Hotel Hotspots

Three years ago, work took me on a trip out of Shanghai, and my colleagues and I stayed at a decent-looking hotel — one of the best in that area.

We were the only people there. When we checked in, the staff acted surprised that we needed things — like room keys. Nobody showed us where to go, and for a little while we stumbled around in the dark, looking for our rooms in the multi-building complex.

The rooms were chilly, and badly supplied. None of the amenities I’m used to seeing in even the worst hotels in the US or Europe were present.

The hotel was located on a road lined with industrial enterprises — but the road was strangely deserted every time we were on it.

The hotel managers had trouble getting us drinks, or calling us taxis.

The promised Internet connections didn’t exist — instead, I was given directions to a near-by Internet cafe. The cafe was a bit of a hike away, full of teenage boys and cigarette smoke. Not the worst working environment of my life, but not the best, either.

Hotels are high-visibility business projects. They can bring some glamour to a town, give a place for visiting executives and investors to rest their feet in nice surroundings.

Clearly, a good hotel is a must-have for any up-and-coming business city in China.

Three years ago, that feeling, that a location “should” have a hotel, was the primary consideration for putting one up.

But is the location any good? Is management effective? Is the hotel going to make money? These are the questions that must be asked instead. And today’s hotel executives are doing just that.

As this week’s story by Edward Russell and Miranda Li demonstrates, business logic is the driving force now in the industry — and it is now flourishing, even in second-tier cities.

As a result, developers are paying attention to budget hotels — less showy, but more practical, since most travel in China is domestic, and subject to price constraints.

However, as foreign interest continues to grow in central and western China, we’re starting to see some high-end properties as well.

I’m now looking forward to visiting the Shangri-La hotel in Wuhan, for example.

Rooms are just around $100 a night — a bargain by international standards. The hotel has conference and meeting rooms, a fitness center with a swimming pool, and honest-to-goodness Internet in the guest rooms.

But the same town also boasts a Novotel, a Ramada and a Best Western — all of which have been getting great reviews from business travelers.

The Ramada Plaza Tian Lu hotel has all the same amenities as the Shangri-La, as does the Novotel Xin Hua, and the Best Western Premier Wuhan, and prices are about the same or lower — many sites list prices at between $60 and $70 a night.

“I just attended a hotel conference at the Ramada Wuhan,” says a typical review. “I was expecting a disappointing experience typical of interior cities. I was pleasantly surprised that it had good service and cleanliness.”

Last time I traveled into China’s interior, away from the major cities, I stayed with friends.

Next time, I’m going to give some of these new hotels a try.