Artist rendering of Anantara's Xishuangbanna resort (Image: Hexun)
Having held off on the increasingly crowded China five-star hotel market during the 2007-2009 boom, Thailand's Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas announced this week that it will make its official China debut this October with a flagship in the Xishuangbanna (西双版纳) autonomous prefecture of southwest China's Yunnan Province. Based in Bangkok and operating 14 Asia-Pacific and Middle East resorts (as well as its spa brand in Africa), Anantara is in the midst of a major expansion set to coincide with the brand's 10th anniversary, which will see the hotelier open nine new hotels and resorts in China, Vietnam, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Bali. Over the next four years, Anantara plans to expand its network in the Middle East, Indian Ocean region and Asia-Pacific to 50 resorts in all.
In its announcement this week, Anantara indicated that it plans to heavily localize for the China domestic tourism market, starting with an official Chinese-language brand name: ānnàtǎlā (安纳塔拉). A company spokesman said that finalized details for the first China resort, the Anantara Xishuangbanna flagship, will be announced this October, but that the company plans to infuse its China flagship with cultural and design cues informed by the region's Dai minority. Mountainous, picturesque Xishuangbanna, located directly north of neighboring Laos, is a stronghold of Dai culture, and we can bet that Anantara will offer guests special packages around the time of Dai folk events like the Songkran Water Festival. (A New Year's celebration held in parts of East and Southeast Asia.)
In all, Anantara's Xishuangbanna flagship will boast 130 rooms, with 80 deluxe suites and 23 luxury villas.
Anantara isn't the only hotelier with sights set on Yunnan's growing appeal among well-heeled Chinese tourists. Singapore's Banyan Tree currently operates two Yunnan resorts aimed squarely at the "eco-tourist" set, one in Ringha and another in Lijiang, and Accor's upscale Pullman hotel brand opened a sprawling location in Lijiang last month. Owing to the similarities (geographical, linguistic and cultural) between the Thai and Dai minority people, however, we can expect that Anantara's localization efforts for the Yunnan market to be more seamless and seem far less forced than those of some other hotel brands that have rushed into the region.