Feverish construction has created a maze of hotels in the modern city.
Seasoned travelers swear one could find the best that China has to offer in the city of Beijing. They’re right.
The Chinese capital is now recognized as the country’s premier city, besting ancient rival Shanghai as China’s style and cultural hub. And it has all the reasons, and very recently, the means, to challenge even other Asian capitals as the region’s showcase of prosperity, dominance, and decadence.
But to the Chinese, Beijing is merely reclaiming the grandeur it was once known for. No one seems to mind if it is constructing hotels and other structures that were once deemed symbols of decadence and capitalism.
Among these modern architectural marvels is the colossal Television Cultural Center (TVCC). This virtual metallic Everest will house the 241-room Mandarin Oriental and is expected to cost the luxury conglomerate more than US$400 million. The TVCC will open in time for the Beijing Olympics this August.
The TVCC will sit right next to another massive structure designed by the same architects. China Central Television (CCTV) is a 230-meter-tall “gravity-defying” wonder of modern masonry from which the 2008 Games will be broadcast to the outside world. Its construction bill was last pegged at over US$800 million.
Apart from the Mandarin Oriental, other hotels have also joined the race to grab precious Beijing real estate.
There’s the five-story Hotel Kapok along Donghuame Street, which opened last year as the city’s first “boutique hotel.” The minimalist inn offers unembellished yet stylish accommodations for as low as US$166 a night.
Others have also followed suit. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is designing a yet-to-be-named glass-clad 99-room boutique hotel in Sanlitun.
Then there’s also Andaz for the green-minded traveler (green, as in environment friendly). The earth-friendly hotel in Beijing is part of a new chain being built by Hyatt Corp. around the world.
A stone’s throw away from the Andaz is the ultramodern Grand MOMA. The eco-friendly grand emporium will have its own hotel, which will be accented by cafes, bars, and even a swimming pool all floating 20 stories up.
The occupancy rate of most five-star hotels in Beijing has already reached 75.3% even before the city became interested in hosting the Games. That figure is expected to triple, conservative estimates show, as the opening of the Olympics approaches.
According to hotel and tourism sector service provider Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, Beijing is one of the fastest-growing markets in the Asia-Pacific region.
The company also has some good news for investors: It predicted China’s hotel investment market would not be much different before and shortly after 2008, especially in Beijing, host to the 2008 Olympics.
In its Hotel Investment Outlook 2006 report, it also said besides Beijing and Shanghai, foreign investors are also interested in China’s emerging secondary cities including Dalian, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Sanya.
Already, Beijing is home to posh international chains that have brought Western luxury lodgings to the old city. There’s the Grand Hyatt Beijing along East Chang An Avenue, which has 825 classy rooms. The St. Regis Beijing has a newly-renovated luxury hotel along Jianguomenwai Avenue. There are also the InterContinental Beijing and the new Ritz-Carlton Beijing, both conveniently located along the city’s busy Financial Street.
But Asian-based brands are not sitting quietly. The Regent Beijing, along Jinbao Street, is readying itself for the tourist influx too. So are the newly renovated Peninsula Beijing along Goldfish Lane and the Raffles Beijing. (The Raffles took over an old French-Asian property along historic East Chang An Avenue where writer George Bernard Shaw once stayed.)
The hotel construction in Beijing is on such a blue streak that even before the Olympic torch gets lit six months from now, more ribbons will be cut to open new properties. There’s the new Four Seasons Hotel and a 588-room JW Marriot, among other popular luxury brands. The new Park Hyatt with a pyramid-shaped lobby will also be constructed in Beijing.
However, experienced hotel goers, not too overwhelmed by the modern edifices that are invading Beijing’s land (and air), try to book rooms at the city’s more traditional courtyard houses.
These charming historical properties, mostly dating back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), have been the victims of Beijing’s construction craze. But a lucky few have survived the onslaught of progress.
Among these siheyuans, as they are called locally, is the Cote Cour, which has been preserved as a guesthouse. Located along Yanyue Hutong, the stately villa, a tourist destination itself, charges a measly US$168 a night.
Siheyuans are really good value for money, as are Beijing’s other luxury accommodations, which charge an average of less than US$300 and are considered a bargain by Western standards. The Beijing Hotel, Hotel Hilton, and the Beijing New Century Hotel are hotels that provide excellent, yet affordable accommodations to the weary tourist.
The extent of Beijing’s reconstruction is simply mind-boggling. These rapidly rising edifices, however, pale in magnificence to the city’s ancient palaces and structures, like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.
But Beijing still needs the facelift it is getting as China slowly and inevitably occupies the throne as the world’s strongest industrial superpower. Because if China will be the world’s top nation, Beijing will be the world’s capital.
Print ed: 02/08