Just a half hour from Shanghai by speed train, the ancient Chinese city of Suzhou has long been renowned for two things — its quaint system of canals which earned it the reputation of being the Venice of the East (a moniker supposedly coined by Marco Polo), and apparently, its long history of producing beautiful women.
One informal study (so don’t quote us on this) has attributed the preponderance of pretty women there to the region’s mild humidity and typically cloudy skies, which have helped the fairer sex maintain youthful and fair complexions. Another investigated further and concluded that their attractiveness is due to the fact that the local women tended to have oval-shaped faces, which was naturally more attractive.
However, whatever the reasons, we weren’t visiting the city to verify this claim. Instead, we were here to discover Starwood’s brand-new Element Suzhou Science and Technology Town, which is the first of its kind in Asia Pacific, arguably one of the fastest growing and most dynamic travel markets in the world.
What it is:
Despite being located in the heart of Suzhou National New & Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone, the first thing we noticed about the hotel when approaching it is the fact that it is practically surrounded by water, giving it the illusion of glowing twin glass cubes rising out of the waters. And it wasn’t just some artificial moat that’s only for show though, as we spied amateur anglers casting their lines into the waters.
Constructed specifically with the intention of being eco-friendly, Element represents Starwood’s response to travellers’ increasing awareness of being mindful of their carbon footprint while travelling. As such, this purpose-built hotel has adopted a proactive approach when it comes to being green. In fact, from check-in to check-out, all Element hotels are set to offer healthy, active travellers a smart and sustainable stay, designed to fuel a balanced life while on the road.
For instance, Element Suzhou features the SPG Keyless Check-In — the hospitality industry’s first mobile, keyless entry system that allows guests to use their smartphone as a key. Aside from being environmentally friendly, this means you don’t have to worry about whether you brought along your keycard each time you step out of your room (although you certainly also shouldn’t forget your phone!).
This innovation should certainly be welcome by savvy travellers. As Stephen Ho, President of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Asia Pacific reveals, “recent studies have shown that consumers are becoming increasingly interested in environmentally-friendly practices and products, as well as sustainable living. We are confident that the stylish and sustainable Element brand ethos that modern design flows from nature will resonate with travellers and meet that demand.”
How it looks:
With a respect towards nature and green spaces, and taking inspiration from Suzhou traditional gardens, the hotel created lush landscapes and green arteries through the stacking of courtyards, including two vertical landscape atriums located in the building and one above-water courtyard. These serve to integrate the circulation, space, gardens with surrounding environment and light, which in turn introduces an airy and inviting space for guests to feel relaxed and close to the outdoors.
Indeed, the light-filled public areas boast a calming atmosphere, which is further underscored by the natural colour palette of nudes and pastel greens employed that give the hotel an organic openness that perfectly complements the architecture and weightless feeling of the space. This sense of spaciousness extends to the 188 rooms and suites which all feature wall-to-wall windows and earthy tones of beiges, creams and browns.
What is pretty amazing is the fact that each room comes with a well-equipped energy-efficient kitchen and Starwood essentials such as the plush signature Heavenly Beds, spa-inspired baths and separate invigorating rain showers and all natural bath amenities. In line with the brand’s environmentally-friendly initiatives, housekeeping has done away with soap and shampoo bottles, and instead installed convenient dispensers in the bathrooms (which apparently are so popular that guests have requested to buy them).
As Starwood’s eco-innovation lab, each room also features a work space and high-tech office and entertainment equipment, with complimentary internet access and a one-stop connectivity solution that allows guests to hook up portable electronics to their in-room TV — because seriously, who doesn’t travel with their laptop and iPad, right?
How it’s green:
Element hotel is one of the first hotel brands requiring all of its hotels brand-wide to pursue U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Certification, and certainly, the ELEMENT hotel concept makes it chic and easy for guests to be eco-friendly while on the road. For a start, the hotel features energy efficient stainless steel appliances and lighting, water-efficient faucets and fixtures, and bins for paper, plastic and glass — all with the intention of making recycling easy.
The hotel also uses low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints and carpets with up to 100% recycled content, and also anti-microbial carpet pads which improve indoor air quality for both guests and staff alike. With their unwavering commitment to providing an eco-chic experience, Element makes it easy to be environmentally responsible without having to sacrifice a great guest experience. So yes, you can expect to continue to indulge in guilty pleasures in your room, such as a bed that you will never want to get out of and chic bathrooms with oversize albeit water-efficient shower-heads.
Staying on the move is also a breeze with the hotel’s state-of-the-art 24-hour fitness centre, and an utterly relaxing indoor saline swimming pool, as well as complimentary bikes for rent, which encourages guest to explore the nearby sights, while staying healthy and active.
As Brian McGuinness, Starwood’s Global Brand Leader, succintly sums up, “Element hotels are designed to be as appealing aesthetically as they are eco-friendly, so travellers never compromise on style and comfort.” And indeed, the brand has redefined the green category with its strong DNA which includes light-filled atmospheres, eco-minded design and a commitment to innovation.