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Far from the madding crowd

Hotel ICON in Tsim Sha Tsui East is unlike other hotels in Hong Kong whose guest books are increasingly dominated by travellers from mainland China.

Opened in 2011, it is a relatively small hotel, with only 262 rooms. Since its opening, only 15 per cent of its guests on average have been from China.

“Admittedly, the mainland clientele is not one of our core markets, unlike the bigger properties,” says Hotel ICON general manager Richard Hatter.

He partly attributes this to the mainlanders penchant for group travel. “With Hotel ICON, we don’t have the capacity to take in that many groups. Our guests are mostly Europeans, Australians and US travellers – people who are tired of looking for a chain experience and are looking for something quite unique,” Hatter says.

“We’ve realised that our guests from the mainland represent two kinds of travellers. First, there are the new rich. They got the money, and they like to see the brand on the roof. Second, you have the more seasoned travellers. These are the second- and third-generation rich. They also have the money, but they’re not looking to flaunt it in your face,” Hatter says.

“We’re not a budget hotel. We also don’t have a brand name on our roof, so the kinds of clientele that we are attracting are the more seasoned travellers looking for something different.”

In any case, Hatter says they make sure mainland visitors feel at home during their stay. For one thing, being able to speak Mandarin is crucial. “If the staff feel that their Mandarin is not up to par, we have classes that they can sign up to,” Hatter says.

Hotel ICON boasts innovative interiors designed by artists, architects and designers, such as Vivienne Tam, Rocco Yim and Terence Conran. It has won over 20 awards, including Best New Luxury Hotel 2012 in the Global Winners category of the World Luxury Hotel Awards, and Most Outstanding Art Hotel by Hotel-Club.

“It’s a really cool property. But the cool factor – what we think is cool – does not always apply to what some of the mainland Chinese think is cool. It’s quite different culturally,” Hatter says. “And definitely it’s more of a branding thing. For us to penetrate the market, we can’t play the price game. We need to expose ourselves more into the right publications that people are reading. We target not the hordes, but the free independent travellers.”