A boutique hotel in the old neighbourhood district helps travellers explore the city with its local-touch, interactive service
Photos by Cheong Kam Ka
In the 15th century, the Portuguese developed a type of sailing ship—called a caravel—that they would take a ride in to explore the Atlantic Ocean. More than five centuries later, a boutique hotel in the old neighbourhood area of Macau, where the Portuguese administration had governed for a significant period of time, carries the same name and a similar spirit.
“We hope Hotel Caravel could also serve as a ship for our guests in their journey to explore Macau — to discover different corners, cultures and areas of knowledge of the city,” said Kati Lau, Hotel Manager of Caravel, a 46-room property located at Rua do Guimarães in the vicinity of San Ma Lo, also known as Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, the city’s main thoroughfare.
Opening its doors at the end of 2017, the budget hotel, which is classified as a two-star hotel by the Macau Government Tourism Office, only had its grand opening in July this year. “We’ve only had the grand opening this year, as we had to wait for other facilities — a gym and a restaurant — to get ready,” explained Ms. Lau in an October interview, “so that the entire property could provide offerings of accommodation, dining and exercise for guests.”
In addition to a wide range of room types, from single rooms and twin rooms to a family room accommodating up to 4 persons, Hotel Caravel boasts Nanyang Kopi — a restaurant with Singaporean flavours — on the ground floor and a gym — a 24-hour fitness club brand Anytime Fitness — in the basement.
“The gyms of most hotels here are only open until 11 pm or midnight, but our gym is open around the clock, so guests can visit and exercise at any time,” Ms. Lau noted. “We don’t have many facilities… but we try to offer as many options as possible for our guests to experience.”
“Local touch” is one of the keys she emphasises in defining the experience the hotel provides. While the rooms are decorated with photos of Macau scenes taken by local photographers, there is also a mini photo exhibition in the common area of the hotel. “While we don’t have the grand and extravagant decor, we try to provide as much local information for guests as possible, helping them explore the old neighbourhood area beyond the Ruins of St. Paul’s and recommending them some shops and restaurants,” the manager remarked.
“Over the years, we’ve seen a shift in the profile of visitors [to Macau],” she highlighted. “Not all guests are interested in casinos and shopping, but there are some who want to explore the city and try boutique hotels besides resorts.”
In the first 10 months of 2019, the city received 33.41 million travellers, up by 15.3 percent year-on-year, official figures show. The number of mainland Chinese visitors, accounting for over 70 percent of the territory’s total visitation figure, surged 15.9 percent year-on-year to 23.8 million, while travellers from the next big tourism source market — Hong Kong — swelled 21.2 percent to 6.13 million.
For Hotel Caravel, Ms. Lau said the demographics of the hotel’s customers are “quite evenly distributed” with visitors coming from different places in the region. “We have quite a good mix and we don’t rely on a single source market,” she said. “We have visitors coming from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and so forth.”
The average occupancy rate of the hotel is about 80-90 percent, while the room rate ranges between HK$800 and HK$1,000 in normal days. “The performance has so far met our expectations. Everything is going well, and of course, it’d be even better if the occupancy rate is higher,” the manager said. “Whenever there are long holidays, such as summer holidays, Christmas and New Year, our occupancy rate and room rate will also increase.”
This also means Hotel Caravel has so far been a better performer than its peers in the same category in terms of occupancy rate. The latest official data show the average occupancy rate of two-star hotels here amounted to only 72.6 percent in the third quarter of 2019, while the occupancy for three-star to five-star hotels averaged between 89.6 percent and 92.1 percent.
Talking about the appeals of the hotel, Ms. Lau listed out many points. “We have a very convenient location: there is just a bus stop within a few steps where guests could take bus to Taipa and elsewhere, while the Ruin of St. Paul’s and many places are within a 10-minute walk,” she noted.
“Though our service might not be the best, we put a great emphasis on interactions with guests. Our staff help them arrange their itineraries, introduce Macau to them, and so on,” she remarked. “Many guests say our staff are nice, friendly and helpful.”
“We have put a lot of effort in this area… for instance, if we are aware of any new restaurant, we will share this information with our team, who can also share this with our guests,” the manager continued. “Though we are a two-star hotel, this doesn’t mean we can lag behind in other areas except offering affordable pricing. We still hope to provide quality service.”
Government figures show there were 83 hotels — including 14 two-star hotels, and 38 guesthouses — in the city as of the July-September period of 2019, catering a supply of 37,570 rooms, including 873 rooms in two-star hotels and 953 rooms in guesthouses.
This hotel supply could increase by at least more than a quarter in the future. Figures from the Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau show there were 18 hotel projects undergoing the construction phase in the third quarter, catering 6,935 rooms, while there were 24 projects in the planning and design stage with 4,067 rooms.
More in pipeline
The government has also recently revised the hotel business law to facilitate the development of the sector — particularly budget hotels — to meet various demands of travellers. According to the authorities, budget hotels in the city refer to two-star hotels and guesthouses.
The draft bill, which is now undergoing the deliberation of the Legislative Assembly, suggests the minimum required number of rooms for two-to-five-star hotels could be reduced from the current threshold of 40 rooms to 10 rooms, while the requirements for two-star hotel facilities and services will be loosened to expedite this type of supply in the territory.
“We have actually seen more boutique hotels in the market in the past few years,” Ms. Lau stressed. “I think there will definitely be more of these in the market, which is gradually evolving. Some travellers now do not only prefer fancy accommodations but also consider other possibilities.”
Albeit a convenient location, the old neighbourhood district translates to a problem for Hotel Caravel: flooding. Rua do Guimarães and the nearby low-lying areas have been subject to severe flooding when two strong typhoons thrashed the territory respectively in 2017 and 2018. Following the aftermath of Typhoon Hato, which was the strongest to hit the city in 53 years, in 2017, the hotel has strengthened its flood gates around the property.
“The area was also affected by Typhoon Mangkhut [last year] but the damage to the hotel was limited with the floodgates. Let’s say, the flooding might have reached waist level outdoors, but it only reached the ankle level inside the hotel,” Ms. Lau illustrated.
With the operation of nearly two years, the manager noted the biggest challenge so far has been the overhead, namely the labour costs. Latest official figures show the unemployment rate in Macau stayed at 1.8 percent as of September, and it has remained at 2 percent or below since June 2012. Amid the low unemployment rate, the median monthly earnings of the employed population reached the record high of MOP17,000 in the third quarter, up by 6.25 percent year-on-year.
“Even though we are a small hotel, we still need staff to man different positions,” the manager said, adding the headcount of the property is now about some 10 people.
As many businesses employ technology in their operation to enhance their efficiency and reduce staff cost, she is open to such usage as long as “it brings added value to our service.”
However, she added: “We don’t want to compromise the interactions between our staff and guests due to the employment of technology. For instance, we can just tell our guests how to go to a place by Google Map, but through interactions [with our staff], we could tell them more stories and history about the place.”
Before her stint in Hotel Caravel, Ms. Lau — a Hong Konger — previously worked in a property of Crowne Plaza in Guangzhou and helped manage a budget hotel in Hong Kong. Talking about whether there are any differences in the budget hotel segment between Hong Kong and Macau, she noted: “There are probably more business travellers in Hong Kong, while the travellers to Macau are mainly for sightseeing, but the operation is similar with the same service mindset.”