‘Love hotels’ clean up their act
Some people find love hotels amusing, but the government is determined to polish the image of domestic lodging in order to make Korea more tourist-friendly. Instead of piling on regulations, however, the government has ― unusually ― opted for the carrot over the stick, asking love hotels to become more “sound, reliable” places of lodging in exchange for a big promotional plan.
“We were looking for reasonably priced motels where parents could take their children without having to worry about the television showing something embarrassing when they turn it on,” said Park Seok-ju, a domestic marketing team manager at the Korean Tourism Organization. The loan word “motel” implies “love hotel” in Korean. “We give them a certified mark, to help family travelers recognize a [good hotel] when they see one.”
According to “Good Stay,” the name of the certified mark and the new project sponsored by the Korea Tourism Organization and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, a “sound and reliable” hotel charges with a fixed price, provides clean sheets every day and has a program installed in the room’s cable television to filter adult programming.
Sounds simple, right? Apparently not so for most hotel owners.
When the campaign started late last year, 516 businesses applied for the program’s screening tests, hoping to be added to tourism Web sites approved by the ministry. But many backed out when the owned learned that it would take more than changing the sheets every day to be awarded the Good Stay logo. According to the government’s standards, the dogholes had to be replaced with open front desks so that a receptionist could make eye contact with guests, the parking lot could not have a plastic curtain hanging down to hide guests’ cars and the rooms couldn’t cost more than 50,000 won ($52) for a deluxe room and 40,000 won for an average room. More than half of the applicants backed out.
One man, who refused to provide his name runs a motel in Gyeonggi province and said he didn’t bother to apply for the program; why should he “make all the changes,” he asked, when his business is already doing well?
When the final selections were announced last month, after a series of tough screenings and interviews, only 48 of the applicants had met the standards of the government’s monitoring team.
Many of the owners said their facilities had been good all along, but wanted the metal plate advertising the Good Stay program nailed on their doors to help their image.
“It wasn’t about how well the place was furnished, because we took into account the regional and financial differences each place has,” said Lee Young-chun, a team head at the Korea Management Association and one of the judges for the screening. “It was more about how much the inn owners were willing to learn and change.”
One of the successful applicants was Drama Motel, in Yeongju, Gyeonggi province. The 30-room motel was standing among a cluster of a dozen other similar-looking hotels near a lake popular for water skiing and jet skiing.
But it was certainly proud it was the only one with the certified mark in town. A shiny metal plate hung on its entrance and a long placard hung on the wall that said in Korean, “Korea Tourism Organization has certified Drama with the reliable Good Stay mark.”
“We’ve finally been recognized [as a decent hotel],” said Lee Yeong-sun, the proprietor of the motel. “We have been running a safe motel for family travelers for years.”
She said it upset her to be seen as a person involved in an obscene or a shady business just because she ran a “motel,” she said, elaborating the pronunciation of the English word. The word “motel” usually carries a negative nuance here, as the majority of small inns became love hotels when the number of tourists or travelers dropped after big international events, such as the Seoul Olympics in 1988 or the World Cup in 2002.
The monitoring team says this time is different, because they have adopted rules for hotel managers and owners provided by the International Organization for Standardization.
Even those owners whose motels passed muster still had a lot of catching up to do according to the complete set of standards used by the monitoring group. The team’s 30-page manual instructs motel staff members “not to look at guests in the eyes when you pass them in the hallway.” Better to politely nod, it says. Never stand in the way of a guest, never shut doors loudly even if you are in a hurry and never address your guests by ssi, which means mister, but by nim, a higher form of honorific.
Particularly detailed are the standards for cleaning rooms. Don’t use the guest’s towels to clean the room, make sure both sides of the shower curtains have been wiped and replace the sheets every time a guest checks out, it demands. Employees should always wear a name tag and never say no to a guest, but say they are sorry if a problem cannot be solved.
“They sound easy, but that’s a lot of things to check and change all at once,” Mr. Lee said.
The government’s monitoring team also goes undercover to stay at the Good Stay motels, to make sure they are staying up to standards. If the motels are not, they can lose the Good Stay mark immediately.
The monitoring team plans to increase the number of Good Stay motels to 300 by 2010, equivalent to one for each city and county in Korea.
“So let’s say you’re traveling to Inje in Gangwon province,” Mr. Lee said. “You can log on its regional tourist site and find a Good Stay motel within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of downtown Inje. That’s our goal.”
The Good Stay motel owner check list
1. Remember to walk behind your guests. Don’t get in their way.
2. Never yell at your employees in front of your guests.
3. Do not touch your guest’s belongings even if you are alone in the room.
4. Change the sheets every day.
5. Make sure there are two additional rolls of toilet paper in the restroom.
6. Try not to sit down when you are cleaning the floor.
7. Wipe the leaves on plants at least once a week.
8. Remember to dust the legs of furniture.
9. Keep doorknobs and doorplates well polished.
10. Always end your conversations with a “thank you.”
by Lee Min-a