Affordability leads the way

Midscale hotel brands are rising in popularity as a new generation of budget-conscious travellers seek to unlock greater value than ever from their hotel stays. TTG Asia gets travel agents to shed light on the latest affordable hotel trends, plus a look at new offerings in the segment.

The LIving Room

Donna Kessler, managing director, Tourism Portfolio, Australia
How do you select affordable hotels?
I select affordable hotels based on positive past experiences, market reputation, location, facilities and most importantly, my clients’ specific needs. Some prefer big chains like Marriott, Hilton or Accor which are increasingly diversifying into mid- and lower-range offerings while others are inclined to independent hotels.

The Living Room

Customers now seek quality and value for money, not luxury, moving away from the large impersonal rooms of the traditional luxury properties, and towards trendy and technology-friendly hotels regardless of their star category rating.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
Mid-market hotels need to emerge as trendy, designer properties focused on providing facilities such as clean rooms, great and free Wi-Fi, and accessibility via various technology platforms, but often hotel owners do not invest in these requirements.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in Australia?
There are plenty of new two- to four-star brands by the big chains, e.g. Aloft, Doubletree, Tru and ibis. Chains like Best Western and Choice Hotels have combined over 350 properties, and there are multiple Australian hotel brands including Quest, Rydges, Clarion, Breakfree and Medina. Hotel groups such as TFE are using Airbnb as a an alternative distribution channel with 141,000 listings in Australia.

Tina Tabram, accommodation manager, Arinex, Australia
How do you select affordable hotels?
As clients become savvier, wherever possible we will offer two tiers of affordable hotels. One tier sits at around 3.5 stars and has the modern comforts expected of a hotel these days, while the second option sits at around the three-star mark for guests who care less about aesthetics and just want a private space with a bed.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
There aren’t enough modern, affordable hotels in the CBD locations. Generally they tend to be a little older, and sometimes they sacrifice regular upgrades to keep costs down. In Sydney where there is a shortage of rooms, even the affordable hotels are often priced at five-star levels, which can make it hard to attract international visitors due to the cost of travel.

Are there solid affordable hotel brands in Australia?
Overall, no. Some brands are emerging brands to combat the affordability issue in the CBD areas with innovative product and service offerings, such as Holiday Inn Express, ibis Styles and smaller brands like Metro Hotels and Pensione hotels. Regionally, there are a lot more affordable options available, generally in motel-style properties. Choice Hotels and Best Western have a good selection of properties across regional locations.

Miles Garrett, general manager, Khiri Travel Cambodia
How do you select affordable hotels?
We select hotels that have a good mix of pleasant environment, sustainability practices, location and price. We are very lucky in Cambodia with so many beautiful and affordable locally-owned boutique hotel options and rarely, if ever, need to work with international brands.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
Sometimes it is a race to the bottom and the affordable hotel market segment forgets that price is not the only factor, particularly in regard to taking green initiatives, food quality and service.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in Cambodia?
Yes, more than enough.

A rendering of an Asai property, which mixes work and play in common areas

Savath Mao, general manager, Peak DMC, Cambodia
How do you select affordable hotels?
We try to find small, boutique, family-style hotels that offer between 50 and 100 rooms. They are usually not established worldwide brands but are well-known in the country. Cambodia has a very good variety of three- to four-star hotels.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in Cambodia?
A lot of affordable hotels have grown in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in the last few years. More remote areas like Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri and Koh Kong have limited options, but it will take time to grow.

Gunther Homerlein, general manager, Destination China, Hong Kong
How do you select affordable hotels?
We select affordable hotels when clients’ budgets preclude them from five-star hotels or above. If their budget is all used up on hotels in an expensive destination like Hong Kong, it prevents us from being able to offer good programmes and restaurants. Eaton Smart, Jen Hotel, Holiday Inn Express and the Island Pacific Hotel come to mind as good options.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
A paucity of affordable hotel brands in central locations. If clients want an affordable hotel near the city centre, the rooms are tiny. In Hong Kong, the star category of hotels doesn’t matter, the size does – that 200ft2 is HK$2,000, 300ft2 is HK$3,000 and 400ft2 is HK$4,000. This makes it very challenging to accommodate twin-sharing requests from the Western markets.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in Hong Kong?
Definitely not, but neither is there the space to add. Hong Kong’s energy is a draw for visitors, but it is also crowded and expensive as space is a premium. These elements clash quite a bit in the affordable hotels marketplace.

Monas Tjahjono, managing director, Monas Tours & Travel, Indonesia
How do you select affordable hotels?
Tour operator partners look for affordable hotels with new or refreshed rooms. They do not like hotels with too many frills, as their clients just need a place to sleep and spend most of their time outside the hotel.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
Sometimes, even international brands are no guarantee of the service standards across different locations.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in Indonesia?
Mid-scale hotels are aplenty, be it in primary or secondary cities. Both international and Indonesian homegrown brands have been opening in secondary cities, and many of them have four-star facilities at three-star pricing too. Some clients even think that three-star properties in Indonesia are good enough, so they can reduce room expenses and spend more on tours.

