No-frills hotels arrive in the UK (it's even extra for a clean room)

Rob Sharp
Monday 09 August 2010 00:00

It's a common calamity. You book yourself into a cheap hotel, spread out, relax and reward yourself for your thrifty choice of lodging by assailing the mini-bar. The following morning, you come to pay the bill and feign surprise when you realise you've trebled your outgoings – the chilled peanuts, whiskey miniatures and rock-hard chocolate bars.

But what if you were also charged for using the hotel's hair-drier (£2), its towels (£1 each) and storing your luggage (£2)? Your ride upstairs in a lift is free, as is the air conditioning, but your budget will need to stretch a further pound to secure your belongings in a safe. Want to get your room cleaned? That's £7.50 a day.

This year, the Malaysian hotel chain Tune Hotels hopes to take on bloated room rates in London and do for the British hotel market what easyJet and Ryanair have done for aviation. It will offer standard rates of £35 a night for a bed, power shower and central location – with chargeable extras.

The nine Tune Hotels in Malaysia and Indonesia offer deals as rock-bottom as £2 a night. The chain's first British hotel is set to open on London's Westminster Bridge Road on 30 August, with further outposts planned across the country, depending on the popularity of the Waterloo operation.

"It's all about choice," says the company's chief executive, Mark Lankester. "We say consumers should assemble the experience as they see fit. We aim to provide whatever suits the customer in terms of timing, price and the comfort people require. If you want to stay in a five-star hotel, there are plenty of them already in London. But if you are really concerned about price then we are going to be relevant."

Reviews of Malaysian Tune Hotels on consumer websites such as speak of "no frills", "noisy rooms", and "lack of floor space" as much as they praise their price and convenience.

So what do the experts think? "The £35 is no-nonsense and compelling if you can get it," says Lonely Planet travel editor Tom Hall. "London is one of the most competitive hotel scenes in the world. But in this budget range we already have Travelodge and lots of people are used to booking early for a no-nonsense room. While it's not going to revolutionise things, it might shake them up a bit. It shows how dynamic and experimental the hotel market is at the moment."

Mr Hall points to the increasing number of cheap, private rooms for short-term rent in London as well as boutique hostels such as Swiss Cottage's Palmer's Lodge, a grade-II listed building which has become an upmarket draw for backpackers. Bethnal Green's Town Hall, an upmarket hotel that opened last month in east London, is further proof of dynamic changes.

Mr Lankester expects half his London hotel's visitors will be British, with the remainder being European and Malaysian. Tune Hotels' founder, Tony Fernandes, is also CEO of AirAsia, a low-cost Malaysian airline; Mr Lankester hints at package deals combining the best of both enterprises. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the hotels have kept costs down by avoiding costly facilities such as conference rooms, swimming pools and gyms.

If all goes well, 15 hotels will open across Greater London by 2017, creating an additional 1,500 rooms and representing a £150m investment in the capital's hospitality sector. In a statement last month, Mr Fernandes said the brand was aiming for 100 hotels in its global porfolio by 2015.

"When we first came up with the idea, one of the things we said we wanted was a product that wasn't affected by the vagaries of economic cycles," said Mr Lankester. "We are obviously relevant in recessionary downturns. When times are good, people travel more, and we are able to tap into that market share too."

Yet to receive the 'budget' makeover'

Trains Take out seats on commuter trains, except for the "seating carriage" (£2 supplement: £5 for a chewing gum-free seat). Additional £5 for access to a carriage from which children and teenagers are barred. Pay-to-watch TV; £1 to use the toilet, extra for loo paper.

Food Introduce skinflint tables at fine-dining restaurants. A junior chef cooks the meal; diners bring their own cutlery and paper plates. A lager list.

Gyms Treadmill-only membership £10 a month. Priority card (£10) allows member to throw other gym users off exercise equipment. Cleaner will mop up previous user's sweat from machinery (£1).

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