My wife and I would like to give a special thanks to Hong Kong based Passenger Services Officer, Ms. Koyi Wong from Cathay Dragon. After our flight was delayed from Shanghai Pudong to Hong Kong, we evidently ended up missing the HKG-KUL flight as well. Ms. Koyi Wong went out of her way to help us get not only onto our next flight, but also to make sure that our luggage arrived safely onto our next flight from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi (which was with Malaysia Airlines on a different ticket).
Koyi is a customer service professional extraordinaire, and in all my travels so far I have never come across an airline personnel who genuinely goes out of their way to help passengers. If it was not for her, we would have missed our flight to Langkawi from KL and it would have occurred us extra charges and delays etc. She deserves a special mention in your company newsletter or similar communication materials and I hope she can become more successful in her career and life. There are some truly amazing people in the aviation industry and Ms. Koyi Wong is definitely one of them. Amazing human. I did not take her photo, but here is a photo of her badge, which she quite rightly deserves to wear with sheer pride. People like Koyi ALL work for airlines (except for the ones who work in hospitals...or ambulances...or rescue helicopters etc.). My hats off.
OK, secret is out! For everyone who was wondering how I managed to stay warm during the Chinese wedding in the freezing rural village...I had these self-heating pads stuck to my back underneath my waistcoat. Inspired from Japan- they have limestones inside which react with the body and so heat up to keep you warm for about four hours on the go. There is no luxury of any Central Heating or AC there so this did the trick.
Exactly a year after we first met in London, we tied the knot on a cold day in the Chinese city of Yangzhou on the 31st of January 2017. Click here to see more photos.
The last time I stayed at a Kerry hotel was in Shanghai in 2012 (time really flies by...it feels like yesterday!). With that mind, I very much excited about checking out the Beijing branch of the Shangri-La group owned property. The best thing about the visit was that this is during the Chinese New Year - so it wasn't going to be as busy as one would experience otherwise.
Located in the heart of Beijing’s Central Business District (CBD), the Kerry Hotel is conveniently connected within waling distance to two luxury retail arcades offering plenty of tasty and convenient options for eating out (though, during this trip, most of them were empty because of Chinese New Year). The closest metro station is Guomao subway station (line one) and is only five stops away from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
Our experience started the moment we arrived. We were whisked away to check-in at the Club Lounge, where we were welcomed by the General Manager and the Communications Director. Complimentary welcome drinks, as well as personal welcome to make sure that my family and I had a carefree stay at the fabulous hotel, made the initial impression a positive one.
Some of the positive points of the hotel are that it offers a well-stocked complimentary bar in every room, complimentary wireless in rooms (naturally), and a paperless check-in that’s quick and easy. If you are staying at one of the Club level rooms, then there are added perks such as access to the Club Lounge, where you can have daily breakfast with stunning views across to Guomao in a quiet and much less crowded environment, and evening cocktail drinks and canape finger food from 5-8pm in the happy hour.
The bathroom is an adventure waiting to be explored. With a built-in TV in the mirror, a bathtub for loved-up couples and a rain forest shower and an entire drawer filled with items like shaving cream, toothbrushes and luxury amenities, you'll be spoilt for choice. The Japanese-style toilet won't let you down either- it comes with a nifty set of buttons allowing you to conjure water to wash and massage the various unmentionable bits- keep it clean!.
The hotel's 24-hour gym is one of the best things ever, especially if you want to burn those calories while you are jet-lagged in the middle of the night (actually pilots and cabin crew may want to do that- the hotel is a preferred choice for United Airlines, Thai Airways and few other airlines).
Back around 10 years ago, most tourists were lured to try the Beijing Duck at 32 Qianmen Avenue in the old part of Beijing. Nowadays, almost every top hotel in the capital is offering the best authentic Beijing Duck experience), so it was no surprise that we were offered one of the nest dining experiences for eating Beijing Duck at the splendid Horizon Restaurant, which is located on the ground floor, just after the lobby. Guests are welcomed by traditional Chinese design elements like a wall of bamboo strips inspired by dim sum steam baskets, wooden cabinets to lock away personalised tea, and elegant pendant lamps. I would highly recommended booking in advance.
We tried ten of Horizon’s specialities, including their Ya Yuan Authentic Beijing Duck. If you want to try the dim sum set then that would be highly recommended to. It will simply blow your mind away. So, go ahead and bag a table next to the glassed-in duck ovens to watch the gifted Chef Yuan and his team roast these beautiful birds over a traditional jujube wood fire.
