Features

Tokyo's Chic Hotels

30 Apr 2007 by business traveller

Thanks to a recovering economy and after a long drought, the hotel pool in the Japanese capital is expanding rapidly, while existing properties are refurbishing furiously to keep up with the competition. Margie T Logarta looks at the latest additions to the inventory.

The day before it was due to open on March 30, The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo was already swarming with visitors who respectfully examined the guestrooms and facilities put on show by the management and gazed with fascination at the urban sprawl framed by the scenic windows.

Since late 2005, hotel visits have become a regular ritual among Tokyoites (the Japanese are known to flock in droves to peruse any new attraction, even an airport), a trend that looks set to continue as the city’s hospitality portfolio  swells with more inventory.

The 248-room Ritz-Carlton Tokyo is the latest in a series of small luxury concept hotels that have entered the Japanese capital, beginning in 2002 with Four Seasons Marunouchi owned by Hongkong mogul Richard Li.

In 2005, the Conrad and Mandarin Oriental opened within months of each other, creating waves in a market that had been dry of innovation in hospitality for several years. And more branded chains are poised to launch: the Peninsula in September and Shangri-La in the first quarter of 2009.

Japan’s recovering economy has been tagged as the main catalyst for the flurry of hotel investment. With competition for commercial and residential space so intense and tourism on the rise (boosted by the government’s Yokoso – Visit Japan campaign), developers have turned to hotels as their source of the next minefield.

Says Christian Hassing, general manager of the Mandarin Oriental: “Investing in hotels has become attractive these days. There are some attractive prices out there, and foreign arrivals are increasing again.”

Adds Naoki Oto, director of sales and marketing at Conrad: “It’s really the major real estate companies and landlords who’ve been responsible for moving things. We (Hilton which owns the Hilton and Conrad brands) couldn’t have come in if they weren’t interested in what we had to offer."

Apparently, finance giant Morgan Stanley also believes in Japan’s hotel industry, purchasing last month 13 properties from All Nippon Airways for US$2.4 billion. The stunning sweep, described by Reuters news agency as “the biggest single-asset transaction in Asia”, made it the largest hotel operator in Japan.

The increase in supply can only auger well for the corporate traveller, and travellers as a whole, who have long been put off by Tokyo’s exorbitant room rates. In fact, according to hoteliers, prices in other gateways, such as London, have come up sharply due to inflation that they are now on par with Tokyo itself, which explains some change in perception about doing business in the city.

The new hotel products also mean Tokyo can begin to woo meeting and incentive planners who might have wanted to include the city in their deliberations but decided not to due to room scarcity and costly rates. The Conrad has openly been very active in this field.

Here is a quick review of the current accommodation offerings.

THE RITZ-CARLTON

It took 10 years before another Ritz-Carlton opened in Japan (the first was Ritz-Carlton Osaka), but it was well worth the wait.

Ensconced in the city’s tallest skyscraper, which stands on the site of the former defence ministry in Roppongi, Tokyo Midtown Development, the 248-room hotel features Japan’s most expensive Presidential Suite (price tag: US$20,000 nightly) and a 200-year-old teahouse in its Japanese restaurant.

Conceptualised by well-known interior designer Frank Nicholson, the hotel fuses classic European with the contemporary. The high-ceilinged lobby, located on the 45th floor, reflects this with its elegant furnishings, Murano chandeliers, a waterfall and four stunning works measuring 8.1m by American painter Sam Francis.

Guestrooms are indulgently spacious by Tokyo standards at 52sq m and come with Bvlgari amenities, Frette linen, a 40-inch LCD TV connected to DVD and CD player. The Ritz-Carlton Club, accessible only by elevator key, provides the expected Ritz-Carlton hospitality such as round-the-clock, multilingual concierge service. (The hotel restricts use of the lounge to executive room patrons and does not allow those in other categories to pay extra to be able to enter. Says general manager Ricco DeBlank: “We notice our guests really value that exclusivity.”)

