International Hotels in Taiwan

Designed by AB Concept, a Hong Kong studio, the lobby and reception area of Shangri-La's Far Eastern Plaza in Tainan won a Gold Key at the 2009 International Hotel/Motel and Restaurants Show in New York. Since
 
The hot springs of Beitou, in the north of Taipei, have had a new link with their origins. A century after Japan built the Beitou Public Bathhouse, Japan's Kagaya Group, in collaboration with Taiwan real estate development company Radium Life Tech, opened the Beitou Radium-Kagaya, a ryokan-style hot spring inn offering the best of traditional Japanese hospitality.

This is not the first time a Japanese hotel chain has set up shop in Taiwan. Prince Group already has three hotels on the island. In Taipei, Hotel Royal, managed by Nikko, an Okura Group subsidiary, already enjoys long-standing renown. This comes as no surprise as historical, cultural and economic relations between Japan and Taiwan are close: In 2010, more than 1 million Japanese nationals visited Taiwan, about 20 percent of all foreign entries.

As flights have resumed between the downtown airports of Taipei Songshan International Airport and Tokyo Haneda International Airport, a greater Japanese presence in Taiwan's hotel scene can be expected. A new luxury hotel of the Okura Group, scheduled to open in 2012, will probably be just the start of a new round of openings.

Hong Kong's Shangri-La Group, which operates 68 hotels worldwide, symbolizes the evolution of the hotel market in Asia and the low-key profile Taiwan has taken up to now. After years of fast-paced internationalization, Shangri-La has become the first major Asian player in the international luxury hotel business. But it was not until 2010, 15 years after a Shangri-La opened in Taipei's Far Eastern Plaza, that the group came back to Taiwan, with the opening of a new hotel in Tainan.

Twenty years ago Taiwan saw its first major wave of international hotel openings, and establishments like the Grand Hyatt, the Sheraton and the Regent started to stand out in the business skyline. In the two decades that followed, while private bed and breakfast establishments mushroomed in Taiwan, international brands were fairly timid in their development, in total contrast with their frenzy for mainland China. However, the tide is turning and international groups are again looking to the island for new opportunities, bringing along globalized know-how to Taiwan's hotel business.

The number of hotels flying foreign flags has almost doubled in two years, from 13 in 2008, representing 10 brands, to 20 in 2011, representing 16 brands, with the latest newcomer being the W Taipei in the trendy Xinyi District. Intercontinental is also actively deploying positions in Taiwan, with the Crowne Plaza E-DA World in Kaohsiung, two Holiday Inn Express hotels in Taichung and Hsinchu, plus a new one coupled with an Indigo in Taipei, announced for this year.

 

W HOTEL, TAIPEI
The rooms in W Hotel Taipei feature natural and high-tech elements. (Courtesy of W Taipei)

France's Accord Group has also joined in the game with the opening last year of a Novotel at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, and is in negotiation with potential partners to set up hotels of its other brands. Starwood, which currently has six hotels in Taiwan, will soon inaugurate a third Sheraton in Yilan. And in 2012, a ritzy Mandarin Oriental will rise on the prestigious Dunhua North Road, featuring a huge spa of 1,800 square meters, four restaurants and two bars.

The backdrop of this new wave of internationalization is the evolution of Taiwan's economy and society. “Taiwan has an extremely solid base of high-tech industries and citizens with a high level of education,” said Cary Gray, general manager of W Hotel Taipei. “Taiwanese entrepreneurs of the new generation want to entertain their clients and partners and to relax in the kind of hotel environment international brands are more used to offering.”

What do these international brands have to lure clients? First of all, design is a domain in which they excel. “Since the opening of the first W Hotel in 1998, the idea was to use design to create the kind of environment trendy clients look for. From the desk to the bed to the shower cabin, every detail is the object of meticulous attention,” Gray explained.

But while the first W hotels designed in pre-established styles like techno-glam or modern beach were a hit in North America, in Taiwan the group has decided to work on a “conceptual story” inspired by the environment a new hotel is to be created in.

