Hong Kong hotels squeeze in post-SARS refits

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HONG KONG -- A number of hotels here are seeing the immediate post-SARS arrivals downturn as a good time to get some renovation and upgrade projects completed -- especially in the competitive high-end, five-star market -- without irritating full loads of guests with noise and grit.

"Hotels here are the flagship properties of all of Asia," said Mark Lettenbichler, chairman of the Hong Kong Hotels Association and general manager of the Ritz-Carlton. "We have to maintain our reputations based on a long-term vision of renovations and expansions."

Though occupancies slipped to single digits at some properties at the height of the SARS epidemic, Lettenbichler said pent-up demand is increasing, especially among business travelers.

"Occupancies should return to fairly normal by November and should be back totally by the first quarter of 2004," he said. Citywide occupancies last year averaged 78%.

And in order to keep business travelers and tourists coming back, properties are sprucing up royally.

At the InterContinental Hong Kong, formerly the Regent, recent projects included the upgrading of the hotel entrance, signage and pedestrian access, and, to be completed later this month, a total renovation of the ballroom -- the largest function room in the city -- and all other meetings rooms.

A hotel spokeswoman called the ballroom "the premiere venue in Hong Kong for social galas and weddings." The facility's grand white-marble staircase has been retained, and the furniture and decor of the renovated rooms blend international trends with Chinese fabrics and motifs.

All meetings rooms, the spokeswoman added, will be upgraded with new technology, such as wireless broadband access and flat-screen TVs. They also come with butler service.

The hotel also will have a new dining establishment, Spoon, which will open Oct. 22 and will feature French cuisine created by chef Alain Ducasse.

With the recent announcement of the 2003 Michelin Red Guide ratings, Ducasse is the only French chef to have six stars (three for Louis XV at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco and three for his Restaurant Plaza Athenee in Paris).

Hong Kong's two Shangri-La properties also will unveil some upgrades later this month.

A view of Kowloon from the 52nd floor of the Island Shangri-La.At the Island Shangri-La, two restaurants are being refurbished: the Lobster Bar and Grill and Petrus.

The Lobster Bar and Grill will get a complete facelift, making it a lunch venue during the day and a contemporary supper club in the evening. The upgrade should be complete by Aug. 15.

Petrus, featuring French cuisine and premium wine collections, will receive new decor, including chairs, curtains and carpets. A late-September completion is scheduled.

The former Cyrano music lounge on the top (56th) floor is being transformed into two function rooms -- a small room for VIPs and a large multipurpose room. Both rooms will have views of the harbor. Completion is set for late October.

Guest rooms also are being redone in three phases, with completion set for September 2004. When finished, there will be two more suites, and a TV monitor will be installed in all bathrooms.

Meanwhile, at the Kowloon Shangri-La, an extensive upgrade is under way from the lobby to the top floor. The project is set for completion in late September.

The lobby retained its crystal chandeliers, fountain and large murals of the Shangri-La Valley; additions include custom-made carpeting with a swirling fan design, new Italian marble and imported European upholstery.

Guest rooms now have a separate shower cubicle in the remodeled bathrooms, broadband and dataport Internet access, dual phone lines with third-party teleconferencing capabilities, flat-screen TVs and DVD players.

The Horizon Club, located on the top floors, caters to frequent-stay guests with new ergonomic chairs; four-in-one printers, copiers, scanners and fax machines; wireless telephones that enable guests to receive calls throughout the hotel; and plasma and LCD TVs in the bathrooms.

A new concept is the launch of the IT Butler service last month, which gives guests free technological help 24 hours a day.

The dedicated IT Butlers are trained to address computer and technology difficulties that guests may encounter, from explaining guest-room technologies, connecting their personal computer to the Internet and other troubleshooting.

And borrowing an idea that has proved a big hit at its sister property on the island, the Kowloon Shangri-La will unveil a concept restaurant called Cafe.

At Cafe Too at the Island Shangri-La, described as a "theater of food," the all-day eatery features seven cooking stations.

Cuisines include sushi/sashimi, Indian curries, noodles, dim sum, a deli, desserts and even Mexican. Expect Cafe to resemble Cafe Too in both food quality and atmosphere.

The Hong Kong Hotels Association's Be Our Guest program offers a third night free for two nights paid, valid through Sept. 30.

Under the promotion, rates at the InterContinental Hong Kong range from $199 per night for a standard harborview room to $382 for a suite.

For more information, call (800) 327-0200 or visit www.interconti.com.

Also under the promotion, rates at the Island Shangri-La start at $192 per night; at the Kowloon Shangri-La, rates begin at $241.

For details, call (800) 942-5050 or visit www.shangri-la.com.

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