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Hotel Shinshin works hard to earn its reputation

Mar 05,2016
Hotel Shinshin, left, is located in Bukchang-dong, central Seoul. The hotel’s exterior, top right, has prints of yellow boats outside. The hotel has a total 75 rooms. The corner room, of which there are 10, is shown on the bottom right. [HOTEL SHINSHIN]
Hotel Shinshin wasn’t well-known among many people here until it was named earlier this year as Korea’s No. 1 hotel by TripAdvisor, one of the largest travel review websites.

The venue, with just 75 rooms, opened in 2013 and has since left the country’s top luxury hotels in the dust.

Housed in a narrow alleyway just next to the Bank of Korea in Bukchang-dong, central Seoul, its location piques curiosity.

TripAdvisor named Hotel Shinshin as the winner of the 2016 Travelers’ Choice Awards out of 25 hotels listed nationwide.

Yet, the venue isn’t new. In fact, its history dates back to 1964, when Chairman Kim Eui-su opened the Shinshin Hotel, which had the first Finnish-style sauna in Korea.

The hotel was in operation until the 1990s.Later in 2011, its founders decided to build a new building in the same location, a plan helmed by Kim Hwa-young, the chairman’s daughter and now the hotel’s president.

An art major, she determined the venue’s overall ambience, from the lighting to the artwork displayed.

But in modernizing the hotel and keeping it up to date, she decided to keep its name Shinshin - despite the fact that it might not sound so contemporary - to honor its location and history.

But what pushed this small hotel to the top is its service.

Hasmin Hwang, now the general manager, aims to provide the best service she can, and takes customer comments and reviews seriously. After all, assessments posted online travel fast.

Hasmin Hwang
Hwang started as deputy general manager in 2013 and believed one way to make the hotel better-known in the global community would be to help the venue’s good reviews spread.

She came across TripAdvisor, and the global review website became the target of her research. By her memory, the hotel’s rank has never fallen below the top 20 since 2013.

“I checked the website three times a day,” she recalled. “Once as soon as I wake up, once in the middle of the day and once after 8 p.m., when the website updates its ranks.”

But she did more than simply check the daily fluctuations. Hwang would read all the reviews posted on the website and determine reoccurring problems that guests pointed out. Many mentioned that the blinds didn’t block the morning sunlight in the corner rooms, so she changed the blinds to curtains. Others also pointed out that the lighting in the bathroom was too dim for women to put on makeup. Hence, additional lights were installed.

She also came up with an idea to make a video, considering the hotel is located in an inconspicuous alleyway.

Inspired by a scene in the film “Love Actually” (2003) - in which Mark, played by actor Andrew Lincoln, uses a stack of poster board to express in writing the words he longs to say to Keira Knightley’s Juliet - she had her staff start from the airport bus stops nearest the hotel and hold a sketchbook, filming their way back to the hotel. At each intersection or corner, the staff holds up a sketchbook with the command “go right,” “go left” or “go straight.”

The directional videos received rave reviews from guests, and Hwang said staff from other hotels even approached her later to ask if they could copy the idea to explain their locations. For visitors who still can’t find the hotel, the staff come outside to look for them.

And when guests need help carrying their luggage to the airport bus stop, staff members come along to assist. They also make it a point to call guests by their names to build friendlier ties and make guests feel at home.

Thanks to Hwang’s initiative, Hotel Shinshin sees a variety of guests, from Chinese and Japanese travelers to Westerners from the United States, Canada and Europe.

They usually stay for four or more days. And every Thursday and Sunday, guests are offered bibimbap, rice mixed with vegetables and meat with hot spicy sauce, for breakfast so they don’t tire of the same food. For guests with lighter palettes, the hotel also has a special in-house soy sauce.

“We call ourselves Shinshin ‘willingers’ to remember that we need to willingly provide services to guests so that they can really feel like they are comfortable staying with us,” Hwang said. “We aren’t a luxury boutique hotel, but when it comes to service, we try hard to think from the guest’s viewpoint.”

To make the hotel feel more casual, almost like a road shop, the hotel decided to put its restaurant in the front of the building to face the alleyway.

Its lobby and check-in area is in the building behind the one up front. And while most locals often don’t have an excuse to stay overnight, many area residents or workers do crowd the hotel restaurant, DineHall.

Its specialties include simple salads, pasta and pizza, as well as juice, beer and wine. And DineHall often hosts group parties on its underground floor as well as private events, and it’s also where guests most often come for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Pasta and risotto dishes range from 15,000 won ($12) to 25,000 won - a deal for a restaurant in a central location.

For more about the hotel, visit www.hotel-shinshin.com, or call (02) 2139-1000.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]


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