsim Sha Tsui East location. The brainchild of the highly-regarded school for hospitality will be used to give students hands-on training in a real hotel environment -- think Jamie Oliver's famous teaching restaurants, called Fifteen, without the reality TV show. 

The hotel is fully-owned by the university, the first such business model for the hospitality industry in the world, and it will operate under a very clear mandate: to benefit the local hotel industry through experimentation and research and offer training to students of the school. 

"Unlike working for a big hotel chain, we're not trying to please an owner here, and we're not constrained by corporate philosophies," says Richard Hatter, general manager of Hotel ICON, who previously worked for almost two decades at Shangri-la Hotels.

To gain practical experience, students of the hotel school will be able to shadow employees of the hotel. "They could be GM for a day," says Hatter, but he stresses that the broader aim of the hotel is to teach students to think outside the box. 

To that end, the hotel will have at least three 'prototype rooms', each with a different theme, such as environment or technology, where students can experiment with unbridled freedom. 

"For example, we might work with PolyU's design school for one of the prototype rooms. The idea is to use these rooms as experiments to contribute to the local hotel industry, which you couldn't do in a commercial setting," says Pauline Ngan, marketing manager at PolyU's School of Hotel and Tourism Management. 

"It used to be that someone would graduate from hotel school and go straight to joining a big hotel company, but that doesn't necessarily have to be the case, they can go out and start their own business after graduating. We want them to have a license to experiment here, be proud to be Hong Kong," adds Hatter. 

Rather than being put off by staying in a teaching environment, guests may actually be drawn to a hotel that bills itself as a school, in much the same way that diners flock to Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurants. The chance to interact with the staff is another factor, says Hatter. "People love reality -- they'll be able to go behind the scenes to see what's going on." 

Though the hotel is fully-owned by PolyU, and is described by Hatter as a "pure example of corporate social responsibility", it still needs to operate as a proper, profitable enterprise.

Hotel ICONStudents will get to experiement with Hotel ICON's prototype rooms."The hardest part will be to balance our ideology with commercial considerations," he says. "We need to be profitable if we're to have any credibility with our students."

Built on the site of what was formerly PolyU's staff quarters, Pak Sui Yuen, the new hotel is expected to open its doors in March 2011. Heavyweights have been called in to design the hotel, such as local architect Rocco Yim, British design legend Sir Terence Conran, who will be designing the hotel's restaurants, and French botanist Patrick Blanc, pioneer of the concept of the vertical garden. The hotel is also in talks with alumni of PolyU such as Vivienne Tam and designer Freeman Lau for possible artistic collaborations. 

In addition to views of Victoria Harbour, the hotel will also have a rooftop restaurant, a pool, and a spa run by Angsana. 

Izzy is a freelance writer based in Hong Kong, where she returned to after spending the better half of a decade in England.

Read more about Izzy Ozawa