City Hall certifies lodgings with more than 10 rooms when they meet certain standards, awarding Innostel recognition that gives users such benefits as a reduction in water fees.
What? Anyway, innostel.visitseoul.net currently only lists 95 motels, but there are plans to extend that to 150 soon. The name means:
Innostel has emerged as an innovative service that connects operators of lower-priced accommodations with foreign tourists who would like to visit Seoul but don`t need lavish rooms and hotel services. Our motto "Stay Simple" refers to the ease and savings that come from using the Innostel system.
After registering and logging in to the website, users can make reservations, and read and make reviews. There are promotions as well, and during the Seoul Grand Sale, which ends on November 24th, users can get a 20% discount on rooms booked through the website.
The general lack of mid-range budget accommodation is cited as one reason why Korea is not attracting as many tourists as it would like. Indeed, just last month Korea Tourism Organization President Lee Cham was criticized for the failure of the "Best Night in Korea" campaign, though as I demonstrated the failure was in place long before Lee was. The lack of quality domestic accommodation brought out the xenophobia in at least one politician; from the Korea Times last month:
Rep. Kim Boo-kyum of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) pointed out that the nation is helpless in the face of the aggressive invasion of foreign budget hotels, seeing a rising demand from foreign travelers.
"Several cheap foreign hotel chains -- such as Best Western Inn and Toyoko Inn -- have expanded their business activities here. The Japanese hotel chain for example, opened its first chain in Korea in Busan last year and plans to open 60 more inns in big cities over the next 10 years," Kim said.
Citing a survey, Kim pointed out that foreign tourists are unwilling to stay longer here, mainly because they are not satisfied with food and accommodation. He urged KTO President Lee to address the problems in the budget hotel chain project.
It's worth reminding that Korea needs to have something here to attract tourists in the first place. That Korea has not built any alternatives to the drab, overpriced "tourist hotels" is hardly the fault of foreign chains, or the fault of a man hired to head the KTO in July, two years after the BENIKA plan started.
I've written a lot about Korea's motels---most recently last month in the Korea Herald---and have recommended such online directories as Hotel 365, Motel Guide, and Yanolja several times. The Innostel page is a nice beginning for English-speakers. . . though it's been around since 2007 but we're only now finding articles on it. Indeed neither this nor "BENIKA" turn up on the front page of results for various related Google searches. There is some overlap as well, as Maureen O’Crowley, the Senior Director of International Marketing and Conventions, Seoul Tourism Organization, wrote in the Korea Times last year:
At the moment, the tourism industry in Korea is somewhat fragmented, with private and public groups often working in divergent areas. Often, these groups end up working on virtually identical projects. Such was the case when both the national and city tourism organizations recognized the need to identify and brand mid-priced range tourist hotels in Seoul. The Korea Tourism Organization developed the ``Benikea’’ program while the city developed a similar program named ``Innostel.’’
There is also "굿스테이" run through the KTO.
If anyone has used the website, I'd like to read what you have to say about it. This review in the Joongang Ilbo was particularly bad; an excerpt:
On the morning of Jan. 16, this reporter called an “Innostel” in Dongdaemun district, Seoul to see if they could take a reservation in English. Such establishments are certified by the Seoul government for foreign tourists.
(In Korean) “Anyeonghasaeyo, [hotel name].”
“I’d like to make a reservation for two days from tomorrow night.”
“Can anyone speak English there?”
(Muttering in Korean) “I don’t know what she’s saying...”
Then the phone was hung up.
While Seoul is carrying out a wide range of projects with the goal of attracting 12 million tourists by 2010, it remains to be seen whether the plans are having any effect.
The term “Innostel” is a combination of “innovative” and “hostel,” and refers to comfortable-yet-affordable accommodations that had received the city’s stamp of approval.
But a recent survey conducted by the JoongAng Daily, however, has found that the ability to communicate in English is severely lacking.
Of 31 Innostels called, half weren’t able to take a reservation in English. Staff at 10 of the 24 Innostels in Jongno District, central Seoul, which has the largest concentration of the hotels, couldn’t speak English.
Some just hung up the phone upon hearing English.
That gives me as good a reason as any to post, with permission, part of an email I received a few weeks ago from a reader:
It was amusing to read your article after discovering for myself the vagaries of getting a hotel room on the weekend in Seoul. there is a room referral service called Ratestogo.com. It claimed to have booked a room for me and when I arrived at the hotel I discovered that it was selling the rooms after the hotel had canceled their reservation contract with the service in September. It was October 24th. I ended up at the Marriott. I can not find a good listing of hotels in the city of Seoul, most of the time I get only ads. Where should I look when trying to get hotel rooms. Is there really a shortage or are the hotel staff looking for a bribe?
An online directory of affordable, clean accommodation in Seoul and Korea is badly needed, and I'd like to see Korea see the Innostel and BENIKA plans through.