Catching the seven-stars bug

Guest post by chinadialogue intern Cao Jun

On Wednesday, Beijing’s western Mengtougou district announced at a
press conference that it plans to cooperate with Saudi Arabia to build a seven-star hotel in the Chinese capital. This new landmark will cost at least one billion euros (US$1.3 billion) and will adopt a streamlined design similar to the Burj Dubai tower, the tallest building in the world.

As five-stars is the highest rating in most hotel systems, there is no worldwide standard for a “seven-star hotel”, neither is it an official classification of quality. While the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai is the most widely referenced seven-star hotel, it was never formally awarded such a mark. The lack of official acknowledgement doesn’t seem to dampen Chinese local authorities’ enthusiasm towards luxury hotels, however. A brief search reveals there are already plenty of self-appointed seven-star hotels in China, even before the Mengtougou one appears.

In Beijing, there is already a Pangu Seven Star Hotel Beijing next to the Olympic Green. The entire dragon-shaped complex (the hotel is the tail), comprises a row of high-rise towers that stretch the length of seven football fields.

In Haikou, a city of Hainan Island in southern China, another seven-star hotel is expected to start construction in 2012. With an estimated investment of 2.8 billion yuan (US$408 million), the Haikou Millennium Hotel will be built on an artificial island of 50 mu (33.5 hectares), 300 metres from the coastline. Another 25 five-star and two seven-star hotels will be built in the next decade in Haitang Bay alone, which is only one of the five major bays in Sanya, a tourism city also on Hainan Island.

Cities such as Chengdu and Chongqing of Sichuan province in western China, as well as cities like Tianjin and Xiamen of coastal Fujian province are all planning their seven-stars too. It seems the forces of the GDP contest remain strong, even with central government’s active moves towards a green economy.

Meanwhile, the city with the first and most famous seven-star hotel is deeply troubled. In order to diversify its oil-based economy as a response to its declining oil reserves, Dubai built a series of luxury islands and skyscrapers, including the tallest tower and the seven-star hotel. However, a burst property bubble dragged Dubai into a serious debt crisis and put an end to its extravagant approach to growth. Intense construction and tourism also placed heavy burdens on its local environment, leaving raw sewage in the gulf, depleted water resources and one of the world’s largest carbon footprints. Its artificial islands also became a hazard to corals and local marine lives.

Following the Dubai model, all these seven-star hotels in China require enormous amount of investment and resources, while exerting unnecessary environmental pressures. Now the question is, exactly how many self-claimed seven-star hotels do we need, if any at all? Or more importantly, how many can we afford to have, both economically and environmentally?