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Being one of my favorite cities, I have tried to keep Lijiang close to my chest for sometime because I was afraid that it would become too touristy and lose its charm. It would be apparent that my efforts were futile.  I have seen more and more about Lijiang in the press over the past year and now it seems that Lijiang has become everyone’s favorite destination.  Given that so many people are planning to go there, I’d like to write about it.

Lijiang’s Ancient Town is listed as a UNESCO protected World Heritage areas.  That means that there are strict rules applied when it comes to construction and landscaping.

In fact, Lijiang actually has three ancient cities.  The main one which is now very built up is Baisha.  Shuhe is about a 15 minute drive away and is much more relaxed and less crowded, while Dayan is even more quiet and not quite geared to tourism as the other two towns are.

Building a hotel in Lijiang requires that the company abide by the Ancient Town’s requirements in terms of architecture.  It must follow traditional Naxi architectural styles including colors and materials.  That means using wood, stone and using a lot of blacks, browns and grays. The hotel signage needs also to reflect the Naxi culture by exposing the name in three languages: Dongba writing, which is the traditional Naxi script, Chinese and English.

It is said that the Ancient Town has more than 5,000 guesthouses. There are only a handful of international brands operating there, however there are several more under development. We have spoken with these international brands who are here to develop, manage or both, about what it’s like to run a hotel in Lijiang.

Dolores Semeraro who is the LUX Branding and Communications Manager for Greater China told Hotel Intel.co that  ‘It is no surprise that LUX found it equally irresistible. As a young and dynamic organization, we have determined to grow our brand presence in China and to open a window onto one of China’s most spectacular and untouched wonders: the Tea Horse Road. Thanks to our partnership with the Lijiang Yulong Tourism Corporation Ltd., this ambition will become reality’*.

The Hilton Garden Inn has recently opened in Lijiang, owned by Yunan Shili Group and is managed by Hilton. It is a mid to upper-scale brand has noticed the growth of Lijiang tourism.

Lijiang continues to attract tourists from all over the world with its charm each year. Statistics show that about 14 million tourists visited Lijiang in 2014, which is 26 percent more than the year before. This presents a huge potential for the hospitality industry and opportunities for us to better serve the needs of travelers visiting this dynamic city’ said, Bruce McKenzie, Senior VP of Hilton worldwide for Greater China and Mongolia.

As Lijiang has been modernizing over the past decade, is there a risk that Lijiang will lose its uniqueness? Lioness Lu, MARCOM Manager of Pullman Lijiang believes that threats can be seen as advantages.

The modernizing phenomenon may threaten the local culture, but also bring the technology and convenience to tourists and locals alike. Local government also supports the maintenance of the unique Naxi culture.’ said Lu.

Semeraro commented further ‘The local government has been very strict in preserving the authenticity of the Ancient Town. National and international tourism is endorsing the local economy and is not affecting the quality of the experience while in Lijiang. The Ancient Town offers a variety of entertainment, from the most touristy to the less crowded narrow lanes where you can see the local people getting on with the daily duties’

General Manager Richard Neo of the Banyan Tree, Lijiang said ‘Lijiang will continue to grow and prosper. It will continue to be popular with both local and overseas tourists for its rich cultural heritage, it’s ethnic minority mix and most of all the picturesque wonders of Mother Nature the city has to offer. With the opening of the International airport, it opens more travel opportunities for travelers to come visit the city. The train station and the new highways are also business opportunities for Lijiang’.

While there are opportunities and Lijiang seems to have a bright future, there are also some challenges for hoteliers. ‘I see few challenges especially during my stint in Lijiang like international schools and accommodations that are more suitable especially for the expat communities. I am sure they are being looked into and improved through the years.  So as we move along into the near future, I can see Lijiang is all geared up to meet the challenges ahead’ Richard added.

Hilton’s Bruce McKenzie mentioned that 80% of Hilton Garden Inn Lijiang’s employees are local. ‘One of our biggest challenges is attracting and retaining talent. However, Hilton Worldwide provides excellent training and development for our team members in China to ensure consistent service delivery’

If you have a right partner, with a right location, target to the right market, Lijiang is the place to invest.

I had a great experience staying in Lijiang. I only visited one hotel among the others I mentioned in this article – it’s still a very beautiful place I just hope it won’t turn to be a touristy place like … Bangkok?.