Orient Express upgrades its hotel inventory

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NEW YORK -- Orient Express Hotels, celebrating its 25th anniversary, embarked on extensive renovations and enhancements at its three luxury properties in Portugal.

According to Anton Kung, general manager of Reid's Palace on the island of Madeira, character, history and unique properties distinguish the hotels Orient Express has brought into its fold.

"Most of our hotels' reputations proceed them," he said. "The hotel makes the brand vs. the brand making the hotel."

For example, three years ago, the chain bought the 94-room Lapa Palace, built for a local count in 1870 amid the embassies of Lisbon's hilltop diplomatic quarter.

The 131-year-old Lapa Palace, once home to a Portuguese count, first opened as a hotel in 1992. A hotel since 1992, the structure is undergoing extensive renovations to be completed by March.

Fifty rooms have been redecorated, a new "villa" wing and pool constructed, the gardens relandscaped and the spa will be revamped, said Sandro Frabris, general manager.

The Lapa Palace's incongruent spaciousness in a crowded capital is its greatest asset, he noted. "It's a little oasis where you can enjoy the resort life in the middle of town."

Frabris also manages the five-star, 132-room Quinta do Lago resort, which will close for the entire month of December for renovations.

Chief among the upgrades will be a new lobby and an expanded spa offering treatments by Swiss beauty laboratory La Prairie.

The beachfront hotel, set amid 1,680 wooded acres on Portugal's Algarve coast, also offers four on-site golf courses.

Orient Express also invested $12 million into renovations at Reid's Palace, its 130-room, 32-suite resort set atop a 150-foot cliff in Madeira, said general manager Kung, who has made Reid's famous for its Sunday teas and tango lessons, murder mystery dinners and champagne brunches.

Although Orient Express pays agents the standard 10% commission, Kung said high product quality and the repeat business it engenders is added value in itself for agents.

"We pay splendid attention to the guest," he said. "In the end, that pays agents more than an override."

Some agents seem to agree: They book a fifth of stays at the Lapa Palace, more than a third of bookings at Reid's Palace, 40% of all stays at Quinta do Lago -- and 99% of all U.S. guests, said Frabris.

And Orient Express wants to court more Americans, who account for only 20% of guests at Lapa, 8% at Quinta and 7% at Reid's. "Twenty-five to 30 years ago, these hotels were 65% American," said Kung.

For details and reservations, call the Leading Hotels of the World at (800) 223-6800.

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