Wharf Holdings Ltd

How the Niccolo brand plans to take on heavy hitters in Hong Kong’s luxury hotel market

Hotel arm of Wharf Holdings will debut its first local high-end property later this year with The Murray in Central

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 5:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 10:49pm

Competition among Hong Kong’s luxury hotels is heating up as a newcomer enters the fray and hopes to cross swords with two major players even as the city faces a current tourism downturn.

Wharf Hotel, the hotel arm of property developer Wharf Holdings, has come on board with a brand it started from scratch, called Niccolo, which already has properties in other cities.

The hotel line is now set to compete locally with iconic home-grown brands such as The Peninsula and Mandarin Oriental, according to Wharf Hotel president Dr Jennifer Cronin.

Top architect Norman Foster transforms Hong Kong’s colonial-era Murray Building into five-star hotel

The first Niccolo property in Hong Kong later this year will be The Murray, a 336-room five-star hotel in Central, which will be converted from colonial-era government house Murray Building.

Cronin said each room of The Murray will cost about HK$4,000 per night. The landmark Peninsula hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui costs at least HK$3,780 a night while the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Central charges a minimum of HK$3,800 a night, according to their websites.

“The Peninsula and the Mandarin Oriental started in Hong Kong and have grown into top international hotels – this is what Niccolo is planning to do,” Cronin said in an exclusive interview with the Post.

Wharf Hotels, which has a 14-strong property portfolio in Asia, positioned Niccolo as a high-end brand, while its existing Marco Polo hotels will be classified as upper-middle range to differentiate its products from rivals, she said.

In addition to spacious, elegant rooms – designed by famed architect Norman Foster’s firm – and top restaurants, a special feature of The Murray will be an outdoor venue that is available for various functions.

“Events could range from a special wedding to a fashion show, or a luxury car launch, with the white facade and majestic arches of The Murray in the backdrop, and St John’s Cathedral on one side, with Hong Kong Park on the other,” Cronin said.

Wharf bought the land and the former government building for HK$4.4 billion in 2011.

“Marco Polo was well known for his China travels, but it was his father, Niccolo, who first went to the Middle Kingdom,” she said, referring to the inspiration behind the brand’s name.

Yiu Si-wing, a legislator for Hong Kong’s tourism sector, said developing a new premium brand is feasible despite the tight competition among top hotels in the city.

“There are currently about 75,000 hotel rooms in Hong Kong, which will grow to about 90,000 in 2019. But there is a shortage of room supply in the central business district,” Yiu said.

“The pie is growing in both developing countries and in China, where there are more and more affluent customers,” Yiu said.

“The growth will be in the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) area. Accommodation for people on business travels is about status. There is a big difference in perception between staying at a five-star hotel compared with a three-star,” Yiu said.

On a regional basis, Niccolo already has hotels in Chengdu and Chongqing in China, and is planning to open other branches in Changsha and Suzhou.

The Suzhou property will be a fish tail-shaped skyscraper designed by architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, the same designers behind Hong Kong’s 118-storey International Commerce Centre in West Kowloon.

Cronin said Asia would be the initial focus of overseas expansion. “We are also studying Tokyo and Singapore,” she added.