Adjie Wahjono, operations manager, Aneka Kartika Tours & Travel Services, Indonesia
How do you select affordable hotels?
For our European clients, it really depends on location. When they do an overland trip in Java or Sulawesi, for example, they look for minimum comfort – clean and comfortable bedding, shower, TV set, air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi. In these areas, they usually spend most of their time travelling and need the hotel just to rest.

On the other hand, travellers do not mind paying more for midmarket hotels in a resort destination. As they want to relax in the hotel, facilities like restaurants, bars, pools and/or beach are required.

To some travellers, it is easier to relate to international brands like Ibis and Novotel. Having said that, many recognise established homegrown brands such as Santika and Aston.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
There are too many hotel brands in the market, both international and home-grown hotel chains. Introduction is sometimes needed for clients for the brands unfamiliar to them but which actually meet the criteria of their needs.

Philippe Wauquaire, sales coordinator, The J Team DMC, Japan
How do you select affordable hotels?
We select hotels according to the client’s budget, requirements and facilities needed, and their preferred location. We use hotels such as MyStays, Hearton, Mitsui Garden, Monterey and Hankyu. Customers now expect more for less, and seem to be booking at shorter notice than a few years ago.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
Increased competition. Airbnb is certainly slowly changing the game, too. There are still not enough rooms for large groups at some properties and a lack of affordable hotels in some cities. Looking towards the Rugby World Cup 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, we are experiencing larger price increases in the affordable hotels segment that are making the request for “affordable” somewhat of a challenge to deliver.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in Japan?
Although the three-star market segment probably has the biggest supply, it is still difficult to book these hotels at certain times of the year, particularly in Kyoto.

Ally Bhoonee, executive director, World Avenues, Malaysia
How do you select affordable hotels?
We determine what is affordable for our clients based on their budgets and purchasing power, then select hotels that offer good service and location within these parameters. We mostly use local independent hotels, such as Hotel Sentral Pudu, Flamingo Hotel By The Beach, Penang and Fave Hotel Penang.

Travellers from the Middle East, our main inbound market, are now more cost-conscious. Most will choose four-star hotels. They also do their research online and tell us exactly which hotel they wish to stay in.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
Some local properties, especially in the three-star category, are not well structured. They do not have dedicated personnel to handle specific departments. It can be frustrating when you are seeking answers on the phone and get pushed around.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in Malaysia?
There are enough four-star brands in key touristy destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi but not enough quality three-star hotels providing good service in these destinations.

Manfred Kurz, managing director, Diethelm Travel Malaysia
How do you select affordable hotels?
We look for hotels that provide very good service at reasonable rates, based on our site inspections and from online guest reviews. We use both independent and chain hotels such as ibis and Swiss-Inn.

A trend among European customers is the growing appeal of small hotels with personalised service. They like boutique hotels with 20-30 rooms as opposed to large properties with a few hundred rooms.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
The upkeep of the hotel. Owners don’t place much importance on renovations and refurbishments, and as a result the establishments often look rundown.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in Malaysia?
There is not enough affordable hotels outside of Kuala Lumpur. Destinations such as Sabah, Sarawak, Langkawi and Penang need more affordable hotels.

JP Cabalza, inbound manager, Corporate International Travel and Tours, Philippines
How do you select affordable hotels?
If clients ask for prices, we give a combination of boutique and high-end properties. Customers have an overview of the hotels from online reviews, and they visit hotel websites and OTA reviews.

In El Nido, Palawan, within the LIO Estate are new properties that are great in design and location: Hotel Covo Hotel, Casa Kalaw and Balai Adlao. Artstream Hospitality Management’s boutique hotels Hotel Luna is a good one in Vigan. In Makati, boutique Hotel Celeste has individually designed rooms in specific European style. The Henry in Cebu and Pasay in Metro Manila appeal with their rustic setting and individually-decorated rooms.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
The limited facilities like lifts available on-site, and thin walls that cannot block outside noise from the rooms.

Irene Maliwanag, general manager, Boris Travel, Philippines
How do you select affordable hotels?
We take note of what our travellers want – cleanliness, Wi-Fi availability, full-board meals and airport transfers, etc. They know what they want and have knowledge of the hotels from the Internet. In Palawan, Hotel Covo in El Nido and One Manalo Place in Puerto Princesa are good options as clients are satisfied with them. Also, Hennan Hotel in Bohol and Boracay.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
Steep price fluctuation but there are resorts like Hennan, for instance, which rarely increase the rates for the whole year and gives almost the same price for next year.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in the Philippines?
Yes, there’s a growing number of affordable hotels to meet the growing demand.

Maureen Goh, manager, Asian Compass Travel, Singapore
How do you select affordable hotels?
We choose hotels based on the customers’ budgets. Some don’t mind three-star hotels as long as the rooms are clean and near what they come for. For instance, Eastern European groups like to stay in the Clarke Quay area for its nightlife offerings, so we work with hotels like Grand Park City Hall and Park Regis.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
Hotels are not that affordable during peak periods, especially during the Golden Week. Some hotels have small room sizes, so we make sure to tell our guest the room sizes in advance to avoid disappointment.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in Singapore?
Yes, definitely enough. Many new names have opened and there are more hotels now than ever before. Because of greater competition, hotels are also now more flexible with their timing and budget. They listen to our clients’ budgets and try to meet them if they can.

