Hong Kong hotels look to fill gap in arrivals numbers

HONG KONG -- Rival grandes dames of the Kowloon hotel scene, the Peninsula Hong Kong and the Inter-Continental Hong Kong, have undertaken renovation and improvement efforts to hone their already legendary products.

Both the Peninsula, the Kowloon address of choice since 1928 for the well-heeled, and the Inter-Continental, the favorite haunt of the fashion set since its days as the Regent Hong Kong, were hit hard by the post-Sept. 11 travel downturn, relying as they do on Americans for 29% and 50% of reservations, respectively.

Peninsula Academy programs such as dim-sum cooking, above, are commissionable to agents. To fill the gap, Peninsula general manager Peter Borer and his staff initially turned to the local Hong Kong market, followed by China, Taiwan and Japan, but now are once again marketing aggressively to U.S. agents and consumers.

"We hope this new year will bring long-haul visitors back -- once confidence has been restored," he said.

Across Salisbury Road, the Inter-Continental also plans to court more European, Chinese and Southeast Asian bookings, but the U.S. "remains extremely important," said spokeswoman Carole Klein.

"However, there has been an undeniably big drop in bookings," she said, despite the hotel's established popularity with business travelers from the fashion and toy industries, as well as its growing appeal to tourists on pre- and post-cruise visits to Hong Kong -- all of whom proved hardier travelers than land-only vacationers.

Same view, much ado

Meanwhile, management at the hotel, which became an Inter-Continental property last June, did spot one silver lining in the reservations cloud.

"We knew business levels would be down initially in 2002, so we took the opportunity to reinvigorate our renovations program," Klein said.

The 20-year-old property's 514 rooms and suites -- two-thirds of which face scenic Victoria Harbor -- last underwent an overhaul in 1997; this year's redecoration will begin in spring, with completion by October. "We'll hopefully be ready when bookings begin to rebound."

On tap for completion this winter was a lobby retrofit and a new mezzanine-level Club Inter-Continental lounge in the former Club Shanghai space, offering breakfast and snacks and cocktails as well as business services for guests in Executive Floor rooms.

And famed on-site French restaurant Plume closed Jan. 1 to undergo a complete revamp and rebrand, with a grand reopening this fall; the Inter-Continental reportedly is dotting the i's on deals to bring internationally recognized restaurant brands into both the Plume space and the Steak House Bar & Grill.

Already operational is the Inter-Continental's refurbished spa, redesigned by a local "feng shui" master to adhere to traditional Chinese environmental design principles.

The facility -- with treatment rooms for singles and couples -- now offers Chinese-inspired herbal wraps and massage, a jet-lag therapy program and traditional spa amenities to overnight and day guests.

"Day visitors can check in as guests and enjoy access to all facilities for one day, including their own room," noted Klein.

Learn as you go

For its part, the Peninsula -- which last expanded in 1994 with construction of a 30-story tower that added 132 accommodations -- also is upgrading amenities.

In the hotel's latest improvement, all its rooms and suites -- which already boast satellite television, DVD players and silent fax machines -- have been outfitted with free broadband Internet access.

"It's just part of the Peninsula's commitment to our customers," said general manager Borer, noting that the hotel also is expanding its 5-year-old Peninsula Academy educational program.

Academy offerings, divided into the Chinese Cultural Experience, the Lifestyle Experience and the Culinary Experience, became available on an a la carte basis last August.

Existing courses range from Chinese interest -- as tai chi, dim-sum cooking and tea appreciation classes -- to hotel operations, luxury shopping by Rolls Royce and private cooking lessons with hotel chefs.

"The a la carte arrangement allows guests to do an hour of painting, feng shui or Chinese cooking as their time or interest allows," said Borer.

This year, the Academy launches a luggage-packing course, developed in conjunction with French design house Louis Vuitton, that also explores the history and manufacture of suitcases.

The new course is just the first of more joint presentations to come, Borer noted. "We're looking for other partners to broaden the scope of the Academy product."

Peninsula Academy courses are bookable and commissionable to agents at the hotel's standard 10% rate.

To book the Peninsula, call Leading Hotels of the World at (800) 223-6800; for more information, visit www.peninsula.com on the Web.

To reserve the Inter-Continental, call (888) 567-8725; for more information, go to www.hongkong-ic.interconti.com.

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