pentahotel: A business hotel that's actually hip
There aren't any high-tech room gadgets.
Or fancy spa facilities.
Or dozens of restaurants covering the world's cuisines.
But business travelers keep coming back to Shanghai's pentahotel (yep, one word, with a small "p") for its lobby.
Yes, the lobby.
And we can’t blame them.
The earth-toned space, or “pentalounge” as the hotel calls it, is the most interesting hotel vestibule we’ve spotted in China.
For starters, the check-in desk is attached to a bar, which dispenses wine, beer, spirits and cocktails 18 hours a day.
Behind the front desk there's a pool table and a public Nintendo Wii.
Other lobby facilities include a café and a fusion restaurant.
Without any barriers to separate them, all these features blend into each other in 270 square meters, covered by free Wi-Fi.
Communal area is the trend
“Guests nowadays don’t spend that much time in the hotel room,” says Marcel van Mierlo, general manager of pentahotel Shanghai, which opened in August 2010.
“With increasing use of mobile gadgets like iPad and other tablets, they prefer hanging out in the common area like our 'pentalounge,'" adds the Dutch national, who has worked for hotels in Asia and Europe for more than 25 years.
"[In those areas], they can work, eat, drink, socialize, interact or even just be on their own if they choose.”
Van Mierlo says the pool table and game facilities in pentahotel's lobby lounge make it possible for guests to relax in a “very informal environment” -- think home or a pub.
Designed by Hong Kong-based Hands Design, the space also gives them a chance to meet and mingle with new friends over a glass of lager or a game of Wii tennis.
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All 258 rooms in pentahotel Shanghai follow a modern minimalistic style.
They’ve got all the basics covered -- a big, soft bed, a neat bathroom, free Wi-Fi and a nice view over tree-lined Zhongshan Park area -- but nothing too fancy to make you think, "Am I going to have to pay for this?”
Fit for novelty-hunting Chinese travelers
With its offbeat design and two branches in China’s most prosperous cities -- Shanghai and Beijing -- pentahotel aims to reel in China’s next generation of travelers, especially young entrepreneurs, and “digital nomads.”
But will the brand’s cutting-edge concept take off in a country where a lavish lobby with colossal chandeliers and piano players is considered a second business card for the guests?
“I like the lobby design,” says Xu Hongtao (徐弘弢), 46, a regular pentahotel guest. “I’ve never seen anything like this in China. It’s unique.”
“In other more luxury hotels, I usually feel very small while standing in the lobby, but I don’t feel so here. Everything is very casual.”
A human resources director for a Beijing-based media company, Xu checks in at pentahotel Shanghai two to three times a month for business. He says he spends most of his evenings at pentalounge meeting clients or friends.
“They’ve got everything here -- it’s really too convenient,” he says.
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Xu notes the hotel would fit the expectations of the Chinese travelers who are looking for a fresh experience.
“I think a typical guest would be someone coming from a first-tier city in China, aged more than 35 years, who has stayed in fancy upscale hotels and is fond of the business casual style,” says Xu.
Tremendous potential in Asia
With more business young execs and managers hitting the road, the travel industry has seen a trend among hotels to create a more social communal space in countries like the United States and Thailand.
Esther Molina, a Shanghai-based marketing and branding expert, thinks this trend will gain favor from the younger, up-and-coming Chinese executives.
"[This type of hotels] offer them all the perks and facilities that [they] would need to do business, but at the same time you can let your hair down and relax once the work is done," says Molina, 48, a Malaysian who worked in hotel public relations for more than 12 years.
General travelers will also follw in the trend, she adds, especially for groups of friends or colleagues travelling together.
After ditching non-essential facilities and room amenities, a night at pentahotel Shanghai is about one-third cheaper than other foreign business hotels in Shanghai, which also adds to its charm.
“We see tremendous potential for pentahotels in Asia,” says Sonia Cheng, chief executive officer of New World Hospitality (NWH), the management company of pentahotel.
The brand currently has 15 locations worldwide -- 13 in Germany, Austria and Britain and two in China. NWH is set to open three new pentahotels in China in the next two years -- Hong Kong and Guiyang in 2013 and Shenyang in 2014.
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“Right now I don’t see any competitors [in Asia],” says Cheng. “[And] we are targeting Southeast Asia, Korea, India, Vietnam, [basically] all over Asia.”
The company is aiming to open a total of 80 properties by 2020.
“The next-generation [in Asia] is much more international than the previous generation. They travel well -- they travel a lot," adds Cheng.
“[And] they will appreciate this type of concept more than a traditional hotel's.”
Pentahotel Shanghai, 1525 Dingxi Lu, near Changning Lu, 定西路1525号, 近长宁路, + 86 21 6252 1111, nightly rate: from RMB 650 (US$102);
Pentahotel Beijing, 3-18 Chongwenmenwai Jie, near Dongdamochang Jie 崇文门外大街3-18号, 近东打磨厂街, +86 10 6708 1188, nightly rate: from RMB 550, www.pentahotels.com
See the map of pentahotel Shanghai below.