Many hotels named among the “best new hotels of 2020” this year have yet to welcome a single guest.
The global pandemic pushed plans to open highly anticipated new hotels near the wineries of California’s Napa Valley to the banks of Paris’s River Seine, with many rescheduling openings well into 2021.
Except, that is, in Asia.
In a year of unparalleled hardship for the travel industry, marquee brands opened posh hotels, resorts and lodges across Asia, with some launching in the region for the first time.
Why Asia’s hotels opened when others didn’t
Gaynor Reid, the vice president of communications for AccorHotels in Asia Pacific, said Asia has been leading the hotel development trajectory for several years, a trend that continued during the pandemic.
Accor has opened 76 hotels in Asia this year, with another 32 set to open before the end of 2020, said Reid. That equates to almost 17,000 new rooms, which is about 35% less than Accor’s pre-Covid targets.
“The US [and] European markets are more mature than the Asian hotel markets,” she said. “In addition, some Asian countries have been able to control Covid better than other parts of the world, with China, Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea leading the way.”
China had Covid-19 infections “fairly well-controlled by April,” she said, allowing Accor to open hotels there.
“Given that SARS impacted mostly in Asia, there is a strong understanding amongst Asian cultures of the steps needed to reduce the impact of a pandemic — such as masks and contact tracing — which will mean that Asian countries will, for the most part, rebound more quickly,” she said.
Access to Chinese tourists was another factor.
“Pre-Covid, around 80% of arrivals into Asia came from Asia, of which more than half were Chinese tourists,” said Reid. “Chinese tourists will remain the driver of tourism growth in Asia.”
Key openings this year for Accor include Hotel Perle d’Orient Cat Ba and Movenpick Resort Cam Ranh — both in Vietnam — plus Thailand’s Movenpick Resort Khao Yai, two Pullman hotels in China and Asia’s first Mondrian hotel, the Mondrian Seoul Itaewon.
New hotels in Bali and Bhutan
The Raffles Bali, perhaps Accor’s most lauded new hotel of 2020, opened in early July. Marking the 15th Raffles hotel worldwide, the new resort comprises 32 villas, all with private pools and expansive views of the Indian Ocean. There are six restaurants and bars, including one housed in a cave discovered during the resort’s construction.
Six Senses Bumthang opened in March as the “sustainable” hotel operator’s fifth and final lodge in Bhutan. Referred to as a “forest within a forest,” the hotel’s eight suites and one two-bedroom villa were built around the trees of a pine forest. A sapling grows in the center of each suite.
Guests can join a Six Senses “journey” through Bhutan, staying at this and other Six Senses lodges in Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey and Paro.
Big names in Bangkok
Capella Bangkok opened in October, despite the country being mostly closed to international travelers.
“We are … fortunate that domestic travel is now permitted within Thailand, so we will be able to welcome guests from a little further afield, as well as tapping into the Bangkok-specific staycation market,” John Blanco, the hotel’s general manager, told CNBC’s Global Traveler.
The Capella Curates program, which includes a food stall crawl with the hotel’s chef and an inside tour of Bangkok’s nightlife scene, has been a hit with local tourists even though it was originally designed for international and regional travelers, Blanco said.
Bangkok isn’t the only Asian city being graced with a new Capella hotel this year. The 47-room, Bill Bensley-designed Capella Hanoi opens in Vietnam in December.
Meanwhile, Kimpton debuted its first hotel in Southeast Asia with the opening of Kimpton Maa-Lai Bangkok on Oct. 1.
“Instead of letting the [pandemic] hold us back, we pivoted and adapted to the new normal and market conditions in Thailand,” said Patrick Both, the hotel’s general manager.
The hotel opened in phases, starting with a lobby bar in July followed by a rooftop garden bar, spa and eventually guest rooms in October.
After its original opening date was postponed, Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River is now accepting reservations for stays starting from Dec. 1. The 299-room hotel has a private boat that takes guests on tours of neighborhoods connected to Bangkok’s central canal system.
New hotels in Japan
One day after Kimpton launched in Bangkok, the boutique brand opened the Kimpton Shinjuku Tokyo.
Nathan Cook, the hotel’s general manager, attributes the hotel launch to the Japanese people.
“The resilience of the Japanese people and the … tendency to mask up and sanitize has been evident in our daily lives long before these times facing Covid-19,” he told CNBC’s Global Traveler.
The Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Otemachi also opened its doors this autumn. Originally scheduled to open last July in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the new hotel marks Four Seasons’ third foray into Japan, and its second in Tokyo. With 170 rooms and 20 suites, the new hotel is larger than its 57-room counterpart in Marunouchi, one of Tokyo’s commercial districts.
Smaller Japanese cities and towns were also primed for high-profile hotel openings in 2020. Making its brand debut in Japan, the JW Marriot Nara opened in late July. Billed as the first international luxury hotel in the Nara prefecture, the hotel is about 60 minutes from Kyoto. It’s located between Heijo Palace and Mount Kasuga Primeval Forest, two popular tourist attractions.
The Ritz-Carlton, Nikko also opened in July — less than three weeks after another Ritz-Carlton hotel opened in Nanjing, China. Located next to Lake Chuzenji, the hotel’s onsen, or natural hot spring bath, is made of clear sulfurous water that turns milky white when exposed to air.
Another Ritz-Carlton location, Higashiyama Niseko Village, is scheduled to open on Dec. 15, 2020. The 50-room hotel has access to two golf courses and more than 2,100 acres of skiable terrain.
It’s also a designated “Ritz-Carlton Reserve” hotel, which the company describes as “a rare place set aside for those who appreciate an exotic sanctuary tucked away in the most exquisite corners of the world.” This will mark the company’s fifth Reserve hotel.
The new Ritz-Carlton hotel joins another big name in hospitality to open in Hokkaido’s famous ski town of Niseko. The Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono opened in January of this year.