Shanghai Reaches Out To Luxury Travelers

City Trying To Lure High-End Travelers With Urban Makeover, Customer Service, Amenities

Shanghai's luxury hoteliers are actively wooing luxury travelers

Shanghai's luxury hoteliers are actively wooing luxury travelers

Shanghai is gearing up for next year’s World Expo, smoothing over many of its more gritty areas and giving the city an all-over polish. But the city’s luxury hotels, many of them stung by a drop in visitors as a result of the global economic downturn, have started to take on their own outreach programs, wooing luxury visitors through efforts aimed at restoring the city’s pre-revolution reputation as an opulent, exciting “Paris of the East.”

As the Canadian Press writes, the strategies employed by these hotels are designed to appeal to high-end travelers who may find Beijing interesting but drab, and Hong Kong cosmopolitan but old-fashioned:

“The barrier is just being pushed higher and higher,” said Rupert Hoogewerf, a Shanghai-based researcher of wealthy Chinese. “Previously (the hotels) may have sought to be the best in the city. Now they’re aiming to be the best in the country, or the world.”

Shanghai may not be the first name that pops into mind when it comes to elite travel destinations, but luxury tour operators are flagging it as a choice option, especially for shopping and gourmet dining.

Shanghai is “hipper than Hong Kong and more alluring than Beijing,” says Concierge.com.

“The city is probably China’s most fashionable and international, boasting the best shopping and nightlife,” enthuses luxurytravel.com.

A new cruise liner terminal is now a regular stop for deluxe Yangtze River tours; a recently opened Peninsula Hotel and the Hyatt on the Bund, both nearby, offering stunning views of the Huangpu River and the Bund’s majestic colonial architecture.

“We’re up against the Ritz’s and Park Hyatts. We can’t skimp on luxury,” said Ian Carr, a principal at Hirsch/Bedner Associates Pte, the design consultants hired to handle the Peace Hotel’s refurbishment into a Fairmont-managed hotel.

“This is the most competitive market in the world, here in Shanghai and Beijing, for luxury hotels,” he said.

Just a few years ago, that would have been hard to believe. But key parts of the city have been transformed by a craze for upscale urban renewal, encouraged by authorities keen to boost real estate prices and lure wealthy investors, both foreign and domestic.

Freshly renovated art deco masterpieces and colonial-style villas in the leafy former French concession house sidewalk cafes, luxury boutique hotels and elegant restaurants, including one run by renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Add to that fashion shows, Formula One racing, art shows and other events catering to the well-to-do.

Shanghai’s planners expect 70 million visitors to next year’s Expo, to be held in waterfront plazas that have replaced rusting steel mills and shipyards along the Huangpu River, which slices the city into crammed, older Puxi to the west and ultra-modern Pudong sprawling to the east.

China’s biggest event since last year’s Beijing Olympics is expected to draw scores of dignitaries and other elite travellers.

“It’s a good excuse to come and have a look at the new showcase that is Shanghai,” Hoogewerf said.

And then there is the domestic crowd: his last count put the number of mainland Chinese worth more than 10 million yuan (US$1.3 million) at 825,000. Among them, at least 116,000 lived in Shanghai.

Most construction continues, though, backed by lavish spending on Expo preparations and a 4 trillion yuan (US$586 billion) economic stimulus package heavily focused on building projects.

Most of the world’s top hotel operators are expanding here: As of the first quarter of this year China had 964 hotels, or 260,560 rooms, under construction or in planning, according to Portsmouth, N.H.-based real estate consulting firm Lodging Econometrics.

Nearly two-thirds of those were luxury-grade hotels.

At last count, Shanghai had 104 projects with 26,510 rooms under construction.

The building boom includes projects like Zendai Hotel Yin and Zendai Art Hotel, located in the “Himalaya Center,” a commercial complex rising near Shanghai’s International Expo Center – now a virtual no-man’s-land of warehouse stores and construction sites that is the terminus for the ultramodern Maglev line to the city’s Pudong airport.

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