Hong Kong's legendary tennis player turned successful hotelier and entrepreneur John Hui is set to relaunch the brand new Fleming Hotel this coming October. He'll be unveiling the hotel's new look, which aims to be the city's first boutique hotel that truly reflects Hong Kong in its design. 66 spacious guest rooms will tell the story of Hong Kong's golden past. Artwork from local artists, wooden floors and navy blue and bottle green themes fitted with brass fixtures and accessories transports us back to the city's maritime heritage and industrial era of the 60's and 70's.
With the new face-lift, comes a different business approach, John explains "previously, we targeted more business travellers, but after the renovation, we not only want to attract business travellers, but also the younger and fashionable crowd that visit Hong Kong." The exciting collaboration with Black Sheep Restaurants is also a result of this new vision. The launch of Osteria Marzia, a coastal Italian restaurant headed by Chef Luca Marinelli will occupy ground floor space of the hotel and will be the restaurant group's first ever hotel collaboration.
In anticipation of the hotel reopening, we speak to John Hui for an exclusive sneak peek into what to expect from the new Fleming Hotel and learn more about his journey from a professional tennis player to hotelier.
Quintessentially: When was the turning point in your career and what triggered the switch from professional tennis to hospitality?
John Hui: I officially retired from tennis at the age of 24 as I wanted change in my life. I got married to my wife, Jackie (we dated for 8 years before tying the knot. I met her through tennis as she was also a top women's tennis player in Hong Kong) and I joined my family business. It may sound like I retired early, but in actual fact I had been playing tennis seriously since I was 10. Playing 4-6 hours a day, including fitness training, can be quite exhausting both mentally and physically!
My family had owned a serviced apartment for a number of years. Located conveniently close to the Hong Kong Convention Centre and within 20 minutes to all the main business districts in Hong Kong, I proposed the idea to change the property into a hotel... Living out of a suitcase for 10 months of the year during my tennis days moving constantly from hotel to hotel, gave me the invaluable firsthand experience that was needed to provide lots of constructive input where needed.
What would you say is the highlight of your career?
There were several notable highlights in my tennis career, which I am quite proud of. Achieving All-American status during my time at University, beating James Blake along the way, who reached a career high of number 4 in the world. Winning the bronze medal at the All China Games, as well as finishing 2nd in the Asian Championships. I feel very proud and honored to have been able to represent Hong Kong at the Asian Games, Davis Cup and the All China Games during my career. Being chosen as the flag bearer for Hong Kong at the All China Games was a great experience as well. Of course reaching a ranking of 157 is also quite special, as no other male tennis player has ever attained that ranking before or since, so far in Hong Kong.
What keeps you inspired?
I think doing business in Hong Kong keeps me inspired. Hong Kong is such a special city, as it is so fast paced in every aspect. If you are not alert and on the ball, it is very easy to fall behind the pack.
Having travelled the world and stayed in many hotels, which was your most impressionable hotel experience?
The life of a tennis player is not as glamorous as it appears – most of the hotels I stayed in during my tennis career were not the most luxurious or inspiring. Rather, I was able to figure out what I didn't like in a lot of those hotels!
My family and I love to go to Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives. The level of service that they provide is impeccable and they really go out of their way and go the extra mile to make our stay most memorable. They have 45 villas and on arrival, most of the staff know you by name already. Each villa is assigned a butler or "Mr or Mrs Friday" as they call it. There is no need to contact anyone else apart from the Mr or Mrs Friday and they are on call 24/7.
What do you feel was most challenging about growing The Fleming to where it is at today?
I suppose the biggest challenge is that being a small hotel with just 66 rooms, we don't have the brand recognition and marketing resources of larger hotels or hotel groups. We very much rely on word of mouth – and provide a good guest experience so that people want to come back and tell their friends about their stay.
Before we closed, many of our guests were return clients. We had a gained a number of cult followers that would book their rooms for the following year before they even left their current stay. Many of our previous clients have asked when we will be reopening again. Word of mouth was a big marketing tool for us.
With the relaunch of The Fleming, what are some of the key changes you've made? Why?
The design of the hotel is totally different to what we had previously. We really wanted to embrace Hong Kong's culture and heritage and based the design on nuances of Hong Kong's eclectic heritage… small side streets, cross harbour ferries, old industrial buildings, traditional bamboo scaffolding, etc, rather than to do something that you could see anywhere so that you might as well be in NY, LA or London.
We have a beautiful ground floor space with high ceilings, which we have now converted into a restaurant. We are partnering with Black Sheep Restaurants who are, in my opinion, the best restaurant group in Hong Kong at the moment. The cuisine will be coastal Italian. I'm sure they will do an amazing job!
What are some of the major changes you've seen in the hotel scene especially in Hong Kong?
Hotels have been springing up all over Hong Kong in recent years and in all shapes and sizes. It is really nice to see design leading the way HK hotels are redefining themselves. For many, many years it was all about big brands, the same colours and a feeling that you could be staying at any hotel in any part of the world. Technology is also playing a very important role in bookings and now more than 60% of our bookings come from an online source, whereas when we opened 10 years ago, online was less than 10% of our bookings. We will continue at the Fleming to embrace the technological side of things as it progresses.
What are your views on how social media and mobile have affected the way hotel business is run today?
This is very important to us at the Fleming and we invest a lot of time in working with the right people so that our content reaches the right demographic. After we open, we will be working with many social media influencers who are the right fit for The Fleming, believing that they will play an important role in promoting the hotel. We want to work with people who really understand the hotel and have a following that will also appreciate it.
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