With a burgeoning demand from foreign tourists whose number topped 10 million last year, self-proclaimed boutique hotels are expected to spring up in Seoul.
But not all of them will be worthy of the name “boutique,” said Thomas Ji, general manager of IP Boutique Hotel in Itaewon.
“I believe the city needs more small and medium-sized hotels, but a boutique hotel will be a boutique hotel only when it offers unique service in addition to stylish hardware,” Ji said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
|Thomas Ji, general manager of IP Boutique Hotel|
“Looking at IP Boutique’s success over the past three years, a number of hotels with arguable quality are likely to reopen by simply changing their names.”
Ji said the Seoul City should introduce regulations against studio flats converting their building use to hotels simply through renovation.
Located across the street from Cheil Communications, near Itaewon Station, IP Boutique Hotel is a member of Imperial Palace, which runs a five-star hotel in southern Seoul, a resort in Cebu, Philippines, and another boutique hotel in Fukuoka, Japan.
IP Boutique opened in March 2010 as the first boutique hotel in Seoul.
Its choice of the central tourist district as the location led to foreigners from 117 countries accounting for 88 percent of the hotel’s customers. Japanese took up 16 percent, Americans 14 percent and Chinese 9 percent, and 49 percent came from other parts of the world last year, according to Ji.
“Due to our exceptional location, facility and service as the first boutique hotel in Seoul, sales at IP Boutique have increased by over 10 percent each year,” he said.
“Our target customers include embassies, corporate guests and individuals traveling for pleasure.”
The hotel’s average room charge is around 140,000 won per night, lower than 190,000 won of the five-star Imperial Palace Seoul in Gangnam.
IP Boutique showed an annual average room occupancy rate of 87 percent, compared to Imperial Palace Seoul’s 85 percent.
In contrast to the “classical” management style of Imperial Palace, IP Boutique had to pursue a more innovative service to meet the fast -changing demands of the customers, Ji said.
The hotel, for instance, allows guests to pick their own check-in and check-out hours.
“We offer one-on-one customized services for our guests and try to be a more creative, young and lively hotel through much dialogue with our staff,” he said.
“This appears to have drawn many guests and resulted in an increasing number of regulars.”
The eye-catching works of art and entertaining designs are another strong point of the trendy hotel.
A robot on horseback stands like a guard at the entrance and a suitcase-shaped elevator greets guests in a corner of the lobby. Corridors adorned with paintings lead to pop art on every wall of the guest rooms.
Artists often exhibit their work at the hotel’s lobby.
“We try to offer a special experience and a relaxing atmosphere for visitors from the downtown bustle, and that is why we plan exhibits of interesting objects and artworks of various genres,” Ji said.
In addition to being the first boutique hotel in Korea, the fame of Imperial Palace greatly helped promote IP Boutique.
“People who knew Imperial Palace had high expectations and were thankfully satisfied with IP Boutique and gave us much support,” said the general manager who worked his way up at Imperial Palace starting in 1989.
“It is true that the increasing number of rivals could be a challenge for us, but we are also happy that business hotels are on the rise because of Korea’s growth.”
As one of the few homegrown hotel chains, Imperial Palace sees the need to build more hotels, but has put off new hotel projects for now in light of the global economic slump.
By Kim So-hyun (email@example.com)