A new luxury hotel in Shanghai appeals to Chinese and international guests by creatively reimagining distinctive elements of local heritage, architecture and style, by Amy Fabris-Shi.

Speaking to hoteliers in Shanghai in September, international trends forecaster Cécile Poignant from Trend Tablet discussed the rising global fatigue for Monotony of Experience.

We could not agree more. From Paris to Phnom Penh to Penang, we see the same fashion brand window displays on high streets, hotels provide undifferentiated minibar and room services, and identical fast food and coffee chains greet us in airports. Indeed, many brands don’t just look alike, they also sound the same in their marketing and promotions. For travellers, this is becoming rather monotonous.

“We don’t want to travel halfway across the world to have the same experiences and encounters that we have at home,” said Poignant. In a globally connected and homogenous world, localizing the experience is the critical differentiator.

Re-grounding the Hotel Experience in Shanghai

Capella Shanghai Jian Ye Li, which opened in September 2017, is a good example of re-grounding the hotel experience for local and global guests. The all-villa urban resort transforms one of Shanghai’s largest remaining pockets of shikumen (stone-gate) laneways, built in the 1930s by French settlers. Though we wish the Chinese government would stop relocating residents to commercialise (or bulldoze!) its heritage neighbourhoods, this is a respectful urban regeneration project in Shanghai’s genteel former French Concession.

The inter-connected redbrick alleyways and courtyards embellished with carved stone arches have been painstakingly restored. And although China prefers highly polished luxury lodgings, Capella has incorporated a gentle nod to the wabi-sabi trend we’re witnessing in Japan and Europe in its patina walls and original courtyard cobbles.

Shanghainese visitors who grew up in the shikumen lanes that once extended throughout the city will feel nostalgic warmth for the tall dark-red wood-framed windows opening to leafy streetside platane trees. Narrow central stairways rise through each terrace dwelling, and small rooftop terraces overlook classic shingled roofs.

Re-adapting heritage dwellings means incorporating contemporary luxuries, like Bose bluetooth audio and video intercom systems. But timeless touches, such as Chinese White Rabbit candies in a jar by the sofa, and a turndown gift of classic Shanghai Lady osmanthus beauty cream in its 1932 brand tin, connect guests with the particular history and modernity of the location.

A Perfect Place to Preserve, Rejuvenate and Share Local Rituals and Traditions 

Wherever we lay our heads around the world, intrinsic local elements – from original artworks and crafted furnishings to home-nurtured cuisines, and the way a drink is mixed or a bed is made, enable us to psychologically feel we are living the life of a local – albeit fleetingly. They also provide impromptu photo opportunities for snap-and-share travellers.

As home-sharing shakes the foundations of the lodging industry, hotels remain a perfect place to preserve, rejuvenate and share these rituals and traditions with travellers who don’t just desire new discoveries, but expect them. It is, therefore, incumbent on the hospitality industry to research a destination’s distinctive cultures, and customs, and creatively incorporate them into their designs, services and experiences.

After all, we travel to be somewhere – not everywhere.



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