When the former Stamford Plaza on Lower Albert Street changed hands in December, its new owners had something special in mind.
The consortium, led by CP Group and including Alvarium Investments and Archipelago Capital, had just paid $170 million – a New Zealand record for a hotel sale – to Singaporean billionaire Chio Kiat Ow for the building.
That something special came in the form of the new JW Marriott, the 100th hotel operating under that brand and Marriott International’s second in the city, after the Four Points by Sheraton.
It’s unlikely to be the last, as the group has signalled plans for hotels in Queenstown, Wellington and Christchurch and “a few more” in Auckland.
The JW iteration is named after John Willard Marriott, founder of a group that boasts a portfolio of more than 8,600 hotels under 30 brands globally. A thousand of those are in the Asia-Pacific region.
The keys to the 286-room Auckland hotel – the building is also home to 149 privately owned apartments called The Residences, which weren’t part of the deal – were handed over to the new owners on Dec 6.
Nine days later, the CP and Marriott teams had done enough to put up the JW Marriott sign, after the property had undergone a swift transition, replete with new furniture and upgraded entertainment systems.
About 560 beds that had been used during the covid pandemic by guests in managed isolation and quarantine were distributed to charities.
The hotel now has its sights set on a full makeover in line with its high-end status, where it rubs shoulders with Marriott peers the St Regis, Ritz-Carlton and slightly edgier W Hotels.
Those plans include a complete upgrade of the hotel’s ground floor, opening a new restaurant and food and beverage offering, and revamping every one of its rooms.
That is expected to cost between $20m and $25m, pushing up the "per key" rate to $700,000.
Turnaround time 'unheard of'
The hotel’s general manager, Girish Talreja, said the first stage of the upgrade has included a refreshed lobby, renovations to the kitchen and bar, all new beds post MIQ, and "soft" branded amenities, such as luxury robes and slippers, high-end hairdryers and aromatherapy toiletries.
Talreja, who has been with the Marriott group for 20 years and moved to Auckland from Melbourne’s Marriott Hotel Docklands, said the turnaround time to reopening was “unheard of”.
Upgrading floor by floor
The next stage will see a “mockup” prototype room installed within a few weeks, a process which will see every element of the current room set-ups change, from bathroom and light fixtures to floorboards and wallpaper.
To minimise disruption to guests, the upgrades will take place floor by floor, with the first rooms available for bookings from late September.
Next year, the huge downstairs lobby and bar area will be opened up. The bar area will swivel into what is the current dining area, and a new restaurant/speakeasy will occupy the 600 sqm space that was formerly home to the Grasshopper Bar and Restaurant.
I think it’s great already. It has one of the best breakfast buffets I’ve enjoyed in the city – highlighted by heaps of locally sourced fruit, cheeses and produce and barista-made coffee. The chef's "omelette with everything" set me and my companion up for the rest of the day.
The best was yet to come, when we took up an invitation to the JW "culinary" afternoon tea, featuring savouries such as beautiful orange and lime tea-infused salmon, smoked duck breast, green tomato, egg and truffle.
The sweets tray included a mini raspberry and vanilla éclair, an opera gateau, and green tea macaroon and scones.
That all comes in at $69 a head, or $85 with a "tea-inspired" cocktail of the day.
Once the renovations are complete, Marriott loyalists will have access to the hotel’s executive lounge. Globally, the loyalty club is huge – it has 160 million members – and it's a major source of guests for Marriott properties worldwide.
Although Auckland's is an older hotel, the room sizes are generous, running from the 36-square-metre deluxe king rooms to a 133sqm presidential suite. The rates range from $275 a night to about $1,200 for the suite.
Talreja describes the upgrades to the suites as “classy and ambitious”. They will clearly be – the rates will ramp up to $8,000 for the JW Marriott Suite and more than $12,000 for the presidential.
Rates, however, tend to vary according to demand. Talreja likens the protocol to charging for an airline seat. “No two passengers on an aircraft are paying exactly the same fare, despite being on the same flight. We’re a few years behind that but we are moving towards that model, across leisure, luxury and retail markets.”
Hotel manager Jai Leighton said one of the main points of difference with the JW brand is its JW family, JW secret and JW garden offerings. In the Auckland property, the hotel is planning to position its garden, which provides chefs with an on-site herb garden, on the rooftop.
It currently houses an indoor pool and gym area, so it could also be upgraded into a "spa by JW".
Leighton, who came to Auckland after a two-year stint converting the Marriott Gold Coast to a JW property, said the renovations, once completed, would bring something to the city that “really doesn’t exist”.
That process is expected to be finished by the middle of next year.
● BusinessDesk stayed at the JW Marriott Auckland as a guest of the hotel.