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Rebuilding Luxury: How One Hong Kong Hotel Built Back Better During A Global Pandemic

 

The logistical challenges of sourcing everything from food to cleaning supplies during Covid-19 were difficult. Imagine that multiplied by nearly 500 rooms and suites. Throw in furniture, wallpaper, artwork, expensive bottles of liquor, and of course, labor, and it is truly a feat to complete.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way for Regent Hong Kong, which had already scheduled to close in early 2020 after years of planning a remodel (and long before people knew the word Covid). When general manager Michel Chertouh cuts the ribbon this week at a grand opening gala in front of hundreds of guests and dignitaries, the wait is finally over.

This legendary hotel sits in Kowloon and faces Hong Kong Island as what is the only true waterfront hotel (a new pedestrian promenade was built over the water here, too).

 

Visitors to Hong Kong know that the lobby lounge views from here are unrivaled. Chertouh is ready to welcome them back, but it is worthy to understand how his team navigated the ever-changing rules and requirements in one of the most locked-down parts of the globe.

What was the biggest difficulty of renovating a hotel during a pandemic?

Supply chain, logistics and delivery obstacles were the hardest part, and we couldn’t meet personally with many of the stakeholders. Our designer Chi Wing Lo, who is originally from Hong Kong, traveled back and forth to Milan for the project. Each time, he had to spend several weeks in mandatory quarantine when arriving in Hong Kong.

Chi Wing Lo’s serene design has a “sustainability element.” Raw materials were used in the design, and these materials like natural oak, granite and Nero African stone (instead of marble). The stone is fired; its rough edges smoothed away. The unpolished stone has a natural look.

When the opening team was at the property, staff had to be spread around the building in different offices for social distancing. And whenever cases would spike, it would lead to a delay.

What were some of the most difficult things to get?

In the bar, the mixologists have managed to source some of the most rare and special wine vintages and whiskeys among other things to craft some special drinks. But, getting these bottles was quite difficult. Import rules and taxes are complex in Hong Kong, made more difficult during the pandemic. On top of that, these same bottles may have been stuck in their own export countries, which had their own rules and paperwork that were changing regularly during the pandemic.

In general, everything took longer to procure, arrive and be fitted, and some of the décor items were stuck in customs for awhile. And the valuation or price of goods was also changing. The hotel had a buyer visiting different auction houses to find unique items. Once found, they had to undergo special fire treatment to adhere to local codes, which added another layer of delays. The furniture for the bar took one year to get to us.

What is your favorite feature of the hotel?

At the lobby’s entrance, Wing Lo and Lasvit, a renowned Czech lighting company, created “vertical chandeliers” comprised of sixteen floor-to-ceiling illuminated glass block screens that form a portico exuding a restrained opulence with the subtle wonder of Liuli crystal art. This crystal passageway creates a wonderful sense of arrival. Placing each piece meticulously behind glass while everyone was masked added another layer to the process.

The lobby feels like an art gallery, including a digital art installation on an enormous LED screen behind reception that is constantly changing. This is actually the longest one-piece reception counter in Hong Kong. This hotel opened as the Regent (before it was part of the IHG Hotels & Resorts brand portfolio) and then became an InterContinental. Wing Lo sourced some of the hotel’s original artwork from the early Regent Hong Kong to use as a tribute in the lobby.

Of course, as you move into the lobby, all of Victoria Harbour and the stunning Hong Kong skyline sprawls in front of the triple-height glass walls, the hotel’s signature for decades. It has become something of a tourist attraction and a favorite gathering spot for locals.

What are some of the major changes repeat guests will notice?

The hotel underwent a top-to-bottom transformation with even the façade getting a new look, now reclad in a matte-silvery finish.

The rooms, bathrooms and corridors have been totally redone to provide a space of peace and tranquility in one of the world’s top urban centers. A favorite is the windowfront daybed, designed as a “personal haven” (something every Regent offers in its aesthetic) to take in the skyline view.

What did you leave untouched?

The cascading “feng shui” fountain at the hotel entrance remains unchanged. Also untouched is the iconic Calacatta white marble “Fred & Ginger” staircase leading to the Regent Ballroom.

It is an inseparable part of the collective memory of Hong Kong people who have celebrated weddings, galas and milestone occasions at the hotel. It has been meticulously conserved – forming a focal point in the extended lobby area.

Did anything remain open during the pandemic?

Many of the restaurants, including Nobu, remained open and popular with diners, when rules permitted people to go out to eat again. The layout was different as the tables had to be spaced much farther apart from each other, but the experience was the same. Most excitingly, Lai Ching Heen restaurant, the Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the hotel, earned its second Michelin star…during a pandemic!

What is IHG’s plan for growing the Regent brand?

The return of Regent Hong Kong heralds the growth of IHG Hotels & Resorts’ ultra-luxury properties in the region and beyond. Earlier this year, Carlton Cannes, a Regent Hotel, relaunched following a major renovation. In the U.S., the first Regent hotel will open soon in Santa Monica, California.

Hong Kong marks the tenth currently open hotel, which also includes Regent Phu Quoc in Vietnam and Regent Chongqing and Regent Shanghai in China. Eleven further properties are due to open in the next five years, including Santa Monica Beach; Bali and Jakarta, Indonesia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Sanya, Shenzhen and Shanghai on the Bund in China, and Kyoto, Japan.

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