Lastly, no visit to the Kerry Hotel is complete without the the liveliest hotel bars in Beijing – Centro – which is open 24 hours a day (did someone say insomnia for jet=lagged passengers and crew?!)- not to complain though. Kerry Hotel, Beijing, I will be back...sooner than I would like to imagine.
Below are two images of the same view seen exactly 24 hours apart at 7am from my bedroom window at the Kerry Hotel in Beijing's Guo Mao area. The first image shows Beijing's sky being blue and crisp clear (rare), while the second image shows what the weather in Beijing is usually like on most days, sadly.
The main challenge with being in Shanghai, like any other big city in China, is the sheer number of people here. Step into Luijiazui or anywhere around People’s Square or the Nanjing Road (East or West) area and you’ll find yourself jostling with other tourists, legal migrants from the West (the word Expat doesn’t gain much respect here) and city yuppies alike; head out in a taxi and your driver will likely have to dodge other cars- don’t be surprised to bump into a couple of Maseratis or a Bentley on the way to your destination as financial allure looms here. It’s a magical place, but it’s no wonder the locals have such a strained relationship with the visitors who overrun their city.
There are a few hidden gems in Shanghai which allow you to escape the crowds and give you a sense of tranquillity within the comfort of four walls. I have been fortunate to experience quite a few such places in Shanghai. Indeed, I have tried all of Shanghai’s big hotels. There is another such place that offers perfect sanctuary among the concrete jungle. That is in the fine five-star Grand Kempinski hotel in Pudong- tucked away to a corner next to the Shanghai HQ of DBS bank It was only after I checked-in to the hotel, I realised that I have actually stayed in this building before. In 2011, I stayed here for a week when the same building site was occupied by the Gran Melia Shanghai hotel. The restaurants, the swimming pool, the Executive Lounge at the 28th floor, and the spacious foyer hall, as well as the size of the rooms is exactly the same. The only difference is that all of the décor related the Spanish owned and themed Gran Melia have been replaced with the Kempinski brand.
Another big difference is that the Kempinski is operating at almost full capacity- this wasn’t the case with the Gran Melia. This hotel is in high demand, and the Kempinski brand is loved and appreciated by the locals as well as foreign visitors. While the Kempinski is not a household name as, say the Holiday Inn or the Hyatt, but it still has that allure and glamour that visitors find attractive. One of the reason for this is the excellent customer service and the way the hotel is managed. Back in 2011 when I reviews the Gran Melia, the hotel as literally empty during the five days that I stayed there. While the Gran Melia was a great hotel (note that I mentioned the word hotel and not building), not many people knew it well and the management at the time found it difficult to market and connect the brand with consumers. The key to connecting with consumers these days is through tools such as social listening and social media channels like WeChat or Weibo in China- and especially even more so during public events and holidays. The Kempinski is doing this very well. The management seem to have learnt the lessons of why a brand such as the Gran Melia failed to connect with their consumers. Social and brand engagement is so important.
Spacious rooms are one of the highlights of the Grand Kempinski. There are plenty of nice eateries in the hotel, and also nearby to the property. Worried about going hungry at midnight? No problem. My wife and I ordered local Chinese cuisine using WeChat (Chinese social chatting platform) from a local noodle joint at 11.30pm and it arrived direct to our room within 15 minutes. I was hosted at the one of the diplomatic suites- one of the largest I have experienced in Shanghai at 88 sq m of space. In our Diplomatic Suites we benefited from additional facilities and services of the Executive Lounge. Then there was the spacious bathroom, which offered a massage bathtub and a separate rain-forest shower, perfect for relaxing after a busy day. Toiletries in the suites are provided by Etro Relent.
I also believe there are four key reasons why the Grand Kempinski is doing well:
1. Matches rising expectations consistently throughout the customer journey
The Kempinski is a disruptive brand that constantly raises the bar to match hotel guests rising expectations and they are always reinventing how hotel guests access products and services, whilst in interaction with the Kempinski brand
2. Creates experiences to ease decision-making and drive conversion
The Kempinski offers more choice, less complexity, and more time for hotel guests to consider which product is right for them- whether it is the restaurants or the rooms. They help hotel guests to make and then justify purchase decisions is a crucial function of any hospitality experience – business driven or leisure-led
3. Empower their front-line employees to consistently tell their story and sell the Kempinski brand
For example, the hotel's GM was at the check-in front desk most of the time during my stay. Anyone can go up to him and speak to him about anything. That is one of the best things a hotel manager can do because that way they are constantly in touch with the guests and they understand and know everything that is going in their hotel. This is derived from the golden ethics of managing a hotel. Many of the best hotel guests’ experiences still rely on great front-line people delivering great service. The challenge is to create an employee experience that enfranchises your people to deliver quality customer service every time
4. Deliver their brand’s purpose across every touch point to inspire and validate purchase
Understanding a brand’s wider purpose can help drive sales and build customer loyalty. The challenge is to embed this purpose into every moment so hotel guests are reminded of it throughout their entire experience. Hotel guests need to be cherished and welcomed as if you would welcome a guest to your own home.
