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[Video] Quirky interiors give Seoul’s guesthouses an edge

For years, foreign tourists have flocked to guesthouses in search of affordable accommodations during their stay in Korea.

Nowadays, guesthouses have begun offering more than simple lodging facilities, incorporating quirky themes and eye-catching interiors into their spaces.

The very act of staying at a guesthouse is evolving into an experience for travelers, according to Kang Seok-hwan, owner of Uhbu’s Guesthouse located in Dongdaemun, Seoul.

Uhbu’s is a traditional Korean hanok structure decorated with vibrant fabrics and colorful ornaments inspired by both Korean and Southeast Asian culture, Kang says.

At Uhbu’s, each bunk has been painted a vivid color while patterned cloth hangs from ceilings. The sun-soaked lounge area is covered by a sunroof adorned with whimsical plastic lizards.

“We get a lot of visitors who come here and just stay inside, instead of going out to sightsee,” Kang said. “Being here itself is an activity.”

At G Guesthouse in Itaewon, customers are invited to scribble their thoughts on the walls. Inspired by the graffiti of New York City, owner Shrek Lee wanted a space for guests, made by guests.

“All of the memorabilia here has been donated by guests,” said Lee. In the common room, guests often cook food from their home countries to share with newly made friends. Small gatherings take place on the rooftop almost every day. 

Uhbu's Guesthouse (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)
Uhbu's Guesthouse (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)

Emerging small business model

Guesthouses are becoming increasingly prevalent in Korea. Their numbers rose 89.1 percent from 2014 to 2017, from 4,706 to 8,900, while the number of motels and inns fell 4.8 percent, from 23,115 to 22,000, over the same period, according to the National Tax Service.

Requiring relatively little in the way of startup costs, know-how and personnel, guesthouses are emerging as the next popular business model for aspiring shop owners, according to Vice President Kim Jong-yoon of Yanolja, an app that offers information on accommodations.

“Guesthouses are cost-efficient ventures not only for guests, but also for owners,” Kim told a local media outlet in an interview in September. They’re relative easy to operate and require as little as 300 million won ($280,000) in startup expenses, he added. 

Strawberry Pink (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)
Strawberry Pink (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)

Guesthouses are run from residential homes registered with the Culture Ministry. Ranging from 20,000 won to 50,000 won per person for a night, guesthouses are largely more affordable than motels, as they offer shared shower facilities and kitchen spaces.

According to current laws, however, residential homes can only be registered as guesthouses in the city if they receive lodgers of foreign nationalities.

Earlier this month, the Culture Ministry announced plans to amend the law to allow in-city guesthouses to receive both domestic and foreign guests starting 2019. The bill is pending at the National Assembly.

The move could imply new business opportunities for aspiring guesthouse owners, mobile apps offering information on accommodations and more, according to a Culture Ministry official.

By Rumy Doo (
Korea Herald daum