Dining and entertaining options include Hinokizaka, whose centrepiece is an authentic, vintage teahouse cum private dining room, for sushi, tempura and Teppanyaki, Forty Five for an Asian and French-inspired menu, the lobby lounge and Ritz-Carlton Bar.

In the same complex is the Ritz-Carlton Residences, featuring 244 non-furnished units in one- and two-bedroom configurations as well as a penthouse and a dedicated private lounge and fitness facilities. This product is believed to be the first of its kind bearing the name of a luxury chain.

CONTACT: 81 3 3423 8000, www.ritzcarlton.com. Introductory hotel room rates start from ¥65,000 to ¥2,000,000 (US$548 to US$16,859).

MANDARIN ORIENTAL

Occupying the top floors of Nihonbashi Tower are 179 guestrooms of futuristic luxury, enjoying panoramic city views. But despite the contemporary feel, service remains warm, attentive and engaged, aided by staff who are not only well trained to anticipate guests’ needs but are genuinely people-oriented. The atmospheric location inspired designers to make full use of it, especially in the fine dining venues Sense and Signature.

CONTACT: 81 3 3270 8800, www.mandarinoriental.com

CONRAD

This is one hotel that prides itself on serving the meetings market. And rightly so from the looks of the banqueting facilities. Available are two ballrooms – Kazanami and Hamarikyu – and three meeting rooms, Tsubaki, Momiji and Satsuki, which can accommodate between 10 and 350 guests, all with state-of-the-art audiovisual systems, plus onsite services to meet the most demanding requirements.

The property’s restaurants are also outstanding with not just one, but two concepts from renowned chef Gordon Ramsey among others, and so are the 290 guestrooms with their “wow” washrooms.

CONTACT: 81 3 6388 8000, www.conradhotels.com

HILTON

At 22 years of age, this 815-room property, opposite the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office in Shinjuku, may be the dean of the hotel pack, but don’t count it out. It has completed nearly total renovation of its guestrooms, expanded the executive lounge and soon, will work on its lobby and other public spaces to bring it up to speed with a changing market. The Hilton brand has been in Japan for over 40 years, and that counts for something.

CONTACT: 81 3 3344 5111, www.hilton.com

SHERATON MIYAKO

The 500-room Miyako hotel, located in the leafy high-end residential area of Shirokanedai, has been rebranded the Sheraton Miyako. While the property is being brought up to the standards of mother company Starwood, its Japanese aesthetics are in no danger of being touched. Why should they, when its wrap-around Japanese garden and Zen-oriented restaurants are unique and character-rich as they are?

That sense of place which distinguishes this hotel, executed by Minoru Yamasaki who designed the World Trade Center, will remain. Amen to that.

CONTACT: 81 3 3447 3111, www.starwoodhotels.com

THE PENINSULA

The Peninsula is set to open in September, bringing with it the legendary cache built up by the flagship of the group, The Peninsula Hongkong. Be that as it may, the hotel intends to exude its own particular identity – “international in design but Japanese by inspiration” or harmony, according to its interior designer Yukio Hashimoto. Some 1,000 art pieces will adorn public spaces and the guestrooms.

Located in the Yurakucho district, opposite the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park, the 314-room property blends traditional Peninsula standards of comfort and the latest technology  with elements of local heritage and culture. (For more room details, refer to page 50, Keeping it simple.) Rooms range from 51sq m in size and offer views of the city and Imperial Palace gardens. All have separate dressing rooms and mood lighting. The Peninsula Spa by Espa, a product being rolled out in various hotels, and a helipad are some interesting features to expect.

CONTACT: 81 3 6270 2888 (pre-opening office), www.peninsula.com

OKURA

One of Tokyo’s most beloved hotels saw the competition heating up and lost no time in conducting a major refurbishment programme that produced the new Grand Comfort Floor.  Aimed to create a stress-free environment for harried business travellers, it introduced the spa-like Relaxation Nature Court offering quickie body treatments and a juice and oxygen bar among others.

CONTACT: 81 3 3582 0111, www.okura.com

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