With ancient historical sites, a burgeoning wine industry, and growing ties to the Middle East, China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region has big goals to become a global destination for business and travel.
For now, the lone international five-star hotel ready to capitalize on these ambitions is the German luxury hospitality brand Kempinski, which opened in the region’s capital city of Yinchuan in 2010. With sleek design as well as a luxury spa, pool, fitness center, event facilities, and fine dining, the property serves as a luxury oasis in the developing city.
One of the brand’s 21 hotels in China, the property incorporates its German heritage, Chinese elements, and regional customs into its overall concept. According to General Manager Detlef Winter, Kempinski’s goal is to “blend into the Chinese culture” while also bringing “European flair” to the region. It offers amenities such as a high-end Chinese restaurant featuring local dishes and traditional Chinese massages in the spa, as well as a popular fusion European-Chinese afternoon tea session in its luxe lounge.
The hotel’s German roots shine through at its Paulaner Bauhaus, which offers an extensive menu of German fare as well as beers brewed in big vats onsite that comply with Germany’s official criteria for authentic German beer. In addition, those visiting during Oktoberfest don’t have to miss out on celebrations just because they happen to be in Yinchuan thanks to the hotel’s observance of the German beer festival.
In addition to traditional German beer, guests can also taste drinks from much closer to home—namely, bottles of wine from Ningxia’s vineyards, which are receiving growing global recognition. “We work closely with the wineries to have wine tastings and wine dinners,” says Winter, who says that some of the local wineries are “fantastic” and the hotel helps to promote them. “Sometimes the winemakers even bring me wine for tasting and ask for my opinion.”
The hotel is also cognizant of local tastes and customs—due to its location in the region of the Hui Muslim minority, it does not serve pork at its restaurants. This feature is expected to be popular with an influx of Middle Eastern guests that the hotel is planning on now that new transportation links are being developed, which local businesses expect to bring big changes to the western city.
“We hope with more international flights coming in, we will attract more customers from the Middle East,” says Winter, referring to the new Emirates flight from Dubai to Yinchuan that started on May 3 this year. The hotel served as the location for the launch party celebrating the new flight, and hosted Emirates CEO Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum in its luxe Presidential Suite for the event.
It is Ningxia’s Muslim identity that makes the region a focal point of the Chinese government’s “One Belt, One Road,” policy, which includes forging close ties with Middle Eastern countries to form a “New Silk Road” for trade. Yinchuan is the location of the bi-annual Sino-Arab economic and trade forum, which welcomes attendees such as the king of Jordan. With hopes of major economic development driven by these ties, the government is investing big in building up the shiny new business district in which the hotel is located, which also includes a massive new performing arts center and residential and business real estate. In other parts of the city, additional major projects springing up include elaborate mosques, a new contemporary art museum, and a US$3.5 billion “World Muslim City” business district set to be completed in 2020.
While it will take years to see whether these efforts do result in booming international business in the area, hotels can also bet on growth in China’s domestic tourism industry. In addition to plans for wine tourism, sites of interest in Yinchuan and nearby include the 1,000-year-old ruins of the ancient Xixia dynasty, 10,000-year-old rock carvings, Great Wall ruins, a gigantic film studio set that has served as the backdrop for a Zhang Yimou film, and a vast desert area not far away. With affluent Chinese travelers developing a growing thirst for experiential luxury as well as adventure travel, the Kempinski can bet on more than just the New Silk Road for growing business.