Brand new NUO is a Chinese luxury hotel brand that's expected to open its first property, in Beijing (below), any time now, before launching several across the country in an apparent bid to counter the invasion of international hotel companies. Hotels in several foreign cities, including Paris and London, are also said to be in the pipeline. NUO aims to "celebrate the depth and richness of Chinese culture" with a luxury brand "imagined to incarnate and celebrate China's renaissance", in a joint venture with Beijing Tourism Group and Kempinski Hotels of Switzerland. A promotional video for the Beijing hotel, at www.nuohotels.com seems aimed at the Western market, featuring a fashionably unshaven foreigner doing tai chi in a bamboo grove to traditional Chinese music, with various oddly translated phrases on screen. Not the slickest of productions, it shows airport transfers being provided with a Red Flag limousine, and reassures guests that "deep fragrance of tea fills the room with great warmth and nobility". With GHM Hotels joining the local game this year, with its Ahn Luh brand (presented rather more professionally at en.ahnluh.com and IHG's recent launch of its locally focused Hualuxe hotels www.hualuxe.com the mainland's hospitality industry is entering an interesting period.
Sweet Kandy An OZO hotel has just opened in Kandy, claiming to be the first international property to have done so in the central Sri Lankan city for more than 20 years. Kandy is a popular fixture on tourist itineraries, especially around the time of its annual Esala Perahera festival and grand procession, which pays homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha. A part of the city's appeal has, until now, been a lack of international hotel brands, with the 120-year-old Queen's Hotel being a favourite with visitors. This building dates back to the mid-19th century, and was the governor's residence before becoming a hotel in 1895. It was operated by Oberoi Hotels and Resorts for a few years from 1981 but has since reverted to local management. The OZO Kandy (below; whose 20-year claim, underestimated by 14 years, refers to the Oberoi launch) is on the opposite side of Bogambara Lake to the Queen's and, if you prefer more modern hotels, is offering opening rates from US$85 with a free upgrade, at www.ozohotels.com/kandy-srilanka. Rooms at the Queen's Hotel (www.queenshotel.lk) start from about US$100. The Esala Perahera takes place this year from August 20 to 30.
Learning Japanese Both first-time visitors to Japan and seasoned regulars will find something of interest at Japanista, a new website that provides hundreds of articles covering everything from pachinko parlours (below) to public transport. All the basics for foreign travellers are provided and there are separate sections on events, shopping, dining and the latest Japanese cultural trends. Go to japanistas.com for more.
New packaging The Cathay Pacific Holidays website was taken down this month and the airline's packages and flight offers absorbed into the new Cathay Pacific website, at www.cathaypacific.com. Rather than browse the various packages on offer, visitors must now enter their requirements into a search engine to see what's on offer in the way of hotel and flight combinations, with specifically named packages presenting a choice of hotels no longer offered. The new format takes some getting used to but, in general, it's an improvement. Prices now include taxes and fuel surcharges from the outset, rather than later in the booking process. There are also filters to help you select what type of accommodation you prefer, and results can be sorted by, among other things, price and TripAdvisor rating. The search-filter sidebar includes useful criteria such as swimming pool and fitness facilities, but the air-conditioning option is surely a bit outdated.
Deal of the week Farrington American Express Travel is selling a three-night package to Zurich (top), Switzerland, starting from HK$7,990 per person, twin share. Accommodation at this price is at the Crowne Plaza, with other hotels offered including the Novotel Zurich City West (from HK$8,450), Renaissance Zurich Tower (from HK$8,890) and Park Hyatt (from HK$13,250). Overnight flights each way are with national carrier Swiss. These prices will be available until the end of October, with a couple of high season hotel surcharges popping up occasionally, depending on the hotel. For full details and reservations, go to www.amextravel.com.hk.