In another world, the promise of decadent petits fours and top-notch caffeinated beverages at an afternoon tea were enough. Now, in China’s struggling high-end hospitality and luxury retail industries, a little strategic partnering with a luxury brand can be everything when it comes to elevating both brands in the eyes of the Chinese consumer.
These partnerships “allow guests to ‘experience’ the brands personally—as opposed to simply seeing them static on display in a store, or online,” said Peter Wynne, general manager of The Opposite House hotel in Beijing, which is coming to the conclusion of a collaboration with Versace for its afternoon tea at its restaurant Sureño. “It brings them to life. Luxury is often about aspirations, and so these collaborations allow the individual to achieve those aspirations. To see, feel, touch, and in this case, to taste.”
Through April 30, guests have the opportunity to enjoy afternoon tea at Sureño surrounded by its contemporary, elegant décor brought to a new level with Versace Home’s stately Rosenthal porcelain, gold-plated teaspoons and cushions. At the end of the meal, guests receive a gift to take home. The event, the hotel hopes, will inspire guests to take photos and share them on social media—sharing their symbols of prestige with it.
“Historically ‘afternoon tea’ has always been a social statement, a special occasion, or a ‘treat’ above and beyond the routine of lunch, or dinner,” Wynne said. “In today’s society in China where social class is very much defined by brand association, these collaborations have become a very popular means of defining ones own social status, and a personal statement of taste.”
The Opposite House, a boutique hotel in Beijing’s Sanlitun district under the Swire portfolio, kicked off its first afternoon tea collaboration with a luxury brand in 2014 and has since worked with Jo Malone, Valrhona, Lanvin, and diptyque, as well as Paul Smith for a set lunch collaboration. In Hong Kong, Swire’s The Upper House hotel took the luxury retail partnerships a step further in 2013 by giving guests a reason to shop on Net-a-Porter by offering a $129 gift card and in-room delivery.
Now, hardly a month goes by without at least one five-star hotel embarking on a branded luxury lifestyle event, and it’s not limited to fashion. For instance, The Ritz-Carlton Beijing has teamed up with Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, Italian fashion house Etro, Godiva, and even The Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Financial Street location once partnered with Tesla for its afternoon tea service.
And it obviously doesn’t stop at afternoon tea. Waldorf Astoria Beijing, which opened in 2014, has partnered with Lane Crawford, Vera Wang, and luxury sports car McLaren for various VIP events and to create bespoke experiences tailored to their guests.
One other result of these guest experiences is that they help secure market share and may boost sales for the hotels. Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Central Place PR manager Lisa Wang said their afternoon teas have “generated good revenue.” But it’s not solely about the sales, said Ashley Li, the PR manager of the Waldorf Astoria Beijing. “We’re more hopeful that this kind of collaboration may contribute to our brand awareness and enhance the brand equity in the long run,” she said.
Li said Waldorf Astoria Beijing is in the process of planning many more partnership events in the coming year, not only with super cars and fashion brands, but airlines, watches, and luxury wines, and spirits.