China's Boutique Hotel Explosion: Six Cities, Six Styles

    Thirty years ago, travelers to China were faced with a pretty simple set of choices when looking for accommodations -- gray, boxy hotel, or gray, boxy hotel.
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Finance

    Diversity Of Hotels In Some Of China's Business And Tourism Hotspots Hints At Future Of Small, Artistic Lodgings#

    Jing Daily

    Thirty years ago, travelers to China were faced with a pretty simple set of choices when looking for accommodations -- gray, boxy hotel, or gray, boxy hotel. In the midst of China's economic reforms of the early 1980s and into the 1990s, however, foreign and domestic four- and five-star hotels multiplied in number, first in top-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai and later in second- and third-tier cities like Xi'an, Tianjin and Nanjing. By the late '90s, travelers were spoiled for choice when searching for lodgings in China's tourism and business hubs.

    In the first decade of the 21st century, however, more travelers began to look for smaller, more intimate hotels as "eco-tourists" and backpackers, then later younger, middle-class Chinese tourists, started to venture to China's less developed but more pristine inland areas. In recent years, this has led to something of a boom in the construction of boutique hotels, which may not offer the same level of opulence of a five-star hotel, but do offer unique design, comfortable amenities, excellent sightseeing opportunities, and personal service second to none.

    Jing Daily

    Last November, Jing Daily looked at one of these eco-friendly boutique hotels, Naked Retreats at Moganshan, in Zhejiang province. As we wrote at the time, many boutique hotels now primarily cater to stressed-out white collar workers in major commercial hubs like Shanghai, who need -- as the name of the hotel says -- a retreat from the pressures of the workweek:

    Naked Retreats appears to be shrewdly courting both the Shanghai weekend traveler and the globehopping eco-tourist in equal measures. Although the hotel offers five-star services like balcony jacuzzis, personal butlers, a state-of-the-art health and wellness center and organic Chinese and Western room service — and that’s just the services inside the hotel — for many of the Shanghai-based visitors to Naked Retreats, who are accustomed to luxury appointments like these, the biggest draw might just be the ability to get up close and personal with nature. A welcome respite from the daily grind.

    Today, CNNGo looks at five other boutique hotels, including Jing's Residence -- which Jing Daily profiled last week -- opining that "China's days of offering only dank guesthouses or sterile three-star chain hotels are long gone." From the feature:

    Modern art for the weary

    Set amongst Guilin’s stunning karst peaks and rice terraces, the Hotel of Modern Art is the first Relais & Chateau property in China. The brainchild of Taiwanese cemetery tycoon, Tsao Rhy-Chang, the 46-room HOMA is the centerpiece of a contemporary art park with over 200 works by international artists such as German sculptor Eberhard Eckerle. An English-speaking concierge picks up guests at the airport.

    Royal hot springs

    Moving farther north is the private all villa Kayumanis Nanjing retreat. Located in the nearby village of Sizhuang and benefiting from the hot springs that originate in the Tangshan Mountains -- reserved exclusively for Chinese royalty in the Qing dynasty -- this property is the first China venture from the Bali-based group. This is the place to turn off BlackBerry and have some quality family time. Either that or leave the family behind for some solo solace. Whatever works.

    Garden variety

    For those who find themselves amongst the legendary walled and manicured gardens of Suzhou there is Hotel Soul. It has typically been done as a day trip from Shanghai because until recently there have been very few decent lodging options. However, this summer, the team behind the Luxe Manor in Hong Kong opened Hotel Soul. Located next to the famed Guanqian Pedestrian Street, Hotel Soul is equal parts funky design and business-traveler friendly, like its sister property.

    A speakeasy feel

    A truly unique place to stay in Beijing is 3+1 Bedrooms from a local nightlife impresario. Hidden in a hutong alley near the Drum and Bell towers, 3+1 has a speakeasy feel on the outside and a warm, contemporary interior. This is East meets West without the kitsch. The service is personal but not overbearing and the complimentary stocked fridge and iPod (to borrow) are nice touches. The biggest room is Jade, named after the owner’s daughter, and boasts a steeping tub.

    Look for even more boutique hotels to pop up not only in the hinterlands, but also in China's largest metropolitan areas. Last year, the boutique luxury hotel the Opposite House opened in Beijing's bustling Sanlitun area, and Shanghai's Urbn Hotels would appeal to any jetsetter with an aversion to cookie-cutter luxury.

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