Guangzhou gets taste of W Hotels' minimalist luxury

Updated: 2013-04-01 11:02

By Caroline Berg in New York (China Daily)

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Guangzhou gets taste of W Hotels' minimalist luxury 

The lobby of the W Hotel Guangzhou, which opened on Sunday, exemplifies the "vibrant tapestry" design throughout the hotel's interior. Provided to China Daily by W Hotels Worldwide

Fifteen years after establishing its hip, minimalist brand, W Hotels Worldwide officially arrived on the Chinese mainland with Sunday's opening of the W Hotel in Guangzhou.

The hotel, which has 317 rooms and suites, represents "a new style of modern luxury," featuring cutting-edge architecture and interior design, according to the luxury chain's owner, Starwood Hotels Corp. The newest W has a "vibrant tapestry" theme.

"One of the things I think makes it tapestry- or mosaic-like is the different interior designers we've used on the property," said Brian Segrave, general manager of the new hotel in southern China. "There are fairly dramatic transitions when you go from one part of the hotel to the other."

One of these is the entrance, which Segrave said provides guests a dramatic contrast when they exit the bustle of Guangzhou's Pearl River New Town district and encounter a three-story, LED-illuminated waterfall. The "Wet Area", which according to hotel management is designed with inspiration from Impressionist paintings, blends light and color in unusual ways.

"The sense of arrival is really pretty impressive," Segrave said.

Also vying for visual dominance is a four-story bar suspended in a glass loft on one side of the hotel. Optical-fiber strands of light cascade down the inside of the translucent walls.

W Hotels Worldwide brought in a team of interior designers from New York, Toronto, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur to depict the ancient history of Guangzhou against a backdrop of a thoroughly modern commercial city.

The asymmetrical black hotel, which features architectural cutouts and bright glass highlights, is near China's tallest building, Canton Tower.

One reason that W Hotels, whose first property was in New York in 1998, has sought to imprint the boutique brand on China is growing interest from Chinese outbound travelers, said Charlie Dang, the company's regional vice-president of operations for Greater China.

"These travelers usually stay in hotels they are familiar with," he said. "We have W hotels all over the world now, so it gives them the choice of whether they want to stay within the brand of their preference."

Guangzhou is the first of five W hotels set to open in the Chinese mainland in coming years. Three - in Beijing, Shanghai and Changsha - are scheduled for 2014, while the W Suzhou is planned for 2017. The Chinese locations are nearly half of the 11 hotels in the Asia-Pacific region that the New York-based company plans to open by 2018.

Although Dang said it was mostly a coincidence that Guangzhou became the first Chinese mainland city with a link in the W chain, the city provides a suitable entry point. Many multinational and Chinese companies have operations there, and there are plenty of high-end malls, cultural treasures and fine restaurants.

A challenge Dang encountered in expanding to China was finding high-quality building materials and methods. Even more daunting, he said, was getting Chinese developers to understand the W vibe, which the company describes as "a holistic lifestyle experience that is integrated into the brand's sensibility through contemporary restaurant concepts, glamorous entertainment experiences, stylish retail concepts, signature spas and inspiring residences".

"We had to ensure that [the developers] understood, before they actually decided to build, that the W Hotel is not a traditional luxury hotel," Dang said. "Each W has a story to tell based on the local environment, but the whole concept of cutting-edge design and the 'Whatever/Whenever' service philosophy remain the same."

The first W in Asia opened in 2004, in South Korea's capital, Seoul. With this weekend's opening in Guangzhou, the region now has nine hotels and retreats - in Thailand (two), Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, Maldives and Hong Kong.

"When I took my first step into a W hotel, I was amazed," Dang said of his initial experience in Taipei. "I said, 'Oh, the excitement is inside the hotel!' It just woke me up, like someone gave me a shot in my arm."