intercon hongkong Tony Fernandes 300x225 HICAP, at the luxury Intercontinental Hong Kong hotel

Tony Fernandes, sticking plaster’n’all, lunches as he is interviewed

And now it is time to begin the real business that has brought nearly 800 top hoteliers in from all over the world, here to the luxury InterContinental Hong Kong hotel for the 25th annual Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific (HICAP). The gal has her badge on and dresses in her conference glad rags. Uniform for guys is a dark suit and, definitely, a tie – unless you are Tony Fernandes. The boss of Air Asia and Tune Hotels was being recognised with the HICAP entrepreneur award but he chose to be interviewed by video in his Kuala Lumpur office – while he was eating lunch. The result was hilarious, band-aid on one cheek, both cheeks chewing away. Even Richard Branson could not have stage-managed a more memorable presentation. Honestly, HICAP is worthwhile and, also from a business viewpoint, it is FUN – thanks to its three conference organisers, Jim Burba (in the gym at 6.30 am), Robert Hecker (inviting all and sundry out on a boat, when HICAP is all over) and Linda Stiles (who then escaped to explore Laos).

intercon hongkong chef 300x244 HICAP, at the luxury Intercontinental Hong Kong hotel

At this conference, the chef is continuously on duty

There is a world of difference between hotel investment conferences in the USA, where I once had a box lunch, literally, with a selection of snacks, and anywhere else in the world, where the catering suitably befits a hospitality event. Here at the ‘InterCon’, the hotel MD Jean-Jacques Reibel was at the opening cocktail – free-flow Perrier-Jouët and full international buffet – and at both lunches. All the restaurants were full, too, during HICAP (but they are full anyway, Hong Kong people appreciate good food and here is not only the STEAK HOUSE but also a two-star Spoon by Alain Ducasse, a one-star Yan Toh Heen and an always-popular Nobu. The overall chef, Nicola Canutie, is as omnipresent as M. Reibel.

intercon hongkong juices 300x252 HICAP, at the luxury Intercontinental Hong Kong hotel

Fresh juices at Club breakfast

Nicola Canutie was, for example, supervising the breakfast buffet in the marvellous second floor (US-style) Club InterContinental – before seven a.m. Why is this Club so essential during HICAP? It is where people meet, and network. The lovely manager, Ida, has moved upwards on her professional ladder but she has returned, during HICAP, to help her successor, Jacqueline. They know what you like, Ferme des Peupliers yoghurts and a wide selection of fruits at breakfast, and a choice of leaves at afternoon tea – which you can now also have, by the way, at Nobu – and more of that free-flowing Perrier-Jouët, at cocktail hour or whenever.

intercon hongkong view window 300x244 HICAP, at the luxury Intercontinental Hong Kong hotel

Back in my room the view, as always, changes

So the meeting goes on and on. What is luxury? Time, space and experiences, said a panel overseen by branding expert James Stuart. Experiences are expensive, said Homi Vazifdar, thinking of the US’ most gorgeous and natural luxury resort, Amangirl, just north of the Grand Canyon. I argue that not all experiences need cost the purveyor lots of money and, in the next conference break, head back to my home – room 316 – to pick up yet another supply of business cards. I look out of the window at the view. Now THAT is a unique experience, different from watching the shipping from InterContinental Sydney or Park Hyatt Sydney, or from Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver. Other than paying for my room, this experience costs me nothing, except time taken from writing or networking.

intercon hongkong jj 300x227 An annual tradition, the luxury hotel of HICAP

Jean-Jacques Reibel is self-appointed meeter and greeter

The gal is on her way to what is fast becoming the most enjoyable, the most stylish and, she suspects, the most worthwhile of all the world’s growing number of hotel investment conferences, HICAP. Why it is enjoyable will be revealed. Why it is worthwhile is borne out by the fact that the A List of global owners and investors, and operators – and designers of the calibre of Julia Monk and Bob Puccini – turn up here, in Hong Kong, and they stay right through the event. Stylish? Well, Jean-Jacques Reibel, MD of host hotel, InterContinental Hong Kong, was there by the front door when one regular aficionado arrived, a day ahead of main events.

