Tangent: Korea Herald: Attitudes in Korea towards budget travelers: open up love hotels?

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Hi Blog. In light of the recent discussion we’ve been having about Japanese hotels, and some of their attitudes towards international travellers (many hotels refuse NJ or non-J speakers outright, claiming their lack of ability to provide service; see RELATED ARTICLE: Asahi/CNN: GOJ survey report: 38% of J hotels had no NJ guests in 2007, and 72% of those (as in 27%) don’t want NJ guests!), contrast with the situation in Korea and one columnist’s proposal.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

NB: Before anyone begins to suspect that I think everything in Korea is gravy compared to Japan, let me say this:  of course not. I just think that given the very strong cultural similarities between Korea and Japan, what may be possible as an alternative in Korea might be some bellwether for what’s possible here too. Is all.  If Japan really wants its Yokoso Japan! to work better, it could do worse than consider promoting more open-minded hotels for international clientele.  Instead of promoting exclusionary ones (like the Fukushima Prefectural Tourist Information Association did a couple years back), for example.


Howdy. I spotted this article on 1 person’s idea in Korea to open up cheap accommodations to foreigners: love motels. Some application to tourism in Japan and Japanese love hotels. (As an innkeeper, though, I should be worried about the idea of new competition for “Inbound” accommodation. On the other hand, if Kamesei can’t compete with love hotels, then there are other issues that need to be dealt with…)

B. Rgds, Tyler at Kamesei Ryokan, Nagano


“Love motels” offer more than “love”
By Brian Deutsch
The Korea Herald 2009.10.28


There’s been some talk about hotels and motels in the news recently, especially since Lee Charm, head of the Korea Tourism Organization, was criticized by a member of parliament for the country’s failure to provide budget accommodation to international travelers. One English-language paper indirectly quoted the lawmaker as saying “the nation is helpless in the face of the aggressive invasion of foreign budget hotels” and then said that one reason Korea can’t attract and keep foreign tourists is because accommodation is unsatisfactory.

But Korea’s lack of affordable rooms long predates Lee’s tenure. It isn’t a deficiency that can be blamed on foreign chains or foreigners-turned-Koreans, and it isn’t something that can be changed with a new slogan. Though international travellers might have few lodging options available to them, it’s helpful to learn about a fun, affordable alternative to expensive luxury hotels and overpriced tourist hotels.

International tourists relying on foreign-language information will have two choices for accommodation: rooms in luxury hotels that cost hundreds of dollars a night, and rooms in “tourist hotels” that average 100,000 won ($85) a night or more. Of course, outside of Seoul and Busan there is often nothing available for the person searching in English, Chinese or Japanese (languages spoken by almost all tourists visiting Korea).

The result: Tourists unwittingly find themselves paying twice as much for a place half as nice as the rooms hiding in plain sight.

An option I’ve always enjoyed is motels. You’ll rarely find information about them in English, but they’re certainly popular among Koreans – one recent estimate said there are 31,000 – and the newer ones are clean, conveniently-located, nicely-equipped, and a fraction of the cost of a tourist hotel.

Though they’re primarily used as a place to share an intimate moment, people are starting to realize they’re not only about sex. A Yonhap News piece in August looked at the ways motels have changed to attract not only clients looking for a few hours to get away, but people who want to relax in other ways. Competition has pushed motels to offer more, and, the piece says, “more and more motels are transforming their guest rooms into private entertainment places equipped with wide-screen TVs and other high-tech gadgets as a means of attracting clients.”

Large televisions, computers, big beds, and bathtubs are standard in the newer rooms, and some of the more stylish ones offer jacuzzis, Nintendo and PlayStation consoles, motorcycles in the room, and even telescopes on upstairs verandas, all for between 50,000 won and 100,000 won a night. The kitch of multicolored mood lights and swanky interior is a fun, welcome change from drab apartment rooms or ordinary faded beige of older tourist hotels. Prospective travellers can make informed decisions about nicer motels by browsing the maps and photographs on an online motel directory, available in Korean.

There are several such directories – Hotel365.co.kr, MotelGuide.co.kr, and Yanolja.co.kr are among my favorites – in addition to search engines on portals like Naver and Daum that will return hundreds of results, although these are inaccessible to people who can’t navigate Korean websites. A Naver search for motels in Jeollanam-do turns up 775, and a Naver search for Gwangju retrieves 464. The English-language KTO site devoted to accommodation, though, shows only six motels in Jeollanam-do, and zero for Gwangju.

