Over the last two years, about half a dozen budget hotels or those below four-star rating have emerged in various parts of the city.Their investors are seizing the opportunity during this time of economic slowdown to take business from prime hotel brands as businesses both large and small seek to scale down their hotel expenses. Being a city that is no longer as vibrant as when tin mining in the Kinta Valley was at its peak, Ipoh no longer attracts tourists or executives of big corporations with money to spend. And so over the past years, budget hotels have seen a boom as casual domestic visitors and business travellers to the city downgrade
to cheaper hotel accommodation.
These budget hotels are offering a comprehensive range of accommodation facilities to travellers at affordable prices. And since these hotels are mostly located near the heart of the city and close to popular eateries and entertainment establishments, travellers prefer to stay there for obvious reasons.
Highway Hotel room
It may come as a surprise to know that Ipoh has a total of 66 licensed Hotels or Rumah Tumpangan (Boarding Houses) as they are officially described? They are in two categories, the Star (5 categories) and Orchid (3 categories). Of the 66 hotels located in the city, 25% are in the star category while the remainder are budget hotels under the orchid category.
In case our readers are asking themselves “Where are they?” and rattle off the star-rated hotels like Impiana, Syuen, Excelsior and Regency Tower, totally not remembering that the Fairmont, Eastern and that ‘Grand Old Lady’ – the Station Hotel, are still around.
Generally all that any guest expects from a hotel is a pleasant, clean and secure accommodation and hopefully at affordable rates.
That is what most of the new budget hotels located at shop lots are offering, thus providing a competitive service package to guests visiting the city.
According to Jimmy Yeo, the Chairman of Malaysia Association of Hoteliers (MAH), the budget hotels typically consist of 20 rooms and above, and provide the basic amenities for guests.
Budget Hotels in Sub-Centres
Over the last two years several budget hotels have opened up at sub-centres around Ipoh. Ipoh City Council defines sub-centres as being immediately outside the main city centre and has classified the areas of Medan Ipoh, Meru Raya, Simpang Pulai and Pengkalan Station 18 as sub-centres, allowing budget hotels to be located at converted shop lots.
The first of the new budget hotels, the Ipoh Times Inn Hotel opened for business in 2007. Located on busy Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah (Jalan Tasek), it is the first hotel you see when you exit from the North-South Expressway in the city.
According to its General Manager, Mr Kumar Thas, the Times Inn Hotel is part of a chain of budget hotels next to highway interchanges, explaining that the reason for selecting such locations was for easy accessibility for their customers. Additionally the location must have a variety of food outlets and some entertainment nearby.
At the Ipoh outlet all its rooms have attached bathrooms, television, air conditioning and Wi-Fi. All the corridors in the hotel are fitted with CCTV cameras. Each room rents for between RM60-90 per night with the highest rate for a family room.
The Times Inn Hotel does indeed follow closely its location specifications. Just down the road from the hotel is a 24-hour food outlet and about a kilometre behind is the sprawling Medan Ipoh food, entertainment and shopping outlets.
All hotels have their regular corporate customers. For Times Inn their customers regularly have dealings with the nearby shopping malls, hospitals and factories whose visitors commonly stay for several days.
Popular with families
Another common group of its customers are the Malay, Chinese and Punjabi families that come home during the long weekends, weddings and school holidays. During the major holidays like Chinese New Year and Hari Raya the hotel is full for 2-3 days.
These families usually stay at the hotel to freshen up and rest for the night. Incidentally Times Inn has several rooms on the ground floor to cater for senior citizens.
When Times Inn first opened its doors at the end of 2007 its occupancy rate was averaging 90%. Since then another two budget hotels have opened within a 3km radius and currently the occupancy rate is averaging 70%. However, that didn’t discourage Kumar from opening his second outlet immediately at the back of the current one in February this year.
Close-by is the Highway Hotel. Its Manager, Mr Patrick Hoo, explained that it was originally called the Highway Café. After his diners frequently asked him to recommend a nice hotel to stay, he decided to convert his premises to a hotel and named it the Highway Hotel.
Maintaining a similar modus operandi Hoo, also claims an occupancy rate of over 70%. His customer base too was similar. I enquired from a customer who was checking out, on his opinion of the hotel, and he replied it was “clean, had Wi-Fi, was close to the highway and had a nice price.”
Across town in Falim is another budget hotel, the Fresh Hotel which opened about two years ago. Its location at Taman Mas Falim lies in the centre of another sprawling suburb stretching from Menglembu to First Garden with Buntong in between. Hence it is not surprising that it too has a healthy occupancy rate with a similar customer base.
Other converted shop lot budget hotels can be found along Kuala Kangsar Road and at Pengkalan Station 18.
Approval of New Licences on Hold
After approving licences for several budget hotels on the outskirts of the city, a city council’s spokesman revealed that the Council is currently reviewing the licences due to certain “social issues”.
All of these budget hotels rent their rooms out on a “day use” basis meaning customers pay a low rate charge averaging RM30 for 2-3 hrs use only. Sensing this long term potential ‘social’ issue, the City Council is currently ‘drafting a policy’ to control it. Until the policy is completed all future approvals for budget hotels are on hold.
However future application for hotels located at “free standing” locations, (meaning a hotel located at a block by itself and not located in a converted shop lot), will be allowed.
But what of the other budget hotels that have been around for a long time. I had been asked not to name them but a reason why these older budget hotels are not well patronized is because the management has not upgraded the hotels.
The rooms may be generally clean and spacious but guests prefer a room with that refreshing feel. This is another factor why the newer budget hotels are popular.
One point noted by most of the interviewees was their guests were mainly families and corporate customers, rarely tourists. If there are tourists they would be transit tourists staying just one night.
Perhaps when we attract tourists to spend two nights or more per stay it would provide a reason for the older budget hotels and other hotels in general to upgrade their premises and bring vibrancy back to the city centre.