Hotel Review – Leisure City International Hotel (Beijing, China)

Since winning the Olympic bid seven years ago, host city Beijing has scrambled to build or promote hotel properties in time for the Games. One of these is the Leisure City International Hotel, part of a large resort property 20 kilometers north of downtown Beijing. According to the beleaguered Cartan Tours, who chose Leisure City as one of its official properties for the 2008 Games, the hotel has been open for two years but has not adequately marketed itself to North Americans until now. Reported guests at the property during the Games include the U.S. national fencing coach and 1992 gymnastics Olympic gold medalist Trent Dimas; the venue also hosted reality show contestants of Jackie Chan’s “The Disciple,” which tested potential martial arts stars for his film company.

The Leisure City is one of four hotels in the sprawling Hong Fu Industrial Park in the Chang Ping District of Beijing. The complex, which boasts the Hot Spring Leisure City – the property’s best-known landmark, as far as cab drivers are concerned, with 50 hot springs and a number of therapeutic treatments – is an interesting first attempt to emulate the giant spa resorts in other countries long accustomed to providing relaxing hospitality packages to tourists. During the day, the traditional architecture, lion sculptures, fountains and bridges make for a nice stroll on the grounds. The hotel rooms come in two types: a traditional room inside the hotel equipped with a computer for Internet access (fellow guests reported mixed results with this), and separate cabin areas with private outdoor hot spring baths surrounding greenery and small gazebos.

The hotel has two major restaurants, one that specializes in unmemorable Chinese cuisine (the Peking Duck, which is supposed to be a local specialty, was particularly dry) and one that specializes in Western cuisine that serves a delicious buffet-style breakfast featuring both Western and Chinese dishes. (Lo mein and hash browns – not together, mind you! – didn’t raise this author’s eyebrows as it did for most!) The chefs for the latter took great care to observe which dishes were the most popular and prepared accordingly.

But if the Leisure City’s goal is to attract North American tourists, it has a long way to go. Its distant location means that the hotel has to be extra diligent about catering to its guests. Instead of playing up its role in a large complex with a spa, a conference center and other facilities, the hotel markets itself with two different names in Chinese: one that emphasizes its “international” aspect, and another lesser-used name (the phonetics are “Wen Du Shui Cheng”) that is apparently much more familiar to locals and a nod to the nearby hot springs spa. This caused quite a bit of confusion for cab drivers trying to take guests back to the hotel, and the miniscule font on the maps provided by Leisure City didn’t help one bit. (It’s a bad sign when drivers at the airport don’t want to attempt to take you to the hotel because they don’t know where it is.) While there is a bus stop in front of the hotel, the No. 5 subway line is not within walking distance.

The hotel markets itself in literature written both in English and simplified Chinese, but the English-speaking abilities of most staff do not extend beyond the most commonly-used pleasantries – a far cry from places like the Sofitel Hyland Shanghai, where I stayed the week beforehand and whose front-desk staff are much more polished and precise. Another example of this language barrier is when I stated to three staff members that I didn’t need turn-down service, but workers came into the room and provided it anyway.

The rooms, while decent, are not up to the standard of a four-star hotel. Plenty of amenities are provided (including two daily complimentary bottles of water, since Chinese tap water is undrinkable and not to be consumed) and the beds are comfortable, but every day it seemed like a different electrical outlet was out of working order. A sign warns against keeping the door open for too long due to mosquitoes, but the pesky insects somehow found their way through the cracks anyway.

The biggest issue, however, is the doors. Guests are issued electronic key cards where, in most cases, a quick insertion into a slot followed by a green light will unlock the door. Here, one has to push the handle downward, wait for a red light to appear, tap the card against said light, then wait for a beep and a green light for the door to be unlocked. This works about 50 percent of the time, an unnecessary additional ball of stress for guests coming back from, say, a late-night Olympic event. The staff does not take the time to teach guests how to use these keys, and the English instructions on the card are not exactly self-explanatory. Initially, this posed an even bigger problem because the complex was not properly-lit when darkness fell; although the hotel employs guards around the clock, this still did not provide much security, particularly when one of these guards was, I kid you not, a measly 4’6” in height. It was only after I requested, and was denied, a room change for safety reasons that the complex suddenly became well-lit in the late evenings, even with heavy rainfall. But whether that is a short-term fix remains to be seen.

As it stands now, the Leisure City International Hotel still appears to be a property for domestic and Asian citizens who want to take advantage of the nearby hot springs. But for others, it’s pretty safe to say that accommodations in the heart of town would be a much better choice.

Leisure City International Hotel, Hong Fu Industrial Park, Chang Ping District, Beijing, China. Phone: 86.10.8178.8888. Fax: 86.10.8178.7788. Web site: http://www.wendushuicheng.com/.