China Acquires High-End Hospitality Design

May 11 2014, 12:12pm CDT | by

A Chinese firm now has a provocative new capability that could catapult it to the forefront of global hospitality design. Do they appreciate the legacy behind it?

In early March this year we received the announcement that Wilson and Associates, designer of many of today’s top luxury hotels, had been acquired by Shanghai Xian Dai Architectural Design (Group) Co., Ltd.

Press releases in the USA called it “an agreement to join forces with East China Architecture Design and Research Institute (ECADI)any affiliated to Shanghai Xian Dai Architectural Design (Group) Co.”  (A year earlier, in 2013 Trisha Wilson, Wilson Associates’ founder and President, had announced that she was stepping down from her position as President and CEO.)

This is big news in the high-end hospitality design industry.  Dallas-based Wilson Associates  has grown from its founding in 1971 to an international force in luxury interior design, with offices on both coasts of the US, and in China, India, Singapore, and the Middle East. The arc of the firm’s growth parallels that of the increasing breadth and depth of luxury hotel offerings worldwide.

It was not that long ago that luxury hotels meant the Grand Hotels of the old world, where decorum and propriety (at least on the surface) were expected from both staff and clientele.  Grand Hotel Budapest (the Wes Anderson movie, released March 2014) was a stylistic jaunt down a memory lane of such a world.  Replete with eye candy; a bravura performance of Ralph Fiennes; loony cameos by everyone from Bill Murray to Tilda Swinton (kudos to Ms Swinton for the guts to wear wrinkles and smeared lipstick); the movie also reveals the wide divide between the 1% and the rest of us. They get every whim pandered to.  We do the pandering – seemingly sharing some of the same spaces – but with our noses pressed up against the glass windows (no one came close to those glass ceilings) that kept the great unwashed from participating and partaking.

Leave it to the Americans to break the glass barrier.

The 1950s saw the growing popularity of leisure travel, with the Hawaiian Islands being the destination of choice for most Americans.  The Islands were far enough away to be exotic, yet still part of the United States, and posed no challenges of a foreign language, cuisine, or culture.

Once on the islands though, the visitor had a limited choice of crowded Waikiki beaches; bus tours to pineapple plantations or muumuu factories or both; assembly-line luaus, and Don Ho.

This all changed in 1976 when Christopher B Hemmeter (1939-2003) opened his first hotel, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Hemmeter went on, for the next 10 years or so, to develop ever larger and more ambitious resorts in Maui, the Big Island and Kauai, all based on the principle of creating memorable experiences for the hotel guest.  Hemmeter believed that the average Hawaii vacationer – Mr and Mrs Middle-America (my term, not his) – had worked and saved all their lives for this vacation of a lifetime, and we owe it to them to give them more than a just a bedroom.

Hemmeter made destination resorts fun – swim with the dolphins! Take a boat-ride to your guestroom! Grotto bars! Swans and waterfalls next to the lobby! PGA-champion designer golf courses! The list goes on.  Some may now sniff and scoff, but in their time these were truly new and game-changing ideas. Hawaii in those days had the Mauna Kea for the riche, and the Outrigger* for the rest of us. (Those who wanted to get away from it all went to the Coco Palms in Kauai – no phones, no TV, forget cell phones. )  Hemmeter’s brilliance was that he saw what it is that people aspire to; his success was that he found a way to make it available to you and me.  That principle is true today as it was over 40 years ago:  guests come – and come back – for the experienceMake it fun, make it unique, make it accessible.

Today some of the biggest proponents of the guest experience are from the gaming industry, most notably Steve Wynn and the Sands’ Sheldon Adelson.  In an interview  with Forbes magazine, Wynn said something very similar about creating experiences for the common man.  Wynn was a contemporary and a cohort of Hemmeter’s; we see the same moves albeit very differently executed, in the Wynn resorts – the carefully choreographed arrival drive up to the porte cochere, the knock-their-socks-off chandeliers, the picture-perfect fountains and waterfalls, the investment in art and antiques.  Who inspired whom, who first conceived each outrageous idea, one can only speculate.  (I do have to pause here, and give a shoutout to the Wynn’s over-scaled and over-the-top passementerie.)

In the mid 1980s Hemmeter was developing plans for a Southern California resort, in large part inspired by San Simeon (“one man’s idea of a house”).  One of three interior designers involved in the project was a certain up-and-coming firm based in Dallas.  Hemmeter sold the project before construction began, and it has morphed into something quite different (but there remain yet hints of the original ideas).

