The Korea Herald


Hotel Skypark looks beyond Toyoko Inn

By Korea Herald

Published : Oct. 23, 2011 - 20:27

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Hotel Skypark II near Korea Exchange Bank in Myeong-dong, Seoul. (Hotel Skypark) Hotel Skypark II near Korea Exchange Bank in Myeong-dong, Seoul. (Hotel Skypark)

Newcomer aims to become Korea’s tourism-focused business hotel chain

Choi Young-jae still reminisces about his days in the ‘90s as a sports reporter at a local daily, struggling to find an affordable place to stay when he traveled other parts of the country.

That is exactly what has dragged the 53-year-old journalist-turned-entrepreneur into the hospitality industry, launching Hotel Skypark in Myeongdong, downtown Seoul last year.

“I thought we could penetrate a niche market for those who feel burdensome to stay posh hotels like Lotte and Chosun but don’t want a motel,” Choi told The Korea Herald.

Skypark runs three branches all at the core of shopping districts in the capital and adopted a “no-frills” concept, under which it offers budget-conscious sightseers small but fully equipped rooms plus breakfast in a convenient location for as low as 80,000 won ($70) per night.

With Korea’s tourism industry thriving and Myeong-dong emerging as a fashion and beauty hotspot, Seoul hotels have increasingly been packed with travelers from around the world.

Competition is heating up in the area despite eye-popping land prices. According to Cushman and Wakefield, a real estate services firm, Myeongdong is the world’s ninth-most expensive streets with annual rent per square foot averaging at $635.

Regardless, global chains of business hotels such as Hotel Ibis and Best Western launched there to eat into traditional locals including Sejong Hotel and Prince Hotel. Toyoko Inn, Japan’s top budget hotel operator, is accelerating its expansion. Big players like Lotte are gearing up to dive into the burgeoning market.

Yet demand still falls short of supplies. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, Seoul lacks about 50,000 rooms to accommodate all travelers.

“There are simply not enough hotels in this area,” Choi said. “But if we are to build more hotels, isn’t it better to see ones that embrace Korean but modern style?”
Chairman Choi Young-jae Chairman Choi Young-jae

To beat incumbent leaders, Skypark puts custom-tailored services as a priority with Choi’s own “for free” mantra.

Speaking in fluent Japanese or Chinese, staff members stand by 24 hours a day wearing a belt saying “How can I help you?” as typically seen at banks here. Choi himself often serves as a driver, carrying customers to the airport and picking them up from there.

Given that young, trend-following female Japanese shoppers take up more than 90 percent of its guests currently, Skypark offers delivery services and added beauty products like facial mask packs to its condiment packet.

It also joined forces with the Etude House, one of Japanese’s favorite cosmetic labels, to set up pink, princess-style rooms and dressing tables every floor where they try the brand’s manicures and other products for free.

“My concept is ‘everything for free,’” Choi said. “Many foreigners are not used to taking something without charge. I want to plant our ‘complimentary’ spirit into customers’ mind so they enjoy it as happy as they can.”

Witnessing a rapidly rising number of travelers from China, Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations, the company is seeking other partnerships to customize further.

“We’ve been benchmarking other budget hotels around the world, and I am confident that our hotels are superior in compared with any others,” Choi said.

As the tourism sector flourishes, Choi said Skypark will not only focus on hotspots in Seoul but in other parts of the country by setting up 60 hotels over the next five years.

Toyoko Inn is one of the fastest movers in that direction. Running some 250 branches across the globe, it plans to boost the number here to 60 in the coming years from the current six ― four in Busan, one in Daejeon and one in Seoul.

“We want to be Korea’s tourism-focused business hotel chain,” Choi said. “Our hotels may be at the levels of the business hotels but our services would top those of Hyatt or Chosun.”

By Shin Hyon-hee (