Every luxury hotel should show it has personality, and the boss of the place is the key figure to impart this. The gal finally arrives in her room at Raffles Hainan, in the Sanya area of Hainan Island, and there is a welcome from Ugur Talayhan, the GM (one gets to know him quite well, actually, as sensors miraculously turn all your televisions on whenever you come back into the room). This is an amazing and spacious resort, taking up 45 acres in all, and the walk between one area and another is such that it IS a case of ‘finally’ reaching your temporary home. But look on the bright side. You have had a jolly good, and much-needed, workout on the way.
And you look out at lovely gardens, and down to the beach. Clearwater Bay has fine fine white sand, and the beach becomes really popular as the sun goes down. Chinese want to stay as pale as possible. They do love to be beside the seaside, as long as they do not catch the sun as well. Raffles Hainan has 329 rooms, the smallest being 800 sq ft – and of the total, 100 are suites. I am 6006, a 2,200 sq ft Clear Water Bay Suite, and I have so much room I could host quite a sizeable party. Even in the starter rooms, it must be tempting just to stay in, or sit on the balcony and watch people coming and going down below.
This is China’s Hawaii, with year-round attractive temperatures, 300 days of sun, and cooling breezes. April to June have the highest humidity. Tonight a beach barbeque is being set up. Yes, it is windy, but that is one of the attractions of the Sanya area, in the south of Hainan Island. I, however, am going to do Italian, in the dinner-only Sapori, which has a lovely Venetian chef called Alessandro. His food is superb Italian-comfort, say caprese, followed by manzo, which here produces a platter holding slices of perfectly-cooked Australian sirloin with parmesan-covered rocket, and a tomato salsa. Ugur Talayhan used to be a chef, by the way – his background includes Windows on top of London Hilton on Park Lane.
The six-floor arms of Raffles Hainan, set in an open V, are mustard coloured. Behind the other wing, hidden from the sight of most, is, I dare to say, the luxury hotel world’s biggest outdoor wedding chapel. It is a giant inverted V, enclosed both ends and with easily enough space for 200 or more chairs inside. Get married here, and then go and enjoy karaoke in the Raffles Long Bar – even without a wedding, it sounded to be a jolly popular venue during my stay.
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 essentially worthwhile, and from a personal 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).
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.
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.
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 in investment in time taken from writing or networking.
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.
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.
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.
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!