Hotel News We Noted: April 5, 2013

Hola and buenos tardes from sunny and warm Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, “Hotel News We Noted” readers. This week, as always, we round up the best, the worst and the most interesting news in the hotel industry, tracking resort openings, pampering packages and other reportings from our travels.

Stay tuned next week for a special edition, including a full recap of our Cabo exploration. We welcome your feedback and comments, so feel free to shoot us an email or leave a note below with ideas and thoughts.

Hotel Wi-Fi: IHG Announces Free Global Wi-Fi for Travelers … An Innovative or a “Finally, What Took You So Long” Moment?
Late last month, InterContinental Hotels Group announced that they were offering free Wi-Fi to all loyalty members worldwide, regardless of whether or not a guest was staying at the hotel. The announcement bandied about terms like “first in the hotel industry.” We wanted to do some digging before reporting this to you. The statement was bold, and in some respects, it’s true. When we asked, IHG told us the following:

While some of our competitors do offer free Internet in some of their hotels or in some regions, IHG is the first and only global hotel group to offer free Internet to all of our loyalty program members in all hotels, regardless of whether they are staying with us, conducting a business meeting with colleagues, or simply stopping in for coffee. In other words, our IHG Rewards Club, as the program will be named come July, members do not have to be staying in the hotel to take advantage of free Internet access.

Another key factor that separates IHG from our competitors is our sheer global scale – more than 4,600 hotels in nearly 100 countries and territories – and likewise for our loyalty program, which has more than 71 million members (the largest of all hotel loyalty memberships).

They are right: IHG is the first global hotel company we can find to offer free Wi-Fi to loyalty members, although there is a caveat: Wi-Fi is free to Elite status members from July 2013 on, and for all members beginning in 2014.

That said, they aren’t first to market. Luxury brand Capella offers gratis Wi-Fi to all travelers, as do most Four Seasons. Kimpton, which currently has only U.S.-based hotels, offers free Wi-Fi to loyalty members (without requiring a stay) and has since 2009. While we’re glad to see IHG touting their new benefit, perhaps they shouldn’t be so excited to push that they are offering a service that several of their competitors have been offering for years.
Hotel Openings: The Sirtaj Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills’ newest boutique hotel destination is now open. Marketed as a “chic, sexy retreat with a scent of spice and a nod to the east,” the SIRTAJ is named for the Indian word meaning “highest crown.” The 32-room hotel features contemporary decor and luxurious touches like 42-inch smart TVs and Lavazza espresso makers in each room. The indoor-outdoor restaurant dishes up organic cocktails and craft beers, and nice touches like complimentary breakfast either in-room or in the hotel restaurant are welcome perks.

Haute Hotel Package: Pie Camp at Paws Up
We’ve loved this ultra-luxe Montana resort ever since we visited a few years back to explore the glamping trend, and now Paws Up is at it again with a new “Upper Crust” weekend for baking enthusiasts. By day, visitors will enjoy baking, wilderness and food photography lessons from Kate McDermott, of the famed Art of the Pie in Seattle, and New York Times photographer Andrew Scrivani. At night, they’ll retreat to the resort’s private vacation homes and enjoy food prepared by Robin Leventhal (of “Top Chef” fame) and wine pairings. The event doesn’t take place until October, but spots fill fast. Three all-inclusive nights are $5,361 for two or $3,102 for one.

Luxe Hotel Amenity: Ritz-Carlton Turns to Asprey
The Ritz-Carlton has made the shift from Bvlgari in-room amenities to Asprey’s Purple Water fragrance. The ultra-luxe Brit-based brand boasts a purple jacquard print tube and will now be found in all guest rooms and suites. It’s a notable change for the brand, and, to the best of our knowledge, Ritz is the only hotel partnering with Asprey for in-room amenities.

Green Hotel: Fiji’s Turtle Island Goes Almost 100 Percent Solar
Fiji has always been an escape for travelers seeking extraordinary natural experiences, but now the island nation is better than ever. A multi-million dollar renovation has rendered Turtle Island the greenest place in Fiji, with nearly 1,000 solar panels providing, on average, an island powered by 85 percent solar power. The new solar installation on Turtle Island produces 1 mega watt of power a day, enough to cover 100 percent of the power needs of the island on a sunny day. Even on rainy or cloudy days, the backup generator reduces the total solar power to about 85 percent, maintaining outstanding energy efficiency. As if we needed yet another excuse to visit the all-inclusive luxury retreat.

