Arnie Weissmann There is almost poetic irony -- fortune cookie irony, perhaps -- in realizing that the more money you spend, the farther you get from your destination.

Its probably true that most of us in the industry travel in a different style than we used to. When I visited Hong Kong 20 years ago, I stayed for three weeks at a guesthouse officially called Chungking House, but known to budget travelers as Chungking Mansions.

For $15 a night, you got a tiny room in a subdivided office space. (When I say tiny, the walls of the room had about six inches of clearance on three sides of my twin bed. There was no closet and the bathroom was not en suite.)

But staying there offered an opportunity to view some aspects of Hong Kong life not typically seen by tourists. For instance, every floor of the 20-plus story complex had a club-and-mess -- a restaurant of sorts where you could sit down to a fabulous (and cheap) Indian meal and watch a Bollywood extravaganza on a tabletop TV.

The lobby of Chungking Mansions was filled with wholesale clothing stores that could outfit you from hat to shoes for a fraction of the cost of socks at a hotels boutique shop.

Though filled with very foreign sights, sounds and smells, Chungking Mansions has a nearly unbeatable location near the harbor end of Nathan Road in Kowloon, a stones throw from the best properties in Hong Kong.

At the recent ASTA World Congress, I stayed only three blocks away at a hotel whose nightly rack rate exceeded what I had paid for my three-week stay.

My only problem with the hotel was that I had to fight the temptation to never leave it. If I had wanted, I could have had a gourmet Indian meal delivered to my room and watched a Bollywood extravaganza (also delivered to my room) while reclining in my bathtub.

One could argue that the upscale property was as authentic a Hong Kong experience as Chungking Mansions -- its service standards and architecture were specific to the former colony.

But its also true that experiences at the high end of travel tend to have more in common with one another than travel experiences farther down the economic scale.

Its not that you dont know where you are when you sit in the lap of luxury -- its that, too frequently, in its desire to shield you from the hassles of travel, a property may also shield you from the reality of the place youve traveled to see.

There is a breed of business traveler who wants nothing more than to get in and out of a country without dipping a toe in the local culture. But theres an increasing realization among hoteliers that its in their guests and their own best interest to entice travelers to break out of their cocoon of affluence.

For instance, the Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai offers a tour of the city from a motorcycle sidecar. When guests climb out, theyve experienced a side of China thats hidden from view of most tourists.

When I returned from Hong Kong, I told my wife about the luxury hotel.

But she noted that my enthusiasm rose when I talked about my return visit to Chungking Mansions for a meal and a taste of Bollywood at a club-and-mess.


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