Luxury ‘six-star’ hotels to open soon in Seoul
There was a time when five-star hotels were considered the best places to stay, with their luxury rooms and top-notch services. But increasingly, visitors to Seoul can ask for more, as what are known as six-star hotels make their debut in the city.
Conrad Seoul, a 38-story luxury hotel in Yeouido owned by Hilton, kicked off the surge of six-star hotels in November 2012. Now, global hotel resort chain Four Seasons is building the Four Seasons Seoul near Gwanghwamun Plaza in central Seoul. The 25-story hotel with 317 rooms is expected to be completed in May.
Starwood, which owns Westin Chosun, Sheraton and W Seoul Walkerhill, is preparing to open its luxury hotel rooms in Parnas Tower in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul. Lotte Hotel is also scheduled to open a high-end hotel on the upper floors of Lotte World Tower in Jamsil after construction has finished in 2016. Similar to the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, the hotel will have its lobby on the 79th floor with hotel rooms taking up the remaining floors of the building from the 76th to 101st floors.
Other hotels in operation that are considered six-star hotels include the Park Hyatt Seoul in Samseong-dong and the W Seoul Walkerhill in Gwangjang-dong, eastern Seoul. The rush to build luxury hotels in recent years was prompted by the widespread view that there are not enough luxury hotels in the city.
“Korea is a one of Asia’s fastest growing global economies and a strategically important North Asian travel hub,” Simon Cooper, the president and managing director of Asia-Pacific for Marriott International, said during a press conference earlier this year when JW Marriott Dongdaemun opened.
He added in a recent interview that Korean and non-Korean tourists want to stay in better accommodations, but the Korean hotel market hasn’t expanded to meet those demands.
And the market for mid-range hotels is also booming. “The number of [hotels] is steadily increasing overall in Seoul,” said a Seoul City government official. “If we add Airbnb [accommodations] and guesthouses, the number will be much greater.”
As of July, there were 212 business hotels downtown, and there were just 146 in 2011. The number is expected to jump to more than 300 in 2017 when adding in hotels that have been approved and are under construction.
Hotel chains are also catching on, such as the Parnas Hotel, which opened the Nine Tree Hotel in Myeong-dong in 2012 and is also preparing to open another, larger Nine Tree in Seoul in late 2016. Shilla Hotel built its first Shilla Stay last year in Dongtan, offering relatively cheaper rooms, and is opening another in Yeoksam in October.
These additions are aimed at the growing number of Chinese tourists to Seoul. According to the Korea Tourism Organization, the number of foreign tourists increased from about six million in 2005 to 8.8 million in 2010 and reached more than 12 million last year. More than four million, or one-third of all visitors, were Chinese. But there aren’t enough hotel rooms to accommodate the growing number of visitors.
The government wants to expand the industry for meetings, incentive trips, conferences and exhibitions, known as MICE, due to greater demand.
“With international conferences held in Seoul, and Incheon International Airport serving as an airline hub, there is a greater demand for luxury hotels and business hotels,” said an official at Marriott Hotel. “The competition to attract customers now is not among hotels in Seoul but among Seoul and other cities.”
Koreans are also staying at hotels in Seoul because they increasingly consider them as a place for a vacation or break instead of just accommodation. About 44 percent of people who stay at Sheraton Grande Walkerhill are Korean. This is about double the amount of Chinese visitors (22 to 25 percent) and Japanese visitors (19 to 20 percent).
“Households with young children or couples are increasingly visiting the hotel,” said an official at the hotel. “Hotels are now starting to be recognized as cultural facilities or ‘playgrounds.’”
BY CHAE YOON-KYUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]