Yangon: Hospitality as Icon

Ever since the period of Colonial Rangoon, Yangon, like many other places in India, Hong Kong, and Singapore were prime locations of trade and globalization during the 20th century. Historically and present day speaking, bringing in travelers and giving them a hospitable place to stay has been a highly important strategy to attract trade and growth of economy. Today, as Yangon prepares to move towards becoming a more global city in business and trade, hotels are a primary factor of shaping the Yangon of the future.

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Known as one of Yangon’s oldest and most renown hotels since the colonial era, The Strand Hotel was built in 1901 owned by the Sarkies brothers whom were also involved with investments in the Raffles Hotels in Singapore and The E&O in Penang.1 Like Raffles Hotel in Singapore, The Strand Hotel was a flagship hotel with international standard hospitality that was ran to attract visitors from all over the world to come to Yangon since its construction. However, after the ages of changing ownership from private to public, the hotel was only properly revitalized in 1993 by a joint venture formed by Myanmar Hotels and Tourism Services and a group of Hong Kong investors led by Adrian Zecha. Zecha eventually withdrew the venture and the hotel has since been ran by the Singapore-based General Hotel Management.2

The Strand Hotel is situated in the heart of the colonial era buildings being surrounded by a fabric of Victorian and Edwardian architecture that has sustained for the past century. In the past, this hotel had attracted international caliber and the likes of people including George Orwell, Noël Coward, Rudyard Kipling and Britain’s Prince Edward VIII and more.3 Today, the hotel stands as a majestically renovated piece of architecture that is meant to keep the colonial essence of one of the primary locations for passer-by’s and visitors to Yangon. However, quoting David Wordsworth, an architect involved in the major renovation of the hotel in 1993, he mentions that “the renovation works, the possibility of faithful restoration was curtailed by the lack of documentary evidence.”2 In fact, the hotel was redesigned with contemporary features of a grand ballroom, a spacious lounge, enlarged rooms, as well as a retail mall.

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The Strand Hotel redevelopment is one of the first projects that caught the eye of foreign stakeholders that foresee a growth in culture and tourism in Yangon since the colonial era as the city turned towards globalization. It gives us a benchmark and a furthermore understanding of what identity and value colonial-era hotels hold to Yangon’s foreign investors and how these spaces are slowly shaping the worldview of Yangon in a perhaps more gentrified and less culturally sensitive manner. These buildings, once crumbling without any maintenance, have become a symbol of stature, trade, and elitism that begs to ask the question whether it distances itself from the local or not.

 

 

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