TOKYO -- Luxurious hotels in Japan's capital are offering a range of residential services for extended stays in a bid to survive amid the coronavirus pandemic and their efforts are proving popular with many rooms quickly snapped up.
Various industries are seeking new markets to enter amid the coronavirus pandemic, but can hotels offering residential services succeed as a standard business model?
Long-stay plans are based on the Hotel Business Act, so guests neither have to pay a deposit or key money, sign a contract nor carry out other paperwork like when renting an apartment. Utility and water bills are not charged to guests, so these residential service plans are relatively easy for hotels to adopt. More importantly, behind those plans are hotels' desire to establish a new business model to cover the revenue drop caused by low occupancy rates amid the pandemic.
These residential services have been a hit with venture companies that don't have offices, business owners who want to work remotely and the rich.
The Imperial Hotel Tokyo in the capital's Chiyoda Ward launched the "Apartments at The Imperial" plan on Feb. 1. Guests can stay in an about 30-square-meter studio-type room for a monthly fee of 360,000 yen (about $3,300) including tax and service charges, roughly the same price as the rent for a high-end apartment in central Tokyo.
The prestigious Imperial Hotel was opened in Tokyo's Hibiya district in 1890 by financers, including industrialist Shibusawa Eiichi, as a luxurious facility to accommodate VIP guests from abroad. As a pioneer in the industry, the Imperial Hotel introduced various services to Japan, including using hotels to host weddings and offering buffets at restaurants.
The biggest feature of the residential plan is that guests can subscribe to high quality services that only long-established hotels can offer for fixed charges, such as laundry services costing 30,000 yen (about $275) a month. The Imperial Hotel introduced laundry services for guests in Japan in 1911, and technical experts are employed to carry out the service.
Prior to the launch of the "Apartments at The Imperial" plan, the hotel renovated parts of three guest floors in the Tower Building to convert 99 rooms to offer residential services. Though there are no kitchens or large refrigerators in the rooms, guests can use washing machines with dryers, microwave ovens and other equipment in the shared "community room" on the apartment floors. Complimentary breakfast rolls are also available there.
The luxurious services include a fitness center with a swimming pool and sauna, a meeting room, a business lounge which is perfect for telework, luggage storage, service attendants for each guest, coffee or black tea at the hotel lounge and free parking.
Hotels in Tokyo have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and the Imperial Hotel is no exception. Last April and May, under the first state of emergency, the occupancy rate reportedly dropped by 80% to 90% compared to the same period the previous year, almost as if the hotel had temporary closed.
The hotel's president apparently decided to promptly put together the residential services plan, which had been considered before, by gathering ideas from employees. "In addition to the hotel business, we should start a new service utilizing our resources" he thought. The plan was the first of its kind in the hotel's history of over 130 years.
When the hotel began accepting reservations on Feb. 1, inquiries came flooding in, and all 99 rooms offering residential services through July 15 were booked out on the same day.
"We never imagined getting booked out on the first day, and we were surprised at the huge response," said a representative. "I think this is the result of firmly meeting the needs of the current market."
Meanwhile, Hotel New Otani has launched the "New Super Tokyocation" plan, which has three options: stays for six, 12 or 30 nights. These all come with three meals a day and laundry services.
The hotel was opened in 1964, when the Tokyo Olympics were held, by industrialist Yonetaro Otani. It is located in Chiyoda Ward's Kioicho district, where the secondary residence of the Ii clan, the lord family of the Hikone domain in the Edo period (1603-1867), was located. The hotel's renowned 400-year-old Japanese-style garden has a large pond and a waterfall.
The Hotel New Otani's New Super Tokyocation plan, in which guests can stay in such an urban oasis, was launched on Feb. 8. The rate for a 36-square-meter "The Main: Standard Room" is 750,000 yen (about $6,900) a month for one guest or 975,000 yen (around $8,971) if two people stay in the room. Four restaurants in the hotel offer a total of 40 dishes made up of Japanese, Western and Chinese cuisine, while 20 dishes are available for room service and breakfast.
Exclusion of travel to and from Tokyo from the central government's "Go To" travel subsidy campaign last summer inspired the hotel to create the plan.
The hotel first launched the Tokyocation plan for six nights to pass on benefits to Tokyo residents, and later launched the Super Workation plan for 30 nights after the government encouraged people to telework when possible in a bid to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The hotel began to sell the New Tokyocation plan in October in response to a rise in demand for consecutive stays. The hotel said it added meals to the latest service after receiving many requests from guests following the issuance of the second state of emergency.
Apart from meals, the Hotel New Otani is also offering various other free services under the workation plans. These include laundry (dress shirts, blouses, underwear and socks only), a conference room for two hours and the latest Bosch electric bikes which are popular in Europe, that enable guests to enjoy cycling around the hotel and other nearby areas.
Among people who are utilizing the workation plans are business owners, employees at venture companies without offices and an increasing number of married couples. According to the hotel, some guests reserved the plan because "they were concerned about safety though they wanted to get away and dine out."
Hotel New Otani's spokesperson Kentaro Yumoto said, "The service is of course suitable for teleworking, but it also lets guests experience luxurious living at hotels, so we hope people continue using the plan as a treat to themselves or as an alternative to actually traveling after the state of emergency."
The long-established Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo, in the Shinjuku district, also started selling its "Nishi-Shinjuku New Lifestyle" residential service for only 20 rooms on Feb. 17.
Keio Plaza is a pioneering skyscraper hotel in Tokyo that opened in June 1971. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government building and foreign-financed hotels were not around the west exit of JR Shinjuku Station back then, and the 47-story hotel was at the time the tallest building in Japan.
One feature is the hotel's relatively inexpensive rates despite it offering luxury accommodation.
The rate for an about 30-square-meter room in the Superior South Tower is 160,000 yen (about $1,500) a month including tax and service charges, and up to two people can stay in a room. As a service amenity, the hotel gives 500 yen's worth of credit per guest per night that can be used at restaurants, a lounge and a convenience store in the hotel.
The hotel also serves breakfast -- toast and coffee -- at the dining room for 500 yen, and offers discounts for laundry and use of the parking lot. Twice a week, employees clean the room, replace towels, bed linen and other items with fresh items, and empty trash bins.
The Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo decided to introduce the service as although an increasing number of people are working from home, there have been growing voices calling for bases in central Tokyo for both business and private life. The plan began to take shape as the second state of emergency was issued in January. The new accommodation options mark the first time since its opening for the hotel to create a plan for stays longer than a week.
The hotel received many inquiries even before it started accepting reservations for the plan on Feb. 17. People flocked to the hotel's website and flooded its phone lines on that day and the stay plan was apparently booked out in about 2 1/2 hours.
Chikara Oda, who is in charge of public relations at the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo, said, "While we will continue improving both hardware and software sides to meet diverse needs of various guests including business people, we are also considering selling new products."
(Japanese original by Tomoko Kagawa, Tokyo Regional News Department)