Lap of Luxury.
By Steve Shellum , Editor, HOTEL Asia Pacific
Sunday, 11th June 2006
The InterContinental Hong Kong claims its new Presidential Suite is the best of any city in Asia.

WHEN JEAN-JACQUES REIBEL was appointed MD of the InterContinental Hong Kong a couple of years ago, he knew he was taking over one of the world's most celebrated hotels. But the former GM of Washington's venerable Willard Hotel - home-from-home for generations of presidents, royalty and diplomats - quickly realised there was something sadly lacking in his new property.

Though he was knocked out by the hotel's location, its stunning harbour views, its recently refurbished lobby and guestrooms, its magnificent executive floor and award-winning restaurants, one thing left him cold: the so-called Presidential Suite.

When his boss, InterContinental Hotels Group MD for Asia Pacific Patrick Imbardelli, asked him what he thought about the property, Reibel put it as diplomatically as he could: "With all due respect, we don't have a true presidential suite that we can be proud of and which reflects the grandeur of this wonderful hotel."

Imbardelli agreed.

Reibel did some research, and discovered that the presidential suite hadn't been touched for 20 years.

"It was located on one floor - a small suite, with old furniture and a small jacuzzi. It had been neglected, and certainly wasn't the pride and joy of the hotel. But it did have a beautiful terrace and a fantastic view."

From his years of experience running the Willard, Reibel knew full well that this shabby suite was not only an embarrassment, it was also a wicked waste of opportunity.

He met with his colleagues at the hotel and at IHG's headquarters in Singapore, and they all agreed the hotel needed a true presidential suite that reflected its willingness and desire to become the best hotel in Hong Kong.

The new Presidential Suite took more than a year of preparation and nine months of construction. Total cost: US$2.5 million.

It was quite an undertaking, with the existing suite and the suite on the floor above being knocked into one magnificent 7,000 sq ft duplex.

"When we saw the architects' design, we thought it was absolutely phenomenal," says Reibel.

"We had to merge the two suites into one by breaking through walls and floors and building a staircase to make it into a duplex. We also had to take out a huge slab of concrete to install two-storey windows to open up the views, and reinforce the whole building to take the weight of the swimming pool.

"The work involved was phenomenal - the suite took 253 days and 76,120 man-hours to build. It wasn't an easy task, but we made it happen, with the intense pre-planning making all the difference."

Reibel gives credit for the smooth completion of the project to IHG's VP of engineering for Asia, Andrew Day, who was previously chief engineer at the hotel. "He was instrumental in making things happen, and his knowledge of the hotel was a great help."

The five-bedroom Presidential Suite is the largest in Hong Kong at 7,000 sq ft, with a duplex living room with two-storey plate-glass windows with panoramic views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island.

Most spectacular is the suite's expansive, 2,500 sq ft, wrap-around harbourview terrace with a rooftop infinity swimming pool and whirlpool overlooking the stunning harbour and Island.

The dining room, master bedroom and bathroom and private gym also have panoramic harbour views, and there are also a private study and kitchenette.

Reibel describes the result as "modern, luxurious and trendy, but with a touch of Asia".

"Some hotels have huge suites that are so overpoweringly huge that they become impersonal. But we wanted to create a suite with a personal, welcoming feeling despite the size and proportions.

"The materials use very warm colours, with rich woods, marble and paintings, and the effect is neither overpowering nor gaudy."

THE RATE IS NEARLY US$12,000 A NIGHT, and Reibel expects to achieve return on investment within two or three years. He knows from his experience at the Willard that - apart from a high room rate - a successful presidential suite brings in considerable additional revenues from other rooms sold, as well as from F&B.

Reibel explains: "If you rent the presidential suite, say, to a foreign delegation or a king or queen, then you sell other rooms because of the staff and the entourage. Maybe 40 to 60 rooms are needed for all these people. And sometimes the next senior people want a suite, so we can also sell other suites and rooms.

"Without the presidential suite, we would not be able to sell such a large number of rooms to the same group. It is a jewel in the crown, which attracts a considerable amount of extra business."

Reibel expects to sell 80-100 nights a year in the presidential suite. "The real value is not just the suite, it's everything. Without being arrogant, no other presidential suite in Hong Kong has what we have: none has a swimming pool, the terrace or the location or the size.

My competitors have wonderful suites, but we don't have any competition for the presidential suite."

As Reibel walks around the finished suite - known to colleagues as "Jean-Jacques' baby" - it's tempting to ask him if he's totally satisfied with his creation, or whether - in hindsight - there are things he would have done differently.

"Well, we are thinking of putting in an elevator to the second floor because we think that some people want that.

"But, apart from that, I am happy, proud and content with what we have achieved, and the comments we receive from guests and media confirm our faith in the project.

"Now, we want to make sure that the service is absolutely right.

"We have a butler exclusively for this suite, 24 hours a day - Talan Choi has 18 years' experience with the hotel and, over the years, he has served heads of state and international celebrities as personal butler for the hotel's top suites. The hardware is here, so we want to make sure we can deliver impeccable and very personalised service."

REIBEL POINTS OUT THAT HONG KONG has some of the greatest hotels in the world and that, to stand out, you have to be exceptional.

"You are playing in the big league against major Asian hotel companies that are known worldwide for their impeccable service, so you have to excel," he says.

"The suite is an announcement to the world - not only for this hotel, but also for the InterContinental brand.

"I believe it is the most beautiful, incredible suite of any city hotel in Asia, and that it has raised the bar.

"This is an incredible property, with the best location in Hong Kong, and the new Presidential Suite is part of our vision to make it the best hotel in the world."

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