News

Heritage Hotels: A Model for Sustainability

2019.5.12

The 2019 award season is upon us, and we are honored to be included among the top hotels in China on Tripadvisor, Agoda and in other media. Yesterday we appeared in one of my favorite newspapers, The South China Morning Post, in an article entitled “How millennial travelers are bringing Chinese heritage hotels back in style.”

To appear alongside such iconic properties as the Peace Hotel in Shanghai and the Tianjin Astor is truly humbling. While our urban-based peers have been able to carve out boutique niches in existing travel markets, we have attempted to create a rural model that focuses on community development and intangible cultural preservation.

Heritage should not be the sole purview of the rich and famous. Our hotels are pursuing socially sustainable models unburdened by private investors whose pressures would alter our paradigm. We have proudly relied on our own limited financial resources to develop our projects, substituting unlimited but encumbered money with passion, hard-work and the respect of and emotional buy-in from our neighbors and local governments.

We believe that physical restoration is just one part of our greater mission: the development of a culturally sensitive model that ensures that the tangible inspires a reverence for the intangible as well. This is about respect, sharing the financial benefits that accrue from said projects, and the passing on of cultural wisdom to future generations. Businesses will not direct this type of judicious approach. It needs cultural entrepreneurs who can balance social contributions and profit. It needs entrepreneurs whose actions don’t just originate from the pockets but also from their hearts and hands.

During a recent lecture about heritage and development to the national government and media in Beijing, I recommended three things:

1. Tourism is not a panacea. Let’s slow down and develop more long-term planning to ensure that communities primarily benefit from this development and not just outside investors.

2. Increase the expectations placed on outside businesses that are entering tourism destinations. For example, enacting a requirement for hotels to hire at least 1-2 locals per guest room. Such a provision would re-balance investment in communities and help to move away from the current model that focuses on luxury hardware and gimmicks.

3. Encourage the locals to share their hopes and concerns about the future of their communities. The government has developed platforms for such discussion but too often businesses circumvent them and pursue short-term models that contribute little to the local communities. We in the tourism industry are designing models upon a canvas that is far from blank. Our hotels are being developed in cultural and social milieu hundreds and sometimes thousands of years old. An unwillingness or inability to incorporate this culture into our models, in the long-term will lead to soulless facades and increasingly alienated communities.

Thank you for continuing to support this unique model. It has not always been easy, but, I promise you, it has been exciting and incredibly rewarding. Please join us in this journey.