Mandarin Oriental joins Asian hotel invasion of Paris

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The Mandarin Oriental opened its doors in Paris on Tuesday, becoming the third top-end Asian hotel brand in less than a year to put out its shingle and woo rich visitors to the French capital.

Newly built behind a 1930s facade, the eight-story property on fashionable Rue Saint Honore boasts 99 rooms and 39 suites going for an average of 950 euros (1,360 dollars) a night.

"We absolutely wanted to be in the best arrondissement, the best location for leisure travellers," Christoph Mares, director of operations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told AFP at the inauguration.

The property is the 27th worldwide for the hospitality unit of Hong Kong's Jardine Mathieson trading group which takes its name from two of Asia's top hotels -- the Mandarin in Hong Kong and the Oriental in Bangkok.

Its debut comes hard on the heels of the arrival in Paris last December of rival Hong Kong group Shangri-La, which oversees an 81-room property across the River Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

Singapore's Raffles hotel has meanwhile been running the venerable Royal Monceau, a stone's throw from the Champs-Elysees, since October after its roof-to-cellar renovation overseen by star designer Philippe Starck.

Looking ahead, Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels plans to open its first Peninsula hotel in Europe, near the Arc de Triomphe, in 2013 in what used to be the Hotel Majestic.

Paris is already flush with luxury hotels, from the Ritz -- arguably the gold standard of five-star hotels since its opening in 1898 -- to the Plaza Athenee, Le Meurice, Le Crillon, the Costes, the Bristol and the Georges V.

Many of those are within a few minutes' walk of the Mandarin Oriental.

But even with the Asian invasion, and lingering uncertainty after the global financial crisis of 2007, business is robust, growing more than 12 percent in the first four months of this year alone, industry sources say.

"The other hotels never noticed" when the Shangri-La opened and the Royal Monceau reopened, said Philippe Gauguier, who tracks the hotel industry for international consultants Deloitte.

"Business has never been so good," agreed Francois Delahaye, director of operations at the Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice, both run by the Dorchester group, owned by the government of Brunei.

The Mandarin Oriental is targeting well-heeled guests -- not just from Asia, but also from the United States and Latin America -- likely stay at least three nights to enjoy the best shopping and culture in Paris, Mares said.

With its perfumed, chartreuse-coloured rooms, butterly motifs on the hallway carpets and animated floral graphics over the swimming pool, the Mandarin Oriental should especially appeal to women travellers.

"Yes, it's feminine, but most of all it's comfortable," said Mares, who called the Paris property "a major step forward in the strategic development" of the group.

With 350 employees, the hotel also features a 900 square metre spa, a cocoonish 40-seat restaurant overseen by Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx, and a cocktail bar cut from a single piece of brown Spanish marble.

Rack rate for a deluxe suite with balcony overlooking the open-air courtyard is 2,750 euros, while those for whom money is no object can ask for the 350 square metre (nearly 3,800 square foot) duplex penthouse.

© 2011 AFP

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