On October 18, 1986, Queen Elizabeth II visited Guangzhou and attended a reception banquet at the White Swan Hotel, where she was served authentic Cantonese dishes. For more than three decades, the White Swan Hotel has received many different heads of state and politicians, including the former US president Richard Nixon, the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf.
Queen Elizabeth II attends a reception banquet at the White Swan Hotel in 1986. [Photo/White Swan Hotel]
In fact, what perhaps makes the White Swan Hotel even more renowned and an indispensable part of China’s hotel industry is that the construction and development of the hotel itself serves as one of the most direct examples of China’s reform and opening up.
Pioneer of the five-star hotel in China
In the 1970s, more and more foreigners swarmed to Guangzhou in order to attend the increasingly popular Canton Fair. At that time, there were only a very few hotels offering relatively low standards of accommodation in Guangzhou, not to mention other places in Guangdong. Therefore, each time the Canton Fair was held, the demand for hotel rooms outstripped supply.
In order to solve the accommodation problem, the government had to motor the guests to the nearby Panyu, Conghua or Foshan for the night. However, vehicles also turned out to be insufficient, so motors were borrowed from other cities. After a certain period, even this method failed to settle the increasing visitors’ accommodation matter.
The White Swan Hotel is located at the Shamian Island, Liwan District, Guangzhou. [Photo/White Swan Hotel]
As a pioneer city in China’s program of reform and opening up, Guangzhou was in urgent need of international high-end hotels. Henry Fok, a Hong Kong businessman who’s ancestral roots can be traced back to Guangzhou’s Panyu, was invited by the State Council to partake in this development opportunity. After several tours of investigation, Henry Fok deemed Shamian Island as the optimal location for China’s first five-star hotel, the White Swan.
The White Swan Hotel was built to and from the outset, strictly operated to the standards expected of an international five-star hotel. Back then, whilst the hotel was under construction, many building materials were still unavailable in China, and as such Henry Fok specially hired people to import those materials from abroad. According to a retired employee of the hotel, all the staff were carefully trained to walk, stand, sit and serve in a professional and dignified manner.
Setting the bar high like this resulted in the White Swan Hotel becoming the first hotel in China that was admitted membership of Leading Hotels of the World in 1985, only two short years after it first opened in 1983. It also became the benchmark five-star hotel for the hotel industry in Guangdong, its influence even felt throughout the whole of China. Since then, increasing numbers of five-star hotels have opened in Guangzhou, starting with the China Hotel in 1984, and Garden Hotel in 1985.