/>/>

Wilson and Associates went on to become the force it is today, effectively the go-to firm for luxury gaming, destination and hospitality projects.  One of its earlier projects is the Palace of the Lost City, in Sun City, South Africa. Wilson credits her firm’s involvement in that, and other South African projects, for her affection for the region, her decision to build a home there, and the focus of the efforts of her charitable organization, the Wilson Foundation.

Trisha Wilson’s and her firm’s successes and accomplishments read like entirely American phenomena.  A result of being in the right place at the right time; the requisite moxie, smarts and tenacity; the social consciousness; even, might one add, the typical Texan graciousness and charm.

With the firm’s acquisition by ECADI, industry observers wonder: how will this ownership change affect the design and culture, and eventually, inevitably, the process and the product?  More intriguing yet, how will the Chinese parent company be affected by this mixed marriage?

* In fairness to the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, I am writing about the typical Outrigger product c. 1970s.  Many things have changed since those dark days.

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Journalist beheading: US defends refusal to pay ransom to kidnappers
Washington, Aug 22 (IANS) Amid the shock and horror of American photojournalist James Foley's beheading and revelations that his captors had demanded a ransom of $132 million, the US has defended its policy of no negotiations with terrorists.
 
 
Monkey doesn't own his selfie: US regulator
New York, Aug 22 (IANS) The US Copyright Office has confirmed that a monkey - or any other animal - that takes a selfie does not own the copyright of the photo.
 
 
Indian, Asian businesses hit hard by unrest in US town
Washington, Aug 22 (IANS) Even as a semblance of order was restored in a small city in Missouri after nearly two weeks of unrest, Indian and other Asian-American-owned businesses were reported to be in a mess after days of looting.
 
 
Gambia on high alert for Ebola outbreak
Banjul, Aug 22 (IANS) Gambia's ministry of health and social welfare said Thursday that it is on high alert for a possible Ebola outbreak in the country and are taking preventive measures to tackle the disease.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Journalist beheading: US defends refusal to pay ransom to kidnappers
Washington, Aug 22 (IANS) Amid the shock and horror of American photojournalist James Foley's beheading and revelations that his captors had demanded a ransom of $132 million, the US has defended its policy of no...
Read more on Ad Balla
 
Monkey doesn't own his selfie: US regulator
New York, Aug 22 (IANS) The US Copyright Office has confirmed that a monkey - or any other animal - that takes a selfie does not own the copyright of the photo. A selfie taken by a black macaque on the Indonesian...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
33 killed in Egypt bus accident
Cairo, Aug 22 (IANS) At least 33 people were killed and 41 injured Friday as two buses collided in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, officials said. According to security officials, the injured included Russian, Yemeni and...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Ancelotti confirms Di Maria transfer request
Madrid, Aug 22 (IANS) Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti confirmed that the club's Argentinean international winger Angel Di Maria had asked for a transfer. Ancelotti's comment confirmed the rumours that have been...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Indian, Asian businesses hit hard by unrest in US town
Washington, Aug 22 (IANS) Even as a semblance of order was restored in a small city in Missouri after nearly two weeks of unrest, Indian and other Asian-American-owned businesses were reported to be in a mess after...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Violence against Iraqis worst seen this century: UN
United Nations, Aug 22 (IANS) The violence against children, women and minority communities in Iraq in the past few weeks is one of the worst seen in this century, a UN spokesperson said Thursday, citing information...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Robin Williams to be honoured at Emmys
Los Angeles, Aug 22 (IANS) Actor-filmmaker Billy Crystal will pay a tribute to late actor Robin Williams at the forthcoming Emmy Awards event. The 66-year-old comedian will lead tributes to Williams, who was found...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Islamic terrorists must be defeated: US army official
Washington, Aug 22 (IANS) It is possible to contain the Islamic State (IS) forces, but not in perpetuity, a senior US army official said Thursday. Martin Dempsey, chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Jessica Alba's 'super' imagination
Los Angeles, Aug 22 (IANS) The "Fantastic Four" star Jessica Alba used to imagine she was "super-human". As a child, the actress used to spend hours dreaming of having special powers that would take her ahead of her...
Read more on Celebrity Balla
 
Uganda to face Niger ahead of Afcon qualifier
Kampala, Aug 22 (IANS) Head coach of Uganda Cranes Milutin 'Micho' Sredojevic said Thursday that his team will play away to Niger in an international friendly Sep 2 ahead of a 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon)...
Read more on Sport Balla