[Image Credit: The Sirtaj]

IHG launches HUALLUXE Hotels and Resorts, their first hotel brand designed for the Chinese consumer

IHG has tapped into the rapidly growing Chinese market with the launch of HUALUXE Hotels and Resorts, a new upscale international hotel brand that demonstrates pride in Chinese customs and reflects local tradition. The name comes from a combination of “Hua,” meaning “Majestic China,” and “luxury.”

Numbers back up the plan: the China hotel market is projected to grow by 5-8% annually by 2030*. Outbound trips from China are projected to grow from 10 million to more than 100 million in the next 10 to 15 years.

IHG is already the largest international hotel operator in China, with more than 160 hotels across 60 cities, and sees the opportunity for this brand to be in over 100 cities in China in the next 15-20 years. IHG has already signed over 20 letters of intent, which are now being converted into contracts and we expect the first hotel to be open in late 2013 or early 2014.

The brand is based on four identified priorities, including:

  • Tradition: Long-celebrated traditions are reflected in the design, amenities and outlets, including a “deep-rooted tea culture” and restaurants like late-night noodle bars.
  • Rejuvenation: Hotels will be rich in natural surroundings, offering a lobby garden and resort-inspired bathrooms.
  • Status: Recognition and respect are fundamental in Chinese society. A seamless VIP arrival, a unique Club Lounge experience, specialty food and beverages throughout the hotel serve to underpin the importance of the guests.
  • Familiar Spaces: Each hotel will feature a range of public and private spaces to be used for various social interactions and meetings.

The Wall Street Journal reports that IHG isn’t the only group with its sights set on China — Hilton Worldwide Inc. operates 28 Chinese hotels under its brands with plans to add at least 75 hotels within five years.

HUALUXE is initially launching in China with plans to expand worldwide.

This comes only a month after announcing plans for Even hotels, a fitness-based chain.

Las Vegas hotels The Venetian and The Palazzo join InterContinental Alliance Resorts

Two of Las Vegas‘ most loved hotels, The Venetian and The Palazzo, are the first two properties to join with IHG’s new Intercontinental Alliance Resorts program.

What does this mean for you, dear reader? If you were already a fan of the properties, never fear – the properties will remain independently branded and under their current names, but with the added benefit of InterContinental Hotel & Resorts membership, meaning that guests can book rooms and earn points through their IHG rewards program.

What is the program, exactly? The Alliance Resorts program is more of a marketing partnership than anything else – these resorts aren’t owned, operated or managed by IHG, but rather “aligned with the spirit” of the brand and “complement the InterContinental portfolio.” For guests, this means that Priority Club Rewards and InterContinental Ambassador programs can redeem points at these “sister properties”.

At present, the Alliance Resorts program has just three properties, including Scottsdale’s Montelucia Resort & Spa.

At present IHG’s Priority Club Rewards program is the world’s largest hotel loyalty program with 56 million members.

IHG to 300 Holiday Inns: put up or shut up

The message is clear: shape up or ship out.Up to 300 Holiday Inn hotels could be booted from the brand if their owners don’t get their respective acts together. Intercontinentals Hotel Group has told them they need to get on board with an enormous improvement plan by February 1, 2010.

Does 300 sound like a lot? It is. In fact, it’s 12% of the 3,300 hotels that fly the Holiday Inn flag. The holdouts haven’t begun to play ball with the brand’s requirements, which include new bedding, pillows and towels — not to mention modern music, a renovated lobby and green uplighting on the exterior. The total package is expected to cost around $1 billion.

Kevin Kowalski, brand chief for Holiday Inn, made clear how flexible the mother ship is willing to be: “We’re not changing the timing.” So, he told the owners of these 300 hotels, “If you have a quality problem, fix it.” Not doing so by the deadline will garner the hotel owners failure letters. Sound relatively harmless? Their banks will get them, too, which could trigger some hefty consequences.

[Photo by curioustraveller99 via Flickr]

Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon nabs top hotel award

The Crowne Plaza Today, Gurgaon just picked the Best Luxury/Upscale Hotel of the Year Award at the Fifth Hotel Investment Conference for South Asia (HICSA). Winners were determined by a vote of registered HICSA delegates, and this was the first year the awards were held.

Tony South, Chief Development Officer for InterContinental Hotels Asia Pacific (which manages the property) was obviously thrilled, “It is an honour to receive this prestigious award. This is yet another feather in Crowne Plaza Today Gurgaon’s cap. With IHG hotel management, our business partners are assured of quality service delivery and brand standards to guests, especially important when establishing brands in new markets.”

On the other hand, here’s a look inside the “dirtiest hotel in America.”