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High hopes for their first hotel

More S'poreans are buying up hotels overseas and turning them into boutique properties

Seasoned travellers know Singapore-based hotel chains like the back of their suntanned hands, with companies such as Banyan Tree and Como offering luxury properties in some of the best locations in the world.

But a quieter crop of Singaporeans have been snapping up or opening boutique hotels in less high-profile developments, successfully turning these overseas properties into chic homes away from home.

Hong Kong-based restaurateur Yenn Wong can be considered a leader of the pack. She opened two boutique hotels about a decade ago, both of which have since been sold, while another restaurateur, Mr Loh Lik Peng, is now an established hotelier.

He has opened seven boutique hotels and 20 restaurants across the Asia-Pacific and in London.

The latest Singaporeans to join the boutique hotel scene is a dentist, Dr Ernest Rex Tan, and his wife, Mrs Grace Chong-Tan, who acquired the J-Sekka boutique hotel in Hokkaido, Japan, in July last year.

The couple had taken annual ski holidays in Hokkaido for the past 10 years and were intimately acquainted with the hotel in Niseko, where their favourite ski runs are, which was why they took only five minutes to decide to buy J-Sekka.

High hopes for their first hotel He turns old buildings into hotels with personality
Mrs Grace Chong-Tan.PHOTO: ZBBZ, BT FILE

J-Sekka was designed by Japanese designer Makoto Nakagama.

It has nine suites, a Japanese restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a bar and massage services, perfect for "after a day out on the ski runs", said Mrs Chong-Tan.


The hotel is also centrally located in Niseko, a famous ski resort that has become popular in winter due to its quality of snow.

Several large companies like YTL Corporation have also developed luxury hotel and accommodation projects there.

Mrs Chong-Tan particularly appreciates how their hotel is surrounded by restaurants, hotels and shops - which is what she looks for on a ski holiday.

She plans to enhance the hotel's facilities, providing more services such as in-room dining, Japanese massage and spa services, and adding more English-language news and children's television programmes to cater to families.

It may be their first foray into the hospitality business - the couple also run high-end dental chain Smile Inc - but they are full of confidence.

Said Mrs Chong-Tan: "We communicate with the team continually and hope to create an even more perfect luxury boutique hotel.

"I also believe that the quality of the hotel comes from the small things. Therefore, we will be hands-on in running it."


67-3 Yamada, Kutchan, Abuta District,

Hokkaido Prefecture 044-0081, Japan



He turns old buildings into hotels with personality

Mr Loh Lik Peng is considered an old hand in the boutique hotel business by now.

His Unlisted Collection group opened its first hotel in 2000 and he is especially known for converting old buildings into stylish hotels that house top restaurants.

This makes Unlisted Collection's positioning distinctive as it integrates luxury accommodation with high-end dining.

Said Mr Loh: "Each old building has its own history and distinctive architectural style. Converting such buildings into hotels can give the new hotel a unique personality."

His latest development is The Old Clare Hotel in Sydney, which was completed over a year ago.

High hopes for their first hotel He turns old buildings into hotels with personality
Mr Loh Lik Peng says work on The old Clare hotel took four years.PHOTO: ZBBZ

Located in the historic Chippendale district, it stands in what was originally a two-storey heritage building that was home to a 1930s bar and the century-old Carlton & United Breweries building.

"I am very fond of Sydney and I felt that these two buildings had a lot of personality," Mr Loh said.


However, it can be challenging to put a new face to an old building.

Work on the hotel took four years to complete.

"The issue with such old buildings is that there are always surprises waiting," he said.

"Pre-restoration, the building's structure was incomplete due to lack of maintenance over a long time and issue after issue cropped up during (retrofitting) works.

"With the works completed, I feel that the interior decor and design, which are both luxurious and comfortable, are beautiful."

Amenities include a rooftop swimming pool and bar, a gym, an award-winning restaurant and the atmospheric vintage-themed Clare Bar.

Mr Loh confessed his love for old buildings and good food.

He offered this tip: "I feel that one big charm that Sydney has is its thriving F&B scene.

"Be sure to check out the various restaurants in town."


High hopes for their first hotel He turns old buildings into hotels with personality
The Old Clare Hotel.PHOTO: ZBBZ

The Old Clare Hotel

1 Kensington St. Chippendale, NSW 2008, Australia

+61-28277-8277 theoldclarehotel.com.au

The article is adapted from ZBBZ, a bilingual luxury lifestyle magazine published 
by Lianhe Zaobao

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