A ‘hidden gem’ in the jungle of concrete

Friday, February 26, 2010
Issue 949, Page 18
Word count: 821
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

The Ruins of St. Paul’s, Barra Temple and the Guia Lighthouse, they are definitely ones of the most well-known icons in Macau. For those who are into cultural heritage and history, there are more to see and explore besides the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of the oldest hotels in Macau, Grand Lapa – formerly known as Mandarin Oriental before August 1, 2009 – is a property full of history and also a vivid proof of the Portuguese influence in this Chinese territory.

Having founded in 1984 (named Excelsior at that time) facing one of the mostly travelled roads in the Macau Peninsula, Grand Lapa is going to kick off very soon its largest-scale renovation project ever.

Yet, it’s not just plain renovation but also represents the management’s commitment to preserve the very unique heritage element in the hotel – something that cannot be obtained simply with money.

Bede Barry, the recently appointed general manager of Grand Lapa, which is still managed under the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group (MOHG), is going to lead this very important renovation project that will take about a year to complete.

The last major renovation was carried out in 2004.

At Café Bela Vista on a Thursday afternoon, Mr Barry, who was the resident manager of Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong before coming to Macau, tells the Macau Daily Times why the management is so excited about the hotel upgrade.

Not only will all the guest rooms undergo a complete renovation, the Michelin Star Chinese Restaurant Tung Yee Heen and the “old time favourite” Café Bela Vista will also be freshened up.

According to Mr Barry, the renowned Chinnery Room will be back with “high ceiling and beautiful daylight”.

“We’ve been in Macau for 25 years and that’s what we’re unique about because there aren’t too many hotels opening in Macau that have that whole Portuguese feel,” he says.

“We’ve been here through it all with every one, through SARS or the Asian Crisis. It [the hotel] has a lot of history and is very much heritage itself.”

Out in the resort area, the plan is to upgrade the gym by replacing all the equipment around summer time, and the yoga and aerobic studio is going to be redone as well.

As for the swimming pool, it has just been spring cleaned and renovated again during the winter time.

The management will be looking at the mock-up room about weeks away. Mr Barry says once it is completed and the renovation license is being taken care of, the project will be started “definitely within this year”.

“Renovation will probably start with the lower floor and then we’ll do things simultaneously,” he adds.

With the more than 17 years of international hotel management experience and having participated in the major facelift project of the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental, Mr Barry says guests can be rest assured because one of his tasks is to minimize the impact to them caused by the renovation works.

Although Grand Lapa is not one of the large hotels in Macau, Mr Barry says it’s one of the finest ones and is certainly going to maintain the “high standard Mandarin Oriental services”.

“Once we get our function room [Chinnery] back and the guest rooms and the Chinese restaurant upgraded, I think we’re going to be in a very good position to enter the market,” he points out.

According to Mr Barry, the renovation is the number one strategy of MOHG to reintroduce the old favourite back into Macau and to all the local people.

“We’ll definitely relaunch ourselves and want to come back into the heart of Macau… We were for many years, possibly 20 years, one of the best hotels in the town. We want to get back up to them and to be part of Macau,” he says.

Obviously the original hotel, Excelsior, isn’t quite what it is today. The shopping arcade and the resort area, for example, were not there 25 years ago.

“It’s the continued commitment to upgrading and improving the hotel as we get older and older.”

There is something about Grand Lapa, as Mr Barry puts it, “it’s understated elegance and we just have to brush it up and then put it back into the spotlight again.

“And there has been under one hotel operator, Mandarin hasn’t gone from it. We’ve been here consistently all the way through. It’s not just an old building but a sort of commitment from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group,” he adds.

While last year was no doubt a tough year for the hospitality industry as a result of the global financial crisis, Mr Barry is optimistic about the year 2010 as their January and Chinese New Year performances were better than expected.

“Hopefully there will be no H1N1 this year and we don’t have another crisis like we had in 2009. We’re out of the recession and we’re onto recovery,” he smiles.

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