Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Luxe Limousines of Asian Hotels

The prestige of staying at one of the world’s best hotels is measured in the details of the experience. Exotic linens, exclusive toiletries, private butlers and five-star dining are de rigueur; many guests also require a car and driver. In Asia, where face is everything, landmark hotels have a long tradition of private limousine service. Tycoons and Tai-Pans have long recognized the value of arriving for a negotiation in the liveried limousine of the best place in town.

The Peninsula Hotel casts a long shadow over its competitors in Hong Kong, not the least because of their legendary fleet of green Rolls-Royce automobiles. The Peninsula’s Rolls fleet, reputedly the largest in the world, recollects the British heritage of the oldest hotel in the former Crown Colony.

I’m amazed by how many times the Peninsula’s limousines find their way into films and novels. James Bond (Roger Moore) shows that he knows the best way to get around Kowloon in the 1974 film The Man With the Golden Gun. James Clavell’s best-selling novel, Noble House, fictionalized Hong Kong’s most famous traders and its most famous hotel with, of course, green Rolls-Royces. One of his characters even muses, “Soon I'm going to have one of these, he thought. A Rolls of my own.”

Anyone who’s visited Tokyo knows that the streets are jammed with little Toyotas and Nissans from Shibuya to Harajuku. Imagine cruising those same streets in a mirror-black Cadillac Stretch Limousine bearing the discreet badge of the Imperial Hotel.

The Imperial is the address for captains of industry. With a dramatic history stretching back 125 years, the Imperial is an institution that has been central to the rise of modern Tokyo. So, wave to the Emperor (across the street) as you pull out of the driveway seated behind your white-gloved driver, confident that you’ve already arrived.

Finally, the ne plus ultra of colonial era hotels in Asia is Singapore’s Raffles Hotel. This bastion of tradition, host to the likes of Kipling, Somerset Maugham and the Queen herself, has just updated their limousine offering. Robert Logan, Raffles Hotel General Manager, announced that they have commissioned a Bentley Continental Flying Spur to act as their limousine and “to create memorable experiences for all our guests.” The vehicle’s body is laser welded in Germany and then hand assembled over three months in Crewe, England.

I think that this particular car is an inspired choice, a 21st Century motorcar from a most traditional marque. Excited by the photos, I phoned Mike McElroy of Bentley Atlanta to find out what it takes to own your own Flying Spur. It’s the fastest sedan in the world, with a 552HP engine that starts at $169,990 base price with plenty of room to go higher for extras, he informed me. Extras like the hotel’s monogram on the interior leather. Nice.

If you’re inspired to try a ride in any of these rides, give me a call. If you want one for yourself later, call Mike.

Photo Credit (Top): The Peninsula Hong Kong

Photo Credit (Bottom): Raffles Hotel, Singapore

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