International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
For centuries, cosmopolitan Hong Kong has been a financial and commercial hub for Southeast Asia, and it now serves as the key gateway to burgeoning mainland China. The steady stream of business travellers is growing as fast as the city’s skyscrapers, up 23% in 2010 from 2009, and it is expected to increase another 12% in 2011, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
Hong Kong is a city built for business travel: it has one of the world’s richest hotel and restaurant scenes, a modern, central convention centre and a broad transportation infrastructure that is easy to negotiate. It is a place where visitors can arrive and get down to work quickly and easily.
Upon landing at the ultra-modern, light-filled Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), travellers can make a quick (24-minute) and easy rail connection to the Central district. For those bypassing Hong Kong and headed straight to the busy Pearl River Delta region, high-speed ferry service is now available from HKIA’s new SkyPier to Shenzen, Guangzhou and Macau, among other cities or regions.
Hotel: Elegant or edgy?
While legendary grande dames such as the Mandarin Oriental and the Peninsula are holding their own among Hong Kong’s plushest perches, there is plenty of new elegance to go around. On the top floors of the Pacific Place mixed-use complex in the central business district, the minimalist-chic, 117-room Upper House hotel offers some of the largest rooms in the city, starting at about 70 sqm. Bathrooms of more than 30 sqm offer panoramic views and feature walk-in rain showers and deep soaking tubs. Nice touch: wi-fi is complimentary. In March, the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong opened with great fanfare as “the world’s tallest hotel”. The 312-room hotel occupies the 102nd through 118th storeys of the 490m International Commerce Centre building in Kowloon, offering unrivalled views of the entire region.
In January 2010, Hong Kong’s giant Swire Group, which owns Cathay Pacific Airways, opened EAST, a hotel built exclusively “for people visiting Hong Kong on business”. This modern 345-room property is located on the eastern side of Hong Kong Island (near Cityplaza and TaiKoo Place) and offers biz-friendly touches such as free wi-fi, in-room espresso makers, flat screen HDTVs, a 24-hour fitness centre (including outdoor heated pool), and easy access to public transportation, the MTR. Design aficionados should also consider the Mira Hotel, located on the Kowloon side in bustling Tsimshatsui. Mod touches include colourful, contemporary décor, Bose sound systems, free wi-fi, a smoke-free environment, and as of December 2010, a two-Michelin-star-rated Cantonese restaurant, Cuisine Cuisine.
Off the clock
With Hong Kong’s work-hard-play-hard atmosphere, an occasional, reflective, outdoor walk is good for the business traveller soul. Built in 1991, Hong Kong Park is a tranquil, green oasis immersed among the skyscrapers of the central business district. Enter the eight-hectare public park off of Cotton Tree Drive and walk along trails among a handful of historic buildings to a small lake and waterfall in the centre.
To check in on what life is like for locals, explore the Central-Mid-levels escalator system. This is an 800m-long series of 20 covered escalators and moving sidewalks that run between the mountainside Mid-levels residential area and the sea level central business district. A round trip takes about 45 minutes and exposes visitors to the shops, restaurants, bars, apartments, streets and lives of locals.
Every visitor is bound to want dim sum in Hong Kong at least once. Business travellers can always follow in the footsteps of the millions who flock to gigantic, popular dim sum halls like Maxim’s Palace at City Hall. But old-timers, locals and other insiders prefer hidden away institutions such as Luk Yu Tea House, in central Hong Kong, where the Art Deco details, carved wooden screens (and even some of the wait staff) have barely changed since it opened in 1933. Reservations are a must.
Those out to celebrate a deal or impress a client should consider Café Gray Deluxe on the 49th floor of the Upper House hotel (see above). Among modern surroundings and stunning views, diners enjoy European classics from celebrity chef Gray Kunz, who recently returned to Hong Kong after being at the helm of top kitchens in New York City and elsewhere.
Don’t do this!
Look right, not left when crossing the street. Because Hong Kong was a former British colony, traffic flows on the left side of the street as it does in many other previous colonial outposts. In the rest of China, traffic flows on the right side.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel