The hotel industry, like fashion, must change with the times. For it’s inevitable that the accepted standard décor of the 1970s and 1980s, or even the 1990s, will appear old-fashioned to today’s traveler.
And it’s also true for established icons who realize that it’s high time to freshen up their look. Take the Ritz Hotel in Paris, the longtime lap-of-luxury interim home to potentates and princesses (Princess Diana spent her last hours at the hotel before her untimely death in 1997).
Opened in 1898, the hotel starts a two-year renovation on Aug. 1 to keep it competitive with other luxurious Paris hotels Le Bristol and Le Royal Monceau Raffles that have also undergone renovation.
The hotel’s press attaché, Matthieu Goffard, promised the renovation would not change the essence of its famed classic ambiance. “The idea is to keep the very French Ritz spirit of Parisian luxury,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.
That crucial time of knowing when to renovate is no different for established hotels in Jakarta. Apart from the expenditure involved, also weighing heavily in the decision is whether to shut down operations completely during renovations, like the Ritz, or to continue services without compromising comfort to guests.
The Hotel Borobudur Jakarta was probably among the first of the capital’s leading hotels to decide it needed to spruce up its looks. After running for 26 years, the hotel was shut down from 1995 to 1997.
For general manager Poul E. Bitsch, it was simply a matter of keeping up the five-star hotel’s standards to face tighter competition.
“The hotel started to look tired and out of touch with modern hotel design and facilities. At the same time, many new five-star hotels were opening up in Jakarta,” he said.
Nearly every part of the hotel was renewed in a modern classic style while still maintaining the character of Indonesian traditional heritage.
“One major issue was to lift the reception area and the drive-in entrance up one floor,” Bitsch said.
The hotel also added amenities such as The Churchill Bar, Teratai Cantonese Restaurant, Pendopo Lounge, boardroom and gym and spa.
During the renovation, employees received training on products knowledge and skills. Active staff continued to receive 100 percent from their gross salary while non-active staff received 75 percent from gross salary, Bitsch said, with the non-active staff permitted to work part-time but required to attend training.
Since the major overhaul, the hotel has adopted a step-by-step strategy of renovating smaller parts of the hotel.
“Since 1997, we have renovated eight guest floors again [520 rooms], the Flores, the Timor and the Sumba ballrooms, Pendopo Lounge, Bogor Café and Teratai restaurant,” Bitsch said.
Other hotels have conducted their renovations in stages without closing operations.
The Millenium Hotel Sirih Jakarta was re-launched on Valentine’s Day this year after renovating all 401 rooms – standard, superior and club rooms, as well as junior suites – at a cost of Rp 25.5 billion (US$2.7 million).
The renovation involved redecoration and replacement of furniture, drapes, lighting and amenities, with the new décor described as a blend of modern and ethnic elements in a semi-minimalist style, with traditional Indonesian, Mediterranean and classical European influences. The result is a brighter look for the rooms’ interior.
“In this business, you can’t rest on your laurels. You have to keep improving, keep moving forward,” said general manager Manny Q. Mercado.
For Jeremy M. Cooper, Grand Sahid Jaya Hotel Jakarta general manager, renovation is part of the business strategy to face business competition.
“Renovation, innovation and creation are parallel with our commitment to enhancing quality service that manages to create an incredible experience that maintains customers’ loyalty,” he said.
The hotel is currently renovating its 250 deluxe rooms, scheduled for completion in August. From 2008 to 2009, it renovated its lobby, Solo Lounge, Andrawina Restaurant and ballroom and function rooms.
Gran Meliá Hotel Jakarta is also undergoing a year-long renovation or “rejuvenation”, in the words of general manager David Perry.
Opened in April 1996, the hotel recently completed the renovation of its restaurants and public areas and the overhaul of its rooms is scheduled for completion by the latest in October.
Perry agrees that one of the hardest things about renovations is the timing.
“In hotels, it’s … about deciding when you are on top to take a long hard look at yourself and revisit your DNA to see if there are improvements that can be made.”
But he added that cosmetic renovations, while important, are only one part of a hotel’s formula for success.
“A hotel is more than a building, and it’s a lot more than a great restaurant and a great room. If it means doing things differently for better service and enjoyment for the guests, then we have to do it,” he said.
“You must be outstanding and the first choice, because if you’re not then you might as well get out of the game of being a five-star hotel.”
Additional reporting by Sudibyo M. Wiradji and Bruce Emond.