Betting on recovery

Undeterred by pandemic woes the new Holiday Inn Express caters for “ simple and smart travelers”.

In a year when the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in the world’s hotel and tourism industry, the city’s first Holiday Inn Express brand hotel is preparing to open its doors by mid-September.

Developed in a 1990s commercial building property owned by Trust Construction and Investment Company Limited – a veteran local developer group involved in over 140 projects in the SAR – the new budget hotel in Avenida do Dr. Rodrigo Rodrigues will feature 259 rooms to a market lacking quality low-cost room offerings.

According to data sourced from local tourism authorities, as of July this year there were 114 hotels and guesthouses open for business offering some 35,000 rooms.

However, while there were 63 hotels rated between three and five stars offering about 33,000 rooms, there were only around 50 two-star hotels and guesthouses providing approximately 2,000 rooms.

“The property was bought between 2004 and 2005 at an auction. It used to be an office building. Then, between 2008 and 2010 there were news that the government intended to have more budget hotels, so my company had the idea to renovate the whole building into a hotel”, Trust Construction General Manager, Hugo Chiang Kin Tong, told Macau Business during an interview.

The developer then initiated a search for possible hotel brands that could occupy the recovery property, with contacts made with local, Asian, and international groups.

“We have hope. Macau is a good place for travel. Regardless of the pandemic, we have good hopes for Macau’s future” – Hugo Chiang Kin Tong, Trust Construction General Manager,

Hugo Chiang noted that, although some local groups had higher rental proposals, the Trust wanted to provide a different budget hospitality offering to the local market, and InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), the largest international hotel group at the time, seemed like an obvious choice.

A contract was then signed in 2015 with IHG to fully manage the property.

“We waited for IHG, because we wanted to work with a strong company that could have a different impact in Macau. We didn’t want to just offer something already available in the market”, Chiang told Macau Business.

“This Holiday Inn Express is the only one involving an international brand and is the biggest one, with 259 rooms. Other two-star hotels would likely have 30 or 50 rooms maximum.”

The Holiday Inn brand is owned by IHG, and although there is a Holiday Inn Macau in the nearby property in Rua do Pequim, the properties have different owners.

However, converting the old office building into a modern hotel had its challenges, considering that while purchasing the property cost some HK $300 million at the time, renovation works amounted to some HK $400 million.

“Including all engineering, architects, measurement fees, etc., the whole project cost about HK $800-900 million […] It was not easy to renovate the building into a hotel due to its age and office use. The layout was not an exact fit for a hotel”, Chiang added.

After completing the works, it took about a year to obtain all required licenses, with the property having to comply not just to stricter local requirements but also to the high standards demanded by the Intercontinental group.

“IHG’s standards are very demanding; they always put the client’s safety as the main priority. For example, the group asked to hire a third-party consultant for fire inspections”, the local businessman added.

Still, the project is now basically ready to open, and Chiang is confident that the badly hit local hotel industry will end up recovering, as the pandemic is being kept under control and tourists are making their return.

After the issue of individual and group tourist visas for Zhuhai was resumed on August 12, the visa scheme was reinstated for the Guangdong Province on Wednesday (August 26), and will resume for the whole of Mainland China on September 23.

So far, no large increase in visitor numbers to the city has been reported, with a daily average of tourist entries slowly reaching 10,000; however, analysts have predicted the first waves of tourists to be coming this month and in October for the ‘Golden Week’.

“We have hope. Macau is a good place for travel. The Covid-19 situation is getting better and I believe we will get a vaccine, hopefully by the end of the year. Hotels are not built for one or two years, they are built as very long-term businesses. Regardless of the pandemic, we have good hopes for Macau’s future”, Chiang says.

As a Holiday Inn Express, the new property has defined its client profile target as a traveler aged between 25 and 35 who cares for quality and wants value for money, mostly coming to the city on business or leisure travel for a stay between 1 and 2 nights.

“We want to sell the concept of simple smart travel to our customers […]. Other hotels might be very nice and luxurious, but they offer many amenities that you end up never using. You might have a swimming pool, but since you came for a short time for business you don’t have time for it. We try to provide the most needed amenities”, the property’s General Manager, Randy Chung, told Macau Business.

“We want to sell the concept of simple smart travel to our customers” – Randy Chung, Holiday Inn Express general manager

“In the past 10 years, Macau has opened many mega hotels, but what is needed now are mid-sized elective service hotels that can offer a convenient stay, no matter how short.”

Therefore, guests in the Holiday Inn Express can expect to have at their disposal the most important services a modern short-stay traveller might want – from complimentary Wi-Fi to self-service laundry services, and complimentary breakfast in a convenient location near the city center for a reasonable price.

A third-party-owned restaurant will also be available on the 3rd floor, with a bar in the hotel lobby.

About 60 employees will be working in the hotel, with Mr. Chung noting that for the scope of services provided this amount of staff was sufficient.

The property will also implement strict high-density cleaning, and health measures will be applied to assure the safety of clients and staff.

The experienced hotel manager also considered that, although the initial occupancy of the property could be low due to the current outlook, he was confident that business will pick up in the next two years.

“We might have a slow start, but what we are looking for is for tourism to bounce back”, the experienced hotel manager added.