Chris Barnett on Business Travel
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Ritz-Carlton's Stunning Sequel in Hong Kong
October 13, 2011 -- Sequels rarely measure up to the original. But that's not true for Ritz-Carlton in Hong Kong.

The first Ritz-Carlton, nicely located on Connaught Road in Central on Hong Kong Island, struggled mightily before the owners converted it into an office building four years ago. But now a new Ritz-Carlton, located in a remote area of West Kowloon, is booming.

The seven-month-old, 312-room hotel says occupancy is 70 percent during the week and 90 percent on weekends. And prices are no bargain. A basic room on Monday night will go for US$514 plus tax. Starting rates in recent weeks have been as high as US$700.

At first, I chalked up the hotel's stunning second act to the curiosity factor. The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong heralds itself as the world's tallest hotel because its 18 floors of guestrooms, restaurants, spa and other amenities are perched atop the 100-story International Commerce Centre. Even the most jaded business travelers are likely to want to sample luxury hospitality in the clouds at least once.

But it is more than curiosity drawing well-heeled travelers to the Ritz-Carlton's second act. This is a sleek, high-design business hotel with all the stops pulled out.

The bar on the 118th floor has an outside terrace that opens to the heavens. And naturally, it's called Ozone. You need to down a drink just for the bragging rights. Sugar junkies who crave a pick-me-up can order afternoon chocolate tea at the "chocolate library," which has its own librarian. There's an infinity pool and a 92-foot high television screen on floor 118, too. Fussy about your pasta? Vittorio Laucariello, the head chef of Tosca, the hotel's gleaming, contemporary Italian restaurant, air-freights his eggs from Rome. Unless you are a registered guest, there's a three-month wait for a dinner reservation.

While the original Ritz-Carlton was situated in the middle of the commercial and shopping hub of Hong Kong Island, the new Ritz practically stands alone on West Kowloon land that the government hopes to turn into an arts and culture district. Outside the building, there is no place to walk around, but cabs are plentiful. The Airport Express train line can whisk you to Central in just a few minutes. (The Airport Express is also the best way to reach the hotel from Hong Kong International Airport. The hotel and the International Commerce Centre sit atop the Kowloon Station stop.)

But there's scant reason to leave the hotel unless you have meetings with high-powered prospects, clients or government officials. And most would probably prefer to meet you at the Ritz-Carlton because of the novelty factor. An example: the hotel club lounge is cavernous and comfortable, not clubby or stuffy. Open 24/7, the club has a lavish buffet--and a staff of five or six young women eager to please.

On a recent visit, I went into the lounge to use one of the complimentary computers and an attendant immediately noticed that I didn't have the notebook I'd carried in the day before. "Your notebook is missing. I will go down and get you one," she said. I thanked her for being so observant--and then she brought me a coffee and mini-bagel with smoked salmon, which is what I had ordered the previous morning.

Access to this club lounge is worth every bit of the daily surcharge. Besides the standard services you'd expect from any hotel club lounge, this one has a private meeting room and a separate library. The seating next to the windows offers panoramic views of Hong Kong Island, Victoria Harbour, Kowloon and the South China Sea. It's exhilarating--and a bit frightening for acrophobics. After all, you're getting the view from 116 floors up.

For all its newness, however, the new Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong thankfully clings to some of the old traditions. An example: I needed an ATM machine to withdraw some Hong Kong dollars and a fellow guest told me it was "just down in the mall next to bank." But a hotel staffer intervened and insisted that she escort me since the three-level mall was 118 floors down and accessible only by a series of confusing elevators and escalators.

Even though you may not spend much time in your room, the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong makes it regal. Accommodations are sizeable and well-equipped. The WiFi and hardwired computer access is available at no cost. Most rooms even have small, high-powered telescopes to spy on Hong Kong, which is spread out in front of you.

About 60 percent of the travelers visiting Hong Kong today are from other parts of Asia and "Asian travelers have very high expectations" from a hotel, explains Mark DeCocinis, Ritz-Carlton's regional vice president for Asia and the hotel's general manager. "They have a short amount of time and big, complex deals to accomplish. Speed is very important to them. They are putting in very long hours and multitasking--working, traveling and communicating back to their offices. Plus, these travelers are always looking for the best value for money and the companies are always negotiating the best price."

Translated: American travelers hoping to do business in Asia today better have the stamina to keep up with customers, prospects or rivals, all of whom seem to work six or seven days a week, 14 to 16 hours a day.

The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong's second incarnation is a good place to make your home base as you struggle to keep up.

FEBRUARY, 2019, UPDATE
The Ritz-Carlton is considered the second-finest hotel in Hong Kong, trailing only the Upper House. The neighborhood surrounding the hotel now bustles with Hong Kong's typical mix of banks, retail and restaurants. And the hotel's Cantonese restaurant, Tin Lung Heen, is one of the city's premier spots for elegant dim sum. The dining room on the 102nd floor has been awarded two Michelin stars. -- J.B.

This column is Copyright 2011 by Chris Barnett. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2019 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Chris Barnett. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.