East Meets West

The 2008 Asia Luxury Travel Market unveils big plans

By: By Gary Bowerman

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The sky is the limit for luxury in China. I really believe that," said Akram Touma, general manager of the Jumeirah HanTang Xintiandi hotel, the Jumeirah Hotel Group’s first hotel in China, which is set to open in Shanghai later this year.

ALTM brought together around 400 exhibitors. // (c) Gary Bowerman
ALTM brought together around 400 exhibitors.

Touma was speaking at the second annual Asia Luxury Travel Market (ALTM) conference, which kicked off the three-day luxury show, held in June.

Like the 2007 ALTM — a spin-off event from the International Luxury Travel Market held each December in Cannes, France — this year’s ALTM was held in Shanghai. And, like the host city, it is growing quickly, bringing together around 400 exhibitors and an equal number of invitation-only, hosted VIP buyers.

"This year, we had exhibitors from 49 countries, from Argentina to Vietnam, showcasing their products to the most elite buyers from the Asia Pacific region," said Jay Martens, ALTM event manager. "ALTM has a big role to play in shaping the way the luxury travel industry develops in the Asia Pacific."

Aimed at the exclusive upper end of the travel scale, ALTM’s objective is to bring all kinds of luxury travel specialists together at a forum where they can easily meet and interact.

Just like its debut year in 2007, the 2008 ALTM show was dominated by luxury hotel groups and hospitality marketing groups, but also featured tour operators, destination management specialists, cruise companies, chauffeur services, luxury trains, golf clubs and ski resorts. In addition, tourism bureaus were present from New Zealand; Ireland; Thailand; Maldives; Abu Dhabi; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Turks and Caicos; Mexico City; Barcelona and Madrid, Spain; and Sabah, Malaysia.

Held in conjunction with the ALTM was the 2008 World Travel Awards Asian and Indian Ocean Ceremony, part of the World Travel Awards Grand Tour, with regional awards held worldwide and a global Grand Final to be staged in Turks and Caicos on Dec. 12.

Though a pan-Asia event, the ALTM conference focused on the development of luxury travel services and facilities in the host nation of China, and several companies used the event to launch new products. Bahrain-based Gulf Air inaugurated its new flight service to Shanghai and Hong Kong-based Swire Hotels announced details of its new ventures. Swire will open its first 99-room boutique property, called Opposite House, in Beijing this summer, followed by a boutique hotel and a business hotel in Hong Kong. Swire has also acquired properties in Brighton, Bristol, Cheltenham and Exeter in England to redevelop as luxury hotels.

Another company currently prioritizing China is Atlanta-based Capella Hotels. Created by Horst Schulze, former president of The Ritz-Carlton, Capella announced its first two properties in Asia — a resort on Sentosa Island, Singapore, and a Tadao Ando-designed ski-resort hotel on Annupuri-Niseko Mountain in Hokkaido Japan. Though yet to sign any deals in China, Capella has been assessing potential sites in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hainan Island.

Also using the conference to announce its entry into China was Alila Hotels & Resorts, which will open four properties in 2010: an 80-suite resort at Lake Tai, near Suzhou, resorts inShangri-La and Lijiang in Yunnan province, and a hotel in Guangzhou.

"ALTM provided an excellent platform for us to engage the Chinese media and prospective travel partners. Seller participation has doubled this year, which points to Shanghai being a convenient city for buyers in Asia Pacific," said Doris Goh, vice president, sales and marketing, Alila Hotels & Resorts.

Goh added a note of caution, however.

"ALTM is one of the best events, in terms of organized participation, and one of the most expensive, yet it did not deliver the luxe factor in venue decor or catering services. The luxury mart also has to be careful in ensuring that it continues to deliver strict qualification for both its seller and buyer participation, otherwise it will lose its quality premium."