Will I be back? You bet I will.
Balanced about 15mm above the tracks, Shanghai’s Maglev Train zaps the 30 kms between Longyang Road Station and Pudong International Airport in a remarkable 7 minutes. Cost is 50 RMB one-way (about £7). Winding up to the maximum commercial speed of 300 kp/h takes about one minute (it’s done 501 kph in testing ). There are no seat-belts - at this speed it’s not worth worrying about the consequences. The front of the train displays battle scars - victories of scrapes with birds and bugs. The train banks into corners and produces a shotgun-like sound when it passes its sister at speed.
Go and experience it...you'll never get anything like this in the UK (maybe not for another 20 years at least...)...
After just three days, saying goodbye to the captivating sights of Shanghai. Off back to London...but only for 22 hours to collect something...before flying back to Shanghai again on Thursday and then back to London AGAIN next week...(Unexpected and liberating...like all great journeys...). My mate, James Nixon, said I could have used DHL...but I need to go to my bank branch which is not available in China and need to get original documents for the British Embassy in Beijing...had no choice. Piles up the air miles though!
My latest article is about Beijing's hutongs, for the August issue of Qryx, the in-flight magazine for Qatar Airways (the world's 5-star airline).
My latest article is about contemporary art in Beijing, for the June issue of Qryx, the in-flight magazine for Qatar Airways (the world's 5-star airline).
The staff at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong, which by the way is my favorite of all the Ritz-Carlton hotels I have reviewed so far around the world, really know how to make an engagement special. All I said was that I will be arriving with my Laopo (老婆, wife/fiancée), and they had the whole suite decorated as I have never seen before. A big thank you to the team there. The whole room was heavily decorated with a sea of fresh roses.
In September 2015, the company introduced a fresh new brand-voice to keep up with the times. It was a refreshing feeling to experience this new brand tone and voice in the Shanghai property- everything just seemed to be rejuvenated- except that the first-class luxurious trademark service was still the same. The views, the glamour, the food, the smell, the experience- this flagship property in Shanghai has it all. I feel like coming back here again and again.
The hotel has also introduced a couple of special packages, including guests to embrace its rich heritage with a new immersive experience, “This is Shanghai.” It basically balances modern luxury with the glamorous, art deco design inspired by the roaring 1930’s, and the hotel is the perfect place for guests to learn about Shanghai’s legendary history and gain insight into its bright future. Included in the three-day packaged tour, is a half-day architectural tour by local historian Dr. Spencer Dodington. The packaged tour allows travelers the opportunity to deepen their understanding of life in the world’s largest city and celebrates the best of Shanghai’s seductive and storied past, present, and future. It also includes Tai Chi classes by grand masters and a visit to a famed tailor. Offering guests a luxurious way to explore the city’s rich past and vibrant present, the “This is Shanghai” package starts at approximately 5,880 USD per package based on double occupancy. (This price is subject to 15% service charge).
This time around, I had the pleasure of being accompanied on this press trip with my fiancée, and so it was good to get her viewpoint and prospective on things as well. The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong is a whole lot more opulent than most of its neighbours. Despite the rapid growth of the area around the property, it remains a firm favorite with the good and the great- everyone from foreign dignitaries and stars prefer to stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong. Despite another Ritz-Carlton property to be introduced to Shanghai, this flagship property will always remain a firm favorite with both of us.
The Spa at The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Pudong
Being a chocolate fan, Vicky, my fiancée, opted to try the chocolate spa treatment at The Ritz-Carlton Spa.
Who can resist the allure of chocolate? According to the staff at the Spa, the scent of chocolate stimulates “happy feeling” endorphins, which create feelings of well-being and can actually reduce stress. Vicky certainly agreed to that!
