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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | March 20, 2012

hua3InterContinental Hotels Group has been very busy these past few weeks. Just 20 days after announcing the launch of Even, its new U.S.-based brand targeting an estimated 17 million health-conscious travelers, it has taken the wraps off another new brand, Hualuxe Hotels and Resorts. This one is designed specifically for the Chinese traveler and features some unique dining, meeting and leisure concepts.

Last fall, when Atlanta-based IHG announced plans for a Chinese brand, company officials were short on details and speculation was rampant that the company would simply tailor one of its existing brands to appeal to the Chinese consumer. So much for industry speculation. "We're not fashioning an already-existing international brand in China. We're actually building up a new one from the ground for Chinese customers. It doesn't exist anywhere else in the world," said Keith Barr, chief executive officer of IHG Greater China, in an interview this week with China Daily.

At each Hualuxe (Hua means "majestic China"; luxe, of course, represents luxury), restaurants will showcase local dishes rather than fine dining; foot massages will replace spa treatments; and in place of the typical lobby bar, there will be a traditional tea house. "While Western customers like to go to the bar to have a drink and do business, that's not the case in China. The Chinese want to go and have tea, and each hotel will have a wonderful, special tea house," said Barr in a company video explaining how the brand's signature elements will cater specifically to Chinese travelers.

hua2Another unique concept to the brand is the multi-function suite, which according to Barr, "no other hotel company is offering." Such suites are designed to function as mini meeting rooms, where guests can dine, conduct meetings and entertain in one private location, with their own "relationships manager" to cater to their needs. "Westerners conduct business in boardrooms, but the Chinese do it at the dinner table," says Barr.

Less than five years ago, China was IHG's third largest market, after the U.S. and Europe. Today, with 160 properties in 60 cities, IGH counts China as its second largest market, making the chain that country's largest international hotel operator. IHG reports that so far it has inked 20 deals for its new Chinese brand, and it plans to open Hualuxe hotels in more than 100 cities in the next 15 to 20 years, with the first expected to open in late 2013 or early 2014. As with the announcement of Even, the company hasn't yet stated where the first property will be located. However, there's already talk of exporting the brand to other Asian destinations, such as Tokyo and Bangkok, Thailand, which have a high volume of Chinese travelers.

According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics in China and the United National World Travel Organization, China's hotel market is expected to surpass the U.S.'s to become the world's largest by 2025. According to China Daily, "Within 13 years China will have 6.1 million hotel rooms, the same as the U.S. By 2039, the number of China's hotel rooms will be 9.1 million, four times the size it is today." And IHG is betting it is one step ahead of its competition in tapping the surge of Chinese travelers. "We are the first to do this," says Barr. "Hualuxe is special and unique. It is designed to make our guests successful."