empty hotel rooms all over Hong Kong, but two new properties prepare to open amid Covid-19 gloom

Aron Harilela is confident Hong Kong will bounce back. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Two hotels are going ahead with plans to open next month despite the damage done by the Covid-19 pandemic to Hong Kong’s tourism and hospitality sectors.

The Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung Hotel, near the city’s airport, will have its official opening on December 1, after a year’s delay, while The Hari Hotel in Wan Chai opens on December 12, on schedule.

They are opening at a time when the number of visitors has plunged 93 per cent to just 3.56 million in the first 10 months of the year, according to provisional figures from the city’s tourism board.

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Hotel rooms across the city have been left empty for much of this year, too, with occupancy rates falling to 43 per cent between January and September, compared with 84 per cent last year.

For a start, both new hotels are counting on Hong Kong residents to take up their staycation offers, especially over the Christmas season.

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Executive Ocean View Suite of Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Hotel. Photo: Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung Hotel

“It’s not the easiest of times for them to open, the situation will have an impact on their profitability in the short term,” said Brian King, associate dean at the school of hospitality and tourism management at Polytechnic University.

A recent Covid-19 cluster linked to staycations in Mui Wo has raised concern, with the government planning to limit the number of people allowed in a hotel room to four.

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A new rule that took effect on Wednesday bans visits to those under quarantine in hotels. Couriers delivering food and other items are not allowed face-to-face contact with guests during their quarantine period.

Despite all that, the new hotels are putting up a brave front as they prepare to welcome guests.

“We open hotels for the long term, so we’re still very positive about that,” said veteran Dutch hotelier Sander Looijen, who has spent the past year getting the five-star Sheraton Tung Chung ready to open.

Located just 10 minutes from the airport and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the 218-room hotel was planned to cater to business travellers and aircrew.

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Sander Looijen has spent the past year getting the Sheraton Tung Chung ready to open. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

With air travel at a standstill because of the pandemic, Looijen said it was now positioning itself as part of the Tung Chung community, offering staycation packages for families and nature-lovers over the Christmas season.

Five years in the making, the hotel will have four restaurants and is close to Lantau Island’s hiking trails. Most of its guest rooms have sea views.

Its “New Neighbour Offer”, with rates starting at HK$1,100 (US$141), provides one night’s stay in a deluxe room, buffet breakfast for two, complimentary drinks and late checkout at 3pm.

“We are now a little bit forced to focus on the leisure market, but certainly after borders reopen, we will be able to capture leisure and business travellers,” said Looijen, who is cluster general manager for the Marriott group’s two new Sheraton properties in Tung Chung.

He is hoping the hotel can be “on par with the market” and achieve around 30 per cent occupancy when it opens for bookings on December 1.

Marriott’s other new property, the 1,001-room Four Points by Sheraton, will open around early 2021. The two properties are next to each other, and are the group’s 12th and 13th hotels in Hong Kong.

In 2016, Marriott International became the world’s largest hotel chain when it acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide for US$13.6 billion, which included the Sheraton, Westin, W and St. Regis brands.

© Provided by South China Morning Post
The Hari Hong Kong is set to open on December 12. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s prominent Harilela family is all set to open a luxury hotel, The Hari Hong Kong, in Wan Chai, undaunted by the gloom in the hospitality sector.

“Hong Kong is a resilient city and I am always confident that the city will bounce back,” said Aron Harilela, chairman and CEO of Harilela Hotels.

Six years in the making, the hotel will have 210 rooms, including three rooftop suites decorated by renowned interior designer Tara Bernerd. It has two restaurants and a bar.

Located near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, the hotel was geared to upscale travellers who wanted to shop in Causeway Bay and visit the trendy restaurants hidden along Wan Chai’s narrow streets.

Hong Kong is a resilient city and I am always confident that it will bounce back

Aron Harilela, chairman and CEO of Harilela Hotels

Harilela is confident that its location between two vibrant districts will prove a draw when tourism picks up again. For now, though, it is wooing Hong Kong residents.

Its opening offers include king or twin rooms from HK$1,450 a night. Guests will receive HK$700 in food and drinks credit to use at the hotel outlets, and can check out as late as 3pm.

“Staycations are trending at the moment and we expect locals to continue this trend, especially during weekends and holidays,” Harilela said.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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