M Social Singapore’s Loft Premier room

Judy Lum, general manager, Diethelm Travel (Singapore)
How do you select affordable hotels?
Defining the customer’s demographic is important to ensure the right match. As agents, we take a proactive approach to find out about the hotel and what the social network platforms are saying about it. Customers look for more than just price but also ratings and comments on social media platforms on the property to help them make an informed decision.

Issues in affordable hotels segment
International chains practically blindside local DMCs by forging direct deals with overseas tour operators. If that doesn’t hurt enough, they offer a rate parity. The local independent brands and hotel groups tend to support the DMCs better, at least for now. I see many smaller, independently owned and boutique hotels over-extend themselves to OTAs and have to pay high commissions begrudgingly as they become dependent on them.

Are there enough affordable hotel brands in Singapore?
(There are) more than enough, but these hotels price themselves higher than affordable. I suppose it is a demand and supply situation but they should ensure consistency so that the DMCs can support them better.

Reporting by S Puvaneswary, Pamela Chow, Marissa Carruthers, Adelaine Ng, Mimi Hudoyo, Rosa Ocampo and Julian Ryall


New affordable kids on the block

Ansa Hotels & Resorts, Malaysia
Ansa Hotels & Resorts will roll out thelivingroom Hotel, a three-star, limited-service hospitality concept, by end 2019 with the first property in Kuala Lumpur.

Optimising efficiency of space and resources will be a key theme at thelivingroom hotels, with services such as flexible check-in service and a 24-hour breakfast.

Rooms come in one configuration only at a standard 25m2 size, and in-room space is innovatively used – a full-sized queen bed, which, when not in use, can be reclined back to the wall to transform into a study desk, and a three-seater sofa that opens up into a double bed.

Asai Hotels, Thailand
Dusit International has unveiled Asai Hotels, a new affordable lifestyle brand targeted at the millennial-minded.

Asai properties will feature compact rooms of about 15m2 each, a mixed-use space offering work and leisure areas, and a restaurant. Each Asai hotel will also leverage technology, availing self check-in kiosks and online guides to local attractions.

The debuting property, Asai Chatuchak, will open in Bangkok’s Chatuchak weekend market in 1Q2019. Five more Asai hotels are expected to launch in 2019 – three in Cebu (in Lapu-Lapu, Oslob and the city centre); one in Yangon; and a second hotel in Bangkok in the Sathorn district.

Veriu Hotels, Australia
A “bespoke collection of neighbourhood hotels” is how Veriu describes itself in Australia’s hotel scene. Locally owned and launched in 2016, four Veriu hotels and a fifth unbranded accommodation currently dot the Sydney landscape, with three more to launch next year.
Veriu says its four-star brand attracts guests thanks to its quirkiness, locations and unique inclusions like free Netflix, barista coffee and pastry, speedy Internet, complimentary sparkling and filtered water, and free Veriu bikes plus access to other Veriu hotels for co-working purposes.

M Social, Singapore
Seated in Robertson Quay along the Singapore River, M Social Singapore is Millennium Hotels and Resorts’ answer to the millennial traveller segment, with its youthful and tech-savvy identity underlined with a contemporary design by Philippe Starck.

The hotel employs Aura, an autonomous service delivery robot that delivers amenities to the guestrooms. In-house restaurant Beast & Butterflies features Ausca, an autonomous service chef robot that prepares eggs for guests.

M Social Singapore is the first M Social property, and New Zealand is now home to M Social Auckland. M Social Suzhou is planned for a 2019 opening.

Hotel Cozi Oasis (opening 3Q2018)

Cozi Hotel, Hong Kong
Launched in 2017 by Tangs Living Group, Hotel Cozi features an eclectic collection of midscale hotels designed in contemporary styles and homey atmosphere.

Each Cozi property has its own personality and unique features create with guests’ comfort in mind. Hotel Cozi Wetland (debuted in September 2017) in Tin Shui Wai is a blend of nature and city, while Hotel Cozi Harbour View overlooks the Victoria Harbour.

Hotel Cozi Oasis (opening 3Q2018) will boast facilities such as restaurant and bar, gym, spa, meeting and conference space, and Hotel Cozi Resort (opening 4Q2018) will be suited for staycations with kids’ facilities and themed rooms.

MAADS, Cambodia
Design lies at the heart of MAADS hotels. Sitting at the top-end of its portfolio is Templation, offering an affordable slice of eco-luxury on the doorstep of Angkor. In Phnom Penh, The Pavilion is a collection of four period buildings; Kabiki is a boutique family-friendly garden resort; Blue Lime is a stylish 23-room urban hotel; while Tea House combines classic Chinese designs with modern urban style.

MAADS’ offerings also span hidden locations, with Kirirom Hill Station, two mountain chalets with six rooms and suites in a pine forest. The Floating Suite offers a boutique experience in a detached bungalow on the Mekong River, opposite the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

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