For years, Peninsula Hotels has been synonymous with style, elegance and management excellence. With the opening of select international properties over the past two decades, it has also grown to become one of the city's best-known 'exports'. 'Hong Kong is the flagship and benchmark for what we do in the rest of the world,' said Clement Kwok King-man, managing director and chief executive of parent company The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels. 'People in the United States, for example, know that this is where we are driving the product. A lot of hotels now fall into the five-star category, but it takes that extra touch, ambience, atmosphere - whatever it is - to be not just in the general tier.' Despite its high profile and success, the company is in no great rush to expand its international portfolio. Mr Kwok said the priority was to create a small number of exceptionally high-quality properties, not to 'splatter the globe' with a hotel in every city. 'In our business, it can take years to find and negotiate terms of entry into a project, so you must plan and execute over a much longer period,' he said. 'There may be higher up-front costs, but the return comes in terms of the performance of the hotel and the appreciation of the underlying real estate.' Projects only get the green light if they are absolutely 'right' in terms of location, government approvals and the structure of capital investment. In this respect, the company makes it a rule to invest in every venture, usually as the majority shareholder, and has no interest in taking on management or operating contracts for owners. It is a point of principle that each Peninsula hotel be individually designed, with a style to reflect and complement the culture of the local community. 'It takes a lot of cost, time and resources to come up with something different every time, but we feel it is worth doing,' Mr Kwok said. He noted that the latest property, which opened in Tokyo in December 2007, exemplified this approach and, presumably, had been a factor in winning the international trophy at the DHL/SCMP Business Awards. It occupies a prime central location overlooking the Imperial Palace gardens. A full five years went into planning, construction and fitting out. The rooms have a 'rustic yet contemporary' balance with sliding doors of Japanese horse chestnut wood from sustainable forests, ceilings made of ajiro panels, bathrooms with stone features, and state-of-the art technology. As importantly, 20 or so staff from Tokyo took part in a preliminary nine-month training programme in Hong Kong and Bangkok. This allowed them to absorb the corporate culture and master the service and quality standards expected by guests and management. 'Obviously, we also have on-premises training in the various properties, but the courses and modules for all our development programmes are planned and led from Hong Kong, which is also the biggest property for cross-exposure,' Mr Kwok said. With properties in New York, Chicago and Beverly Hills already recognised as among the top hotels in North America, attention next year is likely to focus on the group's opening - or more correctly reopening - in Shanghai. Construction and fitting out at a 'spectacular' site at the northern end of the Bund is well on schedule for a late-year launch of an ambitious project that includes retail space, an apartment block and a hotel tower designed around a 1930s Shanghai art deco theme. Attention to detail is important, whether it is the choice of materials, practical ergonomics or incorporating new technology. In the past, this type of exercise had led to the introduction of TVs in bathrooms, motion detectors to turn on the night light, and hands-free phones. Mr Kwok said the next likely location was Paris. However, there was no particular pressure to finalise details and, certainly, no intention of taking over another hotel and attempting to rebrand it. 'We are very fussy, so suitable opportunities are few and far between,' he said. 'We will generally do a few 'masterpieces', so might not find anything for another four to five years. In terms of layout, size of rooms, facilities and provisions, there isn't a hotel I could just go out and buy, hang our name on the front door and regard as a Peninsula hotel.'