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
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
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
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
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