Rutger Verschuren, Artyzen Macau, 2022

INTERVIEW: Greater plans

After rebranding its Macau peninsula hotel (Artyzen Grand Lapa Macau), Artyzen Hospitality Group is looking at opening its first Hengqin hotel project next year.  A refurbishment and repositioning of Grand Coloane Resort is also in the cards.

Macau Area Vice President Rutger Vershuren shares his views on how the group has been navigating the pandemic waters and their future plans.

By José Carlos Matias

Photos by António Mil-Homens

These have been challenging, unprecedented times for the hotel industry around the globe. Macau is no exception. For Rutger Verschuren, Macau Area Operations Vice President of Artyzen Hospitality Group – a subsidiary of Shun Tak Holdings Ltd, and General Manager at Artyzen Grand Lapa Macau, the last couple of years have posed unparalleled challenges. In early 2020, the expectation was that the COVID-19 crisis would take a few months and then die out. Nevertheless, it soon became clear that we were before a pandemic of much different magnitude compared to the 2003 SARS crisis.

The hope is still here, but the fact of the matter is that at the beginning of 2022 the outlook was way more optimistic. “Even having been conservative at the beginning of this year, we have been too optimistic”, Mr Verschuren notes. After encouraging early weeks of the year, the multiple outbreaks of the Omicron variant in Hong Kong and mainland China took a toll on the city’s hotel industry.  Following a bumpy couple of years for the sector, the group managed to move ahead with the rebranding of their flagship Macau peninsula property: Artyzen Grand Lapa Macau. With a history that dates back to 1984 – first Excelsior, then as Mandarin Oriental – the urban resort located on Avenida da Amizade is home to fond memories for many locals and long-time visitors and guests.

“We [at Artyzen Grand Lapa Macau] were initially concerned about how we would be looked upon later on as a quarantine hotel, but in fact it has only been positive”

“This was the right time as it [rebranding] created the opportunity to come out of the pandemic stronger with something new and exciting”

Rutger Verschuren, Artyzen Macau, 2022

Rebranding amid the pandemic

 In 2014, Artyzen Hospitality Group took over the management of then Grand Lapa hotel and soon rolled out renovation plans. “We decided to renovate the hotel while still operating it”, Rutger Verschuren explains. After the renovation was complete, the next step was rebranding. After a postponement, the move came into fruition in December 2020, amidst the pandemic. “In fact, this was the right time as it created the opportunity to come out of the pandemic stronger with something new and exciting, so that’s why we decided to move ahead during the pandemic”.  The new name in English and Portuguese – Artyzen Grand Lapa Macau – combines the new brand with the property’s well-established identity where arts and culture meet a strong Portuguese influence, since Lapa refers to Lisbon’s most aristocratic district. This is reflected in the hotel lobby’s replica of the window at the Convent of Christ in Tomar (Portugal), the food and beverage choices and the newly launched Amagao Art Gallery featuring works by Lusophone artists. The hotel is also aimed at promoting the Boa Vida (good life) lifestyle.

As visitor arrivals plummeted, local hotels had to rely on the domestic market. Artyzen Grand Lapa was a quarantine hotel during the early stages of the pandemic, something that to some extent ended up being a blessing in disguise “as many local guests were dazzled by the level of true hospitality and warm care” during their stay.

“We were initially concerned about how we would be looked upon later on as a quarantine hotel, in fact it has only been positive; we have so many special guests here and they liked staying here and kept coming back afterwards for meals and staycations”, Mr Verschuren underlines while adding that since then guests and customers started appreciating more the outdoor activities. “Our lawn events really took off and we were the leading hotel for the summer staycations”, Rutger Verschuren stresses.

Notwithstanding that the domestic market took off  – also benefiting from the Macau Government Tourism Office’s campaigns – there has been a need to implement cost-saving measures at different levels.

The short-term outlook remains mired in uncertainty. “We are in the eye of a perfect storm as besides the pandemic situation, we are impacted by global inflationary pressures – triggered by the war in Ukraine – alongside, more locally, the gaming industry’s situation”.

 On the other hand, “there has been an upside as while Hong Kong is not open to the mainland tourism market, Macau remains accessible for mainland Chinese tourists, including to those non-gaming shoppers that used to go to Hong Kong for their long weekends”.

“Shun Tak is one of the pioneers to invest seriously in Hengqin”

The Hengqin card

Looking further ahead, Artyzen Hospitality Group is prioritizing setting its foothold on the neighbouring Hengqin island.

The opening of Artyzen Habitat Hengqin Zhuhai, as it’s mentioned in the website of Shun Tak Holdings, is scheduled for 2023. The 230-room hotel will be located in one of the towers of the Shun Tak complex, located at a stone’s throw form the Hengqin border checkpoint, “a fantastic location”, Mr Verschuren highlights, confirming this development.

The RMB263 million Hengqin project was developed by Shun Tak, originally in a joint-venture with Perennial Real Estate Holdings and features office and retail facilities, a hotel, and apartments.  In total the development will include 42,300 square meters of office space, 45,500 square metres of retail, 16,700 square metres of hotel space and 32,800 square metres of serviced apartments, along with 1,311 car parking spaces. “Shun Tak is one of the pioneers to invest seriously in Hengqin”, Mr Verschuren highlights.

“I can imagine that if and when we go for a repositioning of the Grand Coloane Resort, there could be changes to the name as well”

Rutger Verschuren, Artyzen Macau, 2022

Coloane and beyond  

Back in Macau, Artyzen Hospitality Group operates another landmark property: the Grand Coloane Resort, which has also been one of the medical observation hotels during the pandemic since late 2020. The 208-room seaside resort  – which opened in 1993 as Westin – is also in need of renovation.  “After serving as quarantine hotel, we hope to activate the renovation plans”.

That could potentially entail a refurbishment and rebranding.

“I can imagine that if and when we go for a repositioning of the resort, there could be changes to the name as well”. Rutger Verschuren anticipates as the property has great potential post-COVID, being “a truly unique destination in Macau.”

With regarding to a specific timeline and scope for the redevelopment of Grand Coloane Resort, “various scenarios of plans are being drafted, weighted and discussed”.

 Beyond Macau and Hengqin, Artyzen Hospitality Group operates hotels in the Shanghai area and could well be eyeing potential opportunities in the neighbouring Guangdong province. “In the Greater Bay Area our company recognizes it will be an area with opportunities”, Mr Verschuren concludes.