“The W Taipei is one of the first designed in this spirit. Taipei is surrounded by mountains and subtropical forests, and the contrast is huge between this enveloping nature and the city's new heart, the Taipei 101 tower, which concentrates energy and symbolizes the electric force of the capital. Thus, our hotel wants to tell the story of an electrified nature.”

In terms of interior design, this vision is rendered by a fusion of natural materials and high-tech elements, and, among other amenities, an open-air pool bordered with white sand will be an oasis for relaxing in the heart of the business district.

But W Hotel has not only adapted to the city aesthetically, but also in terms of gastronomy and social customs. The hotel will feature a Cantonese restaurant, the first Asian restaurant in the history of the group. An even more significant concession to the local market is the huge banquet hall of 1,039 square meters, able to hold 900 guests—the biggest of its kind in Taipei.

A few steps away, Le Meridien, owned by Shin Kong Life Insurance and managed as a franchise by My Humble House Hospitality Management Consulting, opened its doors last November and also places great emphasis on such rituals as weddings, banquets, or conferences. According to Abby Chen, marketing and communication supervisor at My Humble House, the banquet hall is already reserved for almost all of the auspicious dates on the lunar calendar in the year to come.

 

LE MERIDIEN, TAIPEI
A newcomer in Taipei’s Xinyi district, Le Meridien does everything to attract businesspeople. (Courtesy of Le Meridien Taipei)

The brand, created in 1972 by Air France, and acquired by Starwood Group in 2005, is known for its elegance and comfort. But while Le Meridien Taipei has maintained the spirit of the group, offering local clients old-fashioned European tradition is out of the question. The atmosphere is thus a blend of refinement and contemporary culture.

Art plays a central role here: every corner is decorated with artistic works, mostly selected by Tsai Chen-yang, president of My Humble House, and his wife, and the keys, designed by artist Michael Lin, not only open the doors to the rooms, but give access to the Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art.

“A survey on Meridien hotel clients has shown that the first 10 minutes of a stay define it entirely,” explained Chen, who believes that a blend of olfactory, acoustic and luminous sensations created by Le Meridien are guaranteed to stun clients once they cross the hotel's “transitional gate,” itself a work of modern art.

The arrival of new international brands is bringing innovations in terms of customer service, including loyalty programs and reservation centers. Gray, for example, underlined the effectiveness of the Starwood Preferred Guest program: “The clients of Starwood's other hotel brands can use the points accumulated in the SPG program to book rooms, dinners or spa services at W Taipei.” Such fluidity in service greatly boosts booking at W hotels, a brand Asian clients are not yet familiar with.

The director of the Novotel at the Taoyuan airport, Christophe Pairaud, revealed that about one third of bookings at his hotel are made through the Accord Group's worldwide reservation center.

According to Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, international brands have directly or indirectly contributed to lowering hotel rates in Taiwan. From 2008 to 2010, the price for a room in an international class hotel has decreased by 6.4 percent.

In the face of new competition, local hotel groups have started to form partnerships with foreign operators. Evergreen International Hotels, for example, associated with Hong Kong's Regal Circle of Alliance. With 10 hotels worldwide, Evergreen should benefit from this cooperation in such fields as sales, marketing, personnel training and restaurant service.

Formosa International Hotels Corp., which owns the Grand Formosa Regent Taipei, has decided to move up a notch in the race for internationalization. In June 2010, FIHC announced the acquisition of the Regent brand from Carlson and Rezidor. With seven addressees in Taiwan and Europe, Regent will open 10 more hotels in the next two years, from the Maldives to Puerto Rico.

“We were here when the founders of Regent created this concept and its values, and we have pursued this tradition with our hotel. We can't wait to give new life to the precepts of eternal design and intuitive service developed by Regent for the luxury hotel sector,” Steven Pan, president of FIHC, said. With such elevated ambitions, Taiwan's hotel business has definitely entered a new phase.


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