intercon hongkong junk 300x222 An annual tradition, the luxury hotel of HICAP

Looking out of room 316

It is now routine. Arrive a day early to enjoy the hotel. Settle in to room 316, which is incredibly convenient as it is on the same floor as the two gyms – really good Technogym equipment, lots of fresh fruit, look out at the base of the pool complex, and open 24/7, as all gyms should be. My desk, which has adaptors and all the supplies I need, is right by the all-wall window and I look out at passing traffic, foot traffic on Avenue of Stars immediately below and a variety of waterborne vessels, from junks to cruise ships, plying the harbour waterway between here, the Kowloon mainland, and Hong Kong Island.

intercon hongkong franco 300x249 An annual tradition, the luxury hotel of HICAP

Franco Leung runs STEAK HOUSE

Routine, that first night, is my annual dinner at the hotel’s Michelin-starred STEAK HOUSE winebar + grill, girls’ night out or three little maids from school are we, Carole, Linda and me. Once a year, Franco Leung, who has undoubtedly had his horizontal-topped coiffure inspected this morning, before our arrival, greets with a big smile, offers 2008 Morey-St-Denis Frédéric Magnien. There is a special Japanese beef promotion, he says, which means no need to practise weightlifting by perusing the main, leather-backed two-fold menu, made heavy by its inner-lit LED facility allowing the words to be seen easily.

intercon hongkong knives 300x214 An annual tradition, the luxury hotel of HICAP

Your choice of knife, sir

The appetiser salad bar is better than ever – I must have eaten almost a whole avocado – and quickly replenished. All 100 seats are taken and the table next to us turns over twice, which shows how long we three were nattering. One 14-ounce Omi wagyu A5 from Shiga Prefecture (recommended with a Hibiki 17-year Japanese single malt, actually), choice of nine salts, ten steak knives and 15 mustards. This is a luxury hotel that does not stint, although I hope its financial controller does not read this!

hongkong art jacky chan 300x225 Taking walks from Hong Kongs luxury hotels

Jacky Chan on Avenue of Stars

Avenue of Stars – where the statue of Jacky Chan holds court – used to be really out of reach for those staying in Kowloon’s doyenne of its many luxury hotels, The Peninsula Hong Kong. It always used to be a nightmare trying to get to it from the other side of Salisbury Road – the only way was by a complicated subterranean passage, from Nathan Road through the below-ground shopping mall of the Sheraton and then right through Sogo department store to rise up above-ground. Now, after years, about nine years, says the gal, the authorities have put in a street-level zebra (pedestrian) crossing.

hongkong art silver 300x225 Taking walks from Hong Kongs luxury hotels

A reflecting artwork by the Hong Kong Museum of Art…

Oh what a difference this makes! In my hectic life, it is truly a blessing. I wake up in lovely end suite 1817 of The Peninsula Hongkong, look down at the harbour, do the usual exercises and get ready for a run. I go through the gorgeous lobby, empty but for the floral lady, and head straight across the road. In between the road and the start of Avenue of Stars, a full 100 yards, I pass some strategic art, so big that no-one will pinch it – and anyway this is Hong Kong. Love this silver shape, reflecting and distorting in a way that makes you laugh.

hongkong art 2 more people 300x225 Taking walks from Hong Kongs luxury hotels

.. and a couple, nearby

And isn’t it extraordinary that seeing obese sculptures makes you smile, whereas seeing an obese real person triggers a completely different reaction. Chinese artists seem to have taken domination of such vaguely anthropomorphic shapes, both in two-dimensional print form and also in sculpture. Even W Taipei has got into the act: all its bedrooms have a tiny ‘person’ shape, in bright red. I think also of the two leaning men by Zhu Wei, Xian sculptures in Mao clothes, leaning forwards as they protect, so to speak, the entrance to Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore

Daks mannequins 300x225 Taking walks from Hong Kongs luxury hotels

Fashion art, by DAKS

Then I realise that the Chinese have not taken 100% of this genre. You could say that the English company DAKS – actually Japanese owned, by Sankyo Seiko – is going into sculptural art with this fashion display in Hong Kong’s Pacific Place (I was walking through from the Admiralty MTR station to Conrad Hong Kong. Back to mainstream sculpture. Colombia‘s Fernando Botero also does bloated shapes, as seen in the main lobby of Four Seasons Miami and, en masse, in the main courtyard of Waldorf Astoria Grand Wailea on Maui – there are also several in the streets of Cartagena, which I will be revisiting shortly as I continue my progression of the world’s top luxury hotels. For now, it is time to move to what is fast becoming the most enjoyable, and worthwhile, hotel investment conference…