This means international tourists must rely on the few tourist hotels that have English, Chinese or Japanese-language webpages, the few places that will show up on an internet search. These places are often two or three times as expensive as a motel room, though, and often not as nice. Amenities are frequently old, dirty, and disappointing. Guests often book rooms under the assumption that the hotel is in a convenient location, but arrive to find it’s in the middle of nowhere or in a seedy neighborhood. Likewise foreign-language travel websites will advertise restaurants, bakeries, and bars on the premises, though those who have seen the hotels in person will find no such features.

There is also no guarantee that you’ll find staff that can communicate in the language you need. The unsuspecting international tourist who assumes there will be staff members on hand who can clearly communicate in a foreign language will likely find themselves disappointed. But the limited information on accommodation in Korea means would-be tourists must rely on the few options that have assembled something resembling an English-language page.

In spite of their ubiquity, there is a love-hate relationship among Koreans with motels and what they stand for. After all, there aren’t hundreds of motels in each town because Koreans love to travel, and they don’t rent rooms in two-hour blocks because Koreans have evolved beyond sleep.

Motels are also often the most prominent buildings in the neighborhood, and tend to make the news only when there’s a suicide or when the police break up gambling and prostitution rings.

A newspaper in Gwangju recently complained that gaudy motels – topped with statues, domes, and flashy lights – are safety hazards and eye sores. And in May a writer for the English-language Gwangju News attracted the scorn of a local newspaper by writing about motels, the latter accusing the former of not understanding Korean culture and spreading misinformation among foreigners. Back in 2002, as a way to remove some of the stigma associated with motels, Korea designated a certain number as “World Inns.”

Foreign budget chains can succeed in Korea because there is simply no one else providing this basic service to foreigners. And in an age when Korea is trying to encourage foreign investment, scapegoating foreign companies is nothing short of xenophobic. But one option might be to invite some of the best motels into an umbrella program and create a foreign-language directory for the benefit of foreigners and international travellers.

It certainly behooves those already in Korea to take advantage of these motels. There’s a lot more to do at love motels than you might think.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of The Korea Herald. Brian Deutsch can be reached at deutsch.brian@gmail.com, or by visiting his website at http://briandeutsch.blogspot.com – Ed.

10 comments on “Tangent: Korea Herald: Attitudes in Korea towards budget travelers: open up love hotels?

  • I’m not sure I get Brian’s point here — at least not where it relates to Japan. Tyler’s suggestion that the idea of using love hotels is a good one though.

    Love hotels here in Japan are well known as great places to stay at affordable prices. People have long caught on that for about the same price as a simple business hotel, one can stay in the relative luxury of a love hotel. In discussions, the big bathrooms always come out as a major selling point. Whatever the draw, Brian’s point seems to be that there are a dearth of good reasonably priced places in Korea and that those that advertise in English are even fewer — and we are looking to draw some sort of parallel to Japan.

    Japanese love hotels generally advertise and offer service in only Japanese. There are also plenty of affordable, reasonably nice business class hotels in Japan — they just may not advertise in English either. So, offering love hotels is no solution to a language barrier or discrimination problem.

    Why would we jump to advertising love hotels — in English? — without suggesting the same for the ‘usual’ classes of hotels? If we would just like to promote to the foreign community that they think of using love hotels in lieu of regular business-type hotels then I think it is a fine idea, although maybe it has been a little known option in the foreign community up to now. I don’t get why the need to pull ‘foreigner’ and ‘English-speaking’ into the equation specifically.

    Using love hotels in this manner is old hat — at least among the Japanese community. I wouldn’t be surprised however to see some love hotels start to balk at foreign guests for the very same reasons/excuses the regular hotels are offering should there be a sudden influx of non-Japanese/non Japanese-speaking people. The only saving grace is that love hotels don’t exactly offer the same sort of front desk reception and service is minimal to begin with.

    The conclusion that “budget chains” (foreign or not) might do well is a good one and the idea of creating foreign language directories is as well (the budget travelers’ guides such as Lonely Planet seem to already do this at least to an extent). North American budget chains that operate hotels here can be researched through their English-language Internet sites. There are a growing number of domestic budget chains opening up new hotels all the time, too.

    The article’s argument doesn’t seem to really support the conclusion at least in the Japanese context. The conclusion is good but I think we could have reached it or simply stated it as our premise without traveling all around Paddy’s barn to get there.

    Speaking of traveling all around Paddy’s barn to try to make a point!…(end)

    — Paddy’s barn?