After having a cup of rich hot chocolate drink, Vicky enjoyed immersing her senses with the aroma of a full-body chocolate scrub, a personalized chocolate massage and a soothing chocolate wrap with a chocolate facial. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The spa features a private shower room and is equipped with luxurious amenities.
RMB1,800 (approx. £180/US$230) per person for 120 minutes
This treatment includes a chocolate scrub, chocolate body massage, body wrap with a chocolate facial, and home-made chocolate as a dessert after treatment.
Jin Xuan Dining Experience
I last dined here in 2012. It was a great pleasure to be back at Jin Xuan again, and this time it was a different and special experience all together as both Vicky and I indulged in scrumptious Cantonese Dim Sum in the company of spectacular views and the sound of the beautiful Zheng being played in the background. Chef Daniel Wong's whimsical culinary creations are to die for. It is not just food but sheer art, and one cannot argue with the fact that he is a most certainly a culinary artists wearing a neat chef's hat. There must be something special about the cookery of a chef who's food makes grown men giggle with glee. Indeed, food has always been a form of art, and both need an immense amount of creativity- the only difference being that Chef Wong has to do it many times over, with speed and accuracy. That in itself is just amazing. The end result? Priceless tasting food.
The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong participates in The Ritz-Carlton Asia Pacific Asia Smile Week the Third year,(2-5 May, 2016)
In response to the success of Smile Asia Week in 2015, The Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts, Asia-Pacific have announced Smile Asia Week from May 2–8, 2016 to sell specially created limited edition cakes across Asia.
The campaign is to raise funds and awareness for the children suffering from cleft and other facial deformities. The charity partner is Smile Asia, a global alliance of medical charities that heals children’s smiles through its dedicated medical volunteers.
Around 10,000 staff of The Ritz-Carlton company from 22 hotels will bake 15,000 specially crafted limited edition Valrhona Chocolate Banana cakes that will result in 500 life-changing surgeries to the poor and needy children across Asia.
Hotel suites have always been a decadent indulgence, whether you want lavish style or barefoot luxury, these treats offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The Presidential Suite at the Intercontinental Shenzhen, being the largest Presidential Suite in the city, offers no less. As China's first Spanish-themed luxury hotel celebrates its tenth anniversary in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, the accommodation has something special to boast about.
Situated close to the city's version of Asia's Silicon Valley and surrounded by lavish man-made spacious boulevards that adorn lush greenery, the hotel sets an iconic tone. A number of things make it stand out from the growing number of five-star properties that have been adding to Shenzhen's high-rise skyline. Firstly, the hotel has a large lifelike replica of a Spanish Galleon ship, of which the mast extends over the main road. The ship houses the flagship eatery, Galleon. Then there are the views from each of the 540 luxurious guestroom and suites, each generously spaced at 50 square meters, with all the modern amenities one can wish for, including Agraria and Salvatore Ferragamo. Think jungle chic, the hotel houses a lavish man-made beach resort hideaway- a heaven for the senses slap bang in the middle of a modern city.
Paul Hugentobler Regional General Manager InterContinental Shenzhen, told me that in his seven years at the hotel he has seen remarkable change, especially on how the hotel, as well as the IHG group in general, has embraced digital (all guests can order daily newspapers through apps hence saving trees), and caters to provide a luxury experience while maintaining the local environment.
You can effectively feel like a king (or queen) here, with each room stunningly decorated with the emphasis made on Spanish art.
With eight dining venues, each of which can be classed as a separate entity compared to the hotel itself, you'll be spoilt for choice. If you want me to describe the taste of the food at any of the eight fabulous venues, then it has to be the word fresh. Whether it is Brazilian, French, Chinese or the general cuisine at the Mercado Restaurant and Bar, the chefs are very good at bringing out the freshness of the ingredients. Some people say that Shenzhen is a cultural desert, but I wouldn't say so these days. The eateries at the Intercontinental Shenzhen bring along old cultures, old design and explosive tastes in the mouth- highly appreciated by all that come here. What also fascinates me the absolute decor of the restaurants - the decor of a restaurant can yell you a story of its own.
Shenzhen, being so close to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, has a culture nowadays that embraces change (and it has done so for many years). The locals have sophisticated palates with a taste for expensive ingredients like sea urchin or fresh sea water oysters. There is a certainly a prestige to them. Tastes do change here quicker than most other parts of the world but there are certain dishes that people always come back for. There is plenty of space here, too. Everything is just on a glandular scale.
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