The Marriott In China
Hospitality Becomes Art
In China, guests expect more than just a comfortable bed and free Wi-Fi.
“Everything must relate to luxury,” explains Karen Kim, senior director of interior design for Marriott International in Asia. She oversees the aesthetics of 45 different hotels across China with 15 more currently in development, and a total of 120 projected over the next several years. It is her responsibility to make sure each new property added under the Marriott aegis—including JW Marriott, Marriott, Renaissance, Courtyard by Marriott and Marriott Executive Apartments brands—conveys the company’s message to its local Chinese patrons and international travelers alike: that the Marriott name assures them an extraordinary experience.
“A hotel in China must attract a local clientele,” Kim says empathically. “Especially for its restaurants and lounges. A lot of our business comes from the outside—from guests who are not staying overnight—so our ballrooms, meeting rooms, entertainment centers and other public spaces must be top-notch and appealing to the community at large.”
The objective in China is to become a vibrant and vital part of the community. “It’s the opposite of what many hotels in Western countries want to achieve which is to cultivate an exclusive atmosphere that tends to discourage anyone who is not an overnight guest from venturing inside,” Kim observes. “In China, we want our hotels to be where local citizens go to celebrate special occasions and to enjoy themselves.”
To make sure that Marriott hotels in China all have that celebratory atmosphere, Kim and her team work with internationally known architects and interior design firms to ensure that each property has a unique look and identity, while still maintaining the cohesive “Marriott look” that reflects each brand’s positioning.
“If you go from one hotel to another in a different city, the feel and quality will be consistent within the parameters of each respective brand,” says Kim. “They all convey the same message.”
That message is highly cosmopolitan. The architecture is international in flavor, and the interiors reflect sophisticated American and European as well as Asian tastes. “We don’t try to be too literal,” Kim explains. “We don’t seek out furniture that is specifically Chinese; we don’t want to create replicas of Chinese history. Today’s hotel guests, including ours, prefer modern design.”
“We like to work art into the architecture,” she continues. “We don’t want to create conventional exteriors, and the art is not just the paintings on the walls or the sculpture on the pedestals. We want to create surroundings that are artful in themselves, beginning with the exteriors, and encompassing all of the interior finishes. The lighting and the materials are part of the presentation.”
Creating a beautiful backdrop for the front desk is an important part of the consistent Marriott look. “The registration desk is your first real encounter with the hotel,” Kim asserts. “It sets the stage and introduces you to what the rest of your stay will be like. We turn that rear wall into a work of art. An oil painting hanging behind the check-in desk isn’t special any more. The front desk and the objects around it set the tone for your visit, so we put a lot of creative energy into making it into an art installation.”
While the design and architecture may be international, the materials used are specifically Chinese. “China produces a lot of wonderful raw materials for designers to work with,” says Kim. “Natural materials like onyx have their own character and individuality, and when lit from behind, onyx becomes a jewel box.
In the guest rooms, Kim and her team strive for the same level of thoughtful design. “Today’s guests want to feel a sense of spaciousness. We work to maximize the available space and to create a feeling of openness so that our guests never feel cramped. In our newer hotels, we’re opening up the bathrooms, making them part of the guest room so it will feel like being in a spa. We use Chinese lacquer boxes to hold the amenities for the bathrooms and place tea sets in the rooms.”
Marriott has opened stunning hotels in China, notably JW Marriott Hotel Shenzhen, JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai Tomorrow Square, Renaissance Beijing Capital, Renaissance Shanghai Putuo, Shanghai Marriott Chengfang Park, Beijing Marriott City Wall, and Kim’s personal favorite, JW Marriott Hotel Beijing. It opened in 2008. “The whole hotel is the art,” she says. “The entire hotel is like a jewel.”
Every new hotel that Marriott opens in China represents an opportunity to carry the Marriott message to a new, receptive audience. “Asia is a huge, dynamic market,” says Kim enthusiastically. “We have been enormously fortunate to get a jump-start on this massive Chinese expansion. It is the fastest growing market for luxury hotels.”