  • It’s the truth! I was tipped off by an ESL teacher in Korea and stayed quite comofortably at love hotels. In fact, for 40 bucks US, I got internet, a heated queen-size bed, free mini-bar, and a very clean bathroom with everything complimentary. Contrast that with an American chain hotel I stayed at for 60 bucks – a twin bed, TV, and no amenities.

    Then again, I’ve stayed in love hotels in Japan too…

  • Michael Weidner says:

    Frodis – I think you’re missing the point. The article is written about Korea from the point of view of someone trying to stay in Korea. While staying in love hotels for you may be old hat, it isn’t for everyone and not everyone knows that they even exist. While the article is mostly directed towards the Korean market, it does have relevance here as the cheaper “business” hotels are usually overpriced, under-maintained, and even have curfews. If I had the choice between the two, I would definitely go with the love hotel as the ammenities appear to be much better.

  • I hate to come off sounding exclusionary but…

    I’d just as soon have this little nugget of information stay relatively unknown. I’d hate to think of the impact should more widely read sources of travel information get hold of this idea and publish it. I fear that it might amount to killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Love hotels (or more likely mainstream hoteliers associations) might pick up on this and lobby to restrict access or increase prices. I’d even hate to guess at what hoteliers associations might try to do should they realize this is not simply a minor foreigner phenomenon. I’d bet there are rules that one is not supposed to cross. I’m happy with the mainstream thinking that love hotels are strictly for happy hour romps in the hay and not legitimate places to stay when traveling.

    — So we should allow the market to rip off the international travellers and not tell them of their alternatives?

  • Debito wrote, “So we should allow the market to rip off the international travellers and not tell them of their alternatives?”

    Where do you read that in any of what has been written? Is there now an organized plot to rip off international travellers that I have been unaware of? Wow. I think there is no such thing going on here.

  • In Scotland, they are trying to get people to pay $300 per night to stay in a haunted castle. Which would you prefer?

  • “I’m happy with the mainstream thinking that love hotels are strictly for happy hour romps in the hay and not legitimate places to stay when traveling.”

    Huh? They all (well, probably just about all, I’m no connoisseur) advertise an overnight price, which is a pretty clear sign that they are open to more than just “happy hour romps”. They are also widely recommended for this in travel guides, especially those aiming at the cheaper end of the market. Where else is a hitch-hiker or cyclist going to stay when they find themselves in Nowhere-mura, Inaka-ken at 10pm?

  • Same trick works in Japan as well and the rooms are usually much bigger/nicer than luxury hotel rooms.

    Wife and I used to stay in love hotels any time we were traveling and couldn’t make it home at a reasonable time.

  • We always stay at such “love motel” whenever we visit Seoul. The place is clean, huge TV with about 90 channels,free internet and something like movie data base in the PC whth the newest hits there.The bed is huge, free drinks in the fridge(orange juice and tea), also there was extra sofa and 2 chairs, the room twice as big as in an average japanese buisness hotel.And yes, in one of the rooms there was a jaccusi.There was actually English speaking and Japanese speaking staff.

  • I just saw this comment thread; thanks for linking to my article. If you’d like to read more, and see some pictures, take a look at the blog post I did on the article:


    I just want to say, Frodis, that I wasn’t drawing any parallel to Japan at all. I’ve lived in Korea for the past 4.5 years, and have been a fan of motels for nearly as long. The point of the article, as with my other posts in my “motels and hotels” blog category,” is that what Korea offers as “tourist hotels” aimed at foreigners are really quite crap. Rather than trying to suddenly build a whole bunch of domestic budget hotels—lawmakers don’t like the idea of foreign companies coming in—why not try and open up the motels more to foreign tourists?

    And, it looks like some efforts are underway to do this a little. There are at least three difficulties I see, though:
    1) Language. They can’t even find Korean English teachers who can speak English, where are the innkeepers going to come from?
    2) Organization. A reader emailed me about an experience she had with a hotel website here. She booked online but when she got to the hotel it had no idea who she was or anything about her reservation. When it comes to coordinating foreigners and foreign-language things, problems often arise, so keeping everyone on the same page will be important.
    3) Money. Is it profitable for motels to accept reservations like this? Not sure about Japan, but in Korea they rent out rooms in two-hour blocks throughout the day. A person who books a room for, say, 50,000 won a night over three nights will deprive the hotel of all those 30,000 won blocks. I expect—and a reader confirms this—that most would just want to keep their motels the way they are.

    I’m not suggesting that these motels be forced to be accessible in English. Indeed, in Korea when things become “for foreigners” they are often watered-down, inauthentic, and expensive. I just was trying to point out how nice many of these motels are and how Korea might want to draw attention to this.

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