Budget hotels making waves

By THE STAR

A HOTEL room from as low as 99 sen to RM60 per night?

Over the past few months, the name Tune Hotels has hit the headlines with its no-frills facilities and rock-bottom prices but without compromising on quality.

Like AirAsia, the low-budget no-frills airline, Tune Hotels is poised to make waves and capture a huge market. Local and foreign tourists, including outstation visitors, can expect value-for-money accommodation that is clean, comfortable and secured.

Indeed, it is time that we took a hard look at the state of our budget hotels that often conjure up a sleazy, unclean and unsafe image.

Tune Hotels will set the pace for more branded value-based hotel chains in the country. It is also good news for the property development industry and the property market, as old or vacant buildings can be turned into these hotels. Besides creating value, the presence of a properly run hotel can also enhance the image of a place and bring other economic benefits.

For example, since the opening of a nice budget hotel in Bandar Bukit Puchong a few years ago, things have improved for the row of vacant and badly vandalised shop offices there.

The advent of such hotel chains may also spur property developers to sell purpose-built budget hotels to cater to a niche market.

Travellers may notice that many of the three-star hotels in China are like our five-star hotels. They are big, new and offer a wide range of facilities and services.

On the contrary, many European hotels, including four-star or first-class hotels, do not even provide slippers, bathrobes, kettles and toilet kits.

One of the best chains of no-frills business hotels that I have stayed in is the Toyoko Inn in Japan. These Western-style hotels are very convenient for travellers, being located close to railway stations.

The service is excellent and the rooms are very clean and comfortable with facilities like Internet socket, air-conditioning, refrigerator, slippers, hair dryer, writing desk, water heater with humidifier, wardrobe, toilet kit, telephone, TV set, safe deposit box and a trouser press.

The hotel facilities include a free newspaper, ice maker, free lady’s cosmetic set, drinks and snack vending machine, coin-operated washing machine, faxing service and laundry (with charge). Free breakfast and Internet services at the lobby are also provided.

The price is very affordable. Instead of the usual rate of over RM1,000 per night for many business hotels in Tokyo, the rate for a single room per night at the Toyoko Inn Ikebukuro Kita-gushi – where I stayed for a week in April – was only 6,800 yen (7,140 yen including tax) or about RM200.

The Toyoko Inn, founded in 1986 and expanding rapidly since the 1990s, is headquartered between Tokyo and Yokohama and its name is a portmanteau of these two cities’ names.

The chain is also known for hiring almost all women and nearly all its managers are women. As of May 2006, it has 126 hotels (mostly in Japan) with rates of between 4,800 (RM134.40) and 6,800 (RM190.30) yen.

It aims to offer the traditional ryokan (Japanese inn) hospitality and comfort. It is able to keep costs low as it closely monitors and controls all costs with minimal staff (it has neither bell boy nor room service) and places bulk orders for good quality and reasonably priced furniture and fixtures.

Its subsidiary company specialises in designing the hotel buildings and maximising the number of rooms on each plot while preserving its usual floor area ratio.

Realising that a land owner may wish to extract maximum value from a plot which may be unsuitable for the construction of a condominium or office building, Toyoko Inn’s proposition is that the land owner finance the construction of the hotel building to its specification and then leases it under a 30-year lease and operates the hotel.

It’s a win-win deal as the owner receives a steady income while Toyoko Inn makes a satisfactory profit.

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