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Chinese tourists helping to alter Asia's resort landscape

travel Updated: Mar 20, 2012 15:20 IST
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The growing power of Chinese tourists is now being reflected in the design of hotels and resorts across Asia as the hospitality industry looks to cash in by catering for their specific tastes.

More than 70 million Chinese left the country on holidays in 2011 -- a figure that is expected to rise to 100 million by 2020. Meanwhile there are an astonishing two billion domestic trips expected to be taken within China itself this year, according to the China Travel Trends website.

Among the destinations most favored by China's travelers are Hong Kong, Macau and Hainan Island.

To cater for the increase in demand, the world's major hotel and resort chains are expanding throughout China -- and throughout the region -- at an incredible rate. China's southern Hainan Island alone has around 30 five-star resorts and 70 luxury hotels opening along one of its beaches (Haitang) in the next five years.

And while major operators expand in terms of simple numbers, so too are they expanding in terms of just how they satisfy the needs of the tourists they hope to attract.

"The Chinese customer has a matured a lot and is now very focused on the experience they get," Singapore-based American designer Alan Barr says.

"There is a big movement towards contemporary design. In a certain sense it is getting more eclectic and shifting towards the contemporary but the designs certainly always tip their hat to China. We refer to it as classically contemporary."

Barr operates the design group Blink! -- alongside fellow American Clint Nagata -- and is currently involved in a collection of major resort and hotel developments across Asia, including the Jumeirah Dhevanafushi in the Maldives, Qbe@Gole in New Delhi, the Westin Resort & Residence in Ubud, Bali and the ultrra-luxury Conrad Sanya at Haitang Bay, Hainan Island.

Barr believes designers have moved on from attempting to cater for the Chinese consumer by simply including what they believed to be traditional fittings -- or copies thereof.

"A western view of what is 'Chinese' is now seen as patronizing - the client is smart enough to know that is not a real Ming vase in the lobby, it is a copy, and it's rude to do that," says Barr. "So what designers are looking for now is what we call 'modern Chinese'.

"The Park Hyatt in Shanghai is an example. It's cleaned-lined and very contemporary but everything tips its hat towards the classics. And The Peninsula in Shanghai is a marvelous, contemporary version of an art deco piece.

"In China you can go wild with the architecture but the customer demands a comfortable, classic experience inside it which we try to contemporise."

China's "first green hotel -- the Urbn Hotel in Shanghai -- opened to much fanfare in 2008 and Barr believes environmental concerns have since played an increasingly influential role in the development of hotels and resorts throughout the country.

"The green movement has finally moved away from being a fad and a trend to where there is enough data now to show that it makes sense as an investment," he says. "Everybody has green initiatives -- the card that asks if you want your towels washed etc -- but those initiatives are to keep operating costs down. Now you can finally build green or build sustainable. It is going to have a much larger hold on the industry in the near future. It has been a fad until now but now there is a data. You can say that over 10 years, we can save you 30 percent on energy consumption and it will save 'x' amount of dollars and so owners and operators are responding to that."