Le Grand, a magnificent hotel in Paris overlooking the Opera house, has been sold to Qatari-backed Constellation Hotels for €330 million ($405 million) by its American owner, InterContinental Hotels. Le Grand was inaugurated in 1862 by Eugenie, the wife of the last emperor of France, Napoleon III. The hotel’s new owners pledge to spend €60 million to renovate the building.
They will have to. There is a arms race going on between the great hotels in Paris at the moment, each trying to outdo the other. The swankiest have all been closed for renovation at the same time.
The Ritz—featured in the works of Hemingway and Fitzgerald—has been undergoing a €140-million renovation since 2012 and was due to open this year, but is now targeting spring 2015. Before its revamp, the building wasn’t touched since 1979; it will soon feature a restaurant under a removable glass roof. Hotel Plaza Athenee reopened this summer after a €200-million expansion and Hotel de Crillon is in the midst of its own two-year facelift.
What is prompting all this change in Paris, the city that never changes? In short, interlopers from the East.
Since 2010, a string of new and renovated hotels backed by Asian and Middle Eastern companies have opened and redefined what luxury is, appealing to the high standards expected by clientele back home. These include Le Royal Monceau, owned by a Qatari investment fund and operated by Singapore’s Raffles; new outposts from Hong Kong’s Shangri-La and Mandarin Oriental; and the Peninsula Paris, once known as the Hotel Majestic, run by another Hong Kong firm and boasting a $35,000-a-night penthouse.
These improvements were also prompted by an incident in 2010 when France decided to bestow a new designation of “palaces” on the best hotels—the Ritz, Crillon, and George V failed to make the cut, but the refurbished Le Royal Monceau did. As a result, Parisian top-end hotels are nearly all being transformed, and the main beneficiary will be the wealthy traveler with the finest spread in the world to choose from.