Hidden Gems - 02/15/18

Resurrecting Hong Kong’s Maritime Glory

Written by Hayden L

Step back into 1960s Hong Kong at The Fleming, the brainchild of former tennis star John Hui, and a hip new boutique hotel with roots in the city’s past.

One of the most symbolic icons of Hong Kong has to be The Star Ferry. More than a mode of transport, this beacon of the city’s past has been a key part of its global identity for over a century. Former international tennis star John Hui has now taken that symbol and used it in an entirely new way – as the inspiration behind his boutique hotel, The Fleming. Originally a set of serviced apartments owned by his family, John first converted the building into a hotel in 2007. Having travelled the world with his tennis career, however, he experienced hotels with a different vibe – ones that celebrated their cities’ heritage whilst offering something new for the next generation of guests. And so, last year, after an extensive revamp, The Fleming reopened. This time as a 66 room boutique hotel designed in homage to its city’s maritime roots, creating a porthole view back into Hong Kong’s former glory.

It was a sense of pride in his home country that inspired the hotelier to craft a hotel that paid homage to Hong Kong. “The designer and I travelled to New York and LA before we started the whole design process and we saw styles of hotels in these locations that were reminiscent of what LA or New York is. We came back, we brainstormed, and we ended up wanting to create something that was very reminiscent of Hong Kong. In other words, we wanted to embrace Hong Kong for what it is,” he explains.

Before taking on the family business, John played professional tennis, reaching a world ranking of 157 before his retirement at the age of 24. “I got to a point where I had to decide if I wanted to carry on playing or join the family business. Evidently, I chose the latter.” With a career that involved travelling almost constantly, he got to know hotels well. “I was living out of a suitcase, always staying in different places, and because of this I was able to distinguish what made a good hotel from what made a bad one.” In choosing the family business over his tennis career, John was also able to give something back to his family. “We called the hotel (芬名) The Fleming not only because it’s the street the hotel is on, but also because they are the first two characters of my late grandfather’s name and we wanted to remember him by this.”

After a decade of running the old Fleming, the hotelier recognised that there was a growing trend for boutique hotels across Asia. “Hong Kong has come to a point where it’s ready to accept boutique hotels. Obviously, there are a lot of small hotels here, but most of them are really just a building with rooms. There’s no vibe about them, no atmosphere. We wanted to create a trendy and modern hotel but still stay true to what Hong Kong is.” In October 2017, he officially revealed that vision to the public. “We’ve based a lot of the hotel on Hong Kong’s history as a port, from the furniture to the details in each room. Whenever we see old images of Victoria Harbour, we always notice the ferries and boats, so we wanted to embrace that.” Look to the lobby and you will see chairs that fold backwards, mimicking the famous seats on the Star Ferry alongside porthole style windows. On entering, guests find a reception decorated with a wall of Hong Kong-inspired mailboxes alongside narrow, dimly lit corridors that feel luxurious and yet still reference Wan Chai’s narrow streets and industrial edge. Dark wood, brass fittings, deep colours and all the mod cons feed into an atmosphere that is comfortable, unique and unmistakably Hong Kong.

For John, the aim with The Fleming is to transform it into a trendy hotel that attracts a different crowd. “At the moment we have a much younger crowd coming to stay, such as young mainlanders who are well dressed. Younger people want to come to The Fleming because it matches their lifestyle in terms of being modern and trendy.” This hasn’t happened by accident. The entrepreneur has taken to social media, using KOLs from Instagram and Facebook to gain exposure. “We believe that these KOLs are very influential all over the world due to their reach on social media. Whenever they come to Hong Kong we like to invite them over to stay and it has worked wonders for us. On Wechat, Facebook and Instagram, everyone makes these posts about what they’re doing, and in this day and age it’s essential for us to use this type of marketing.”

John has a strong hunch that boutique hotels are the future of hospitality. “A lot of these big brands such as Hyatt and Rosewood are styling their hotels with smaller rooms, distinct themes, and equipping them with better service because this is where the market is heading.” Overseeing a blend of Hong Kong’s past with the future of hospitality, this hotelier is well placed to capitalise on that trend, and all whilst preserving a slice of Hong Kong culture.

Address: 41 Fleming Rd, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Telephone: +852 3607 2288

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