First the tourists stayed away. Then the coronavirus pandemic dragged on and on. In desperate times, the owners of one Hong Kong hotel decided drastic changes were needed.
Veteran hotel general manager Rain Yim could not believe her ears when her bosses announced earlier this year that they were opening a new establishment despite the dire situation.
In August, the Muse X Hotel opened in the heart of the Causeway Bay shopping hub, offering a love nest for Hong Kong couples seeking privacy. The owners rented a former hotel which catered to tourists and transformed it into themed rooms for locals.
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“We are quite sure we are the first standalone, fully themed love hotel in Hong Kong. We won’t be shy to stand up and tell people we are a love hotel, an hourly rate hotel,” said Yim, who is in her 40s and has been in the hotel business for more than 20 years.
In switching their attention from tourists to locals, the hotel owners have been unabashed about the patrons they want.
If the name of the establishment, Muse X, is not enough of a hint, the themes, decor and trappings of the 54 rooms reveal more.
Some rooms come with relatively staid four-poster or king-size beds. Then there is the forest-themed room complete with a tent in a mock campsite.
More unusual rooms have circular beds fitted within giant bird cages or even hanging from the ceiling. Guests are assured they are secure.
In some rooms guests will find chairs of the sort usually seen in gynaecologists’ clinics. Elsewhere, curious contraptions and twisty sofas cater to couples with a penchant for more gymnastic bedroom romps.
Yim insists the hotel is a cut above the countless other businesses offering hourly rate rooms in the city, many with fancy to outlandish decor, and usually occupying a few floors or several tiny flats in residential or commercial buildings.
And unlike those establishments that prefer to be coy about their purpose, Yim says Muse X aims to present itself as “a positive and healthy hotel for baau fong”, common Cantonese slang which means going to a love hotel.
“We are also not like those old villa-style love hotels in Kowloon Tong and two chains which young people consider too old-school,” she said, referring to the Hotel Victoria and Park Excellent Hotel chains.
Industry veterans believe the 23-storey hotel on Hennessy Road is the first of its kind in Hong Kong, dedicated entirely to couples who lack privacy at home for sex.
“If we can build an image that this is not a place just for secret affairs or perversion, but a clean love hotel which serves customers just like a traditional hotel, once the pandemic is gone, we may actually draw different kinds of customers to come for a try,” Yim said.
Heading in the same direction, a 15-storey establishment in Mong Kok rebranded itself as the Sober Hotel after converting 20 of its 50 rooms into love nests for short-staying guests.
General manager Kit Lau said ongoing renovations would turn the premises into a full love hotel in a year’s time.
“We are telling people openly that we’re an hourly hotel. There is nothing embarrassing to hide,” she said.
The owner, a low-profile local businessman, tried to advertise his new initiative on television but gave up after failing to secure good time slots. Local television stations might not be ready for their message, Lau added.
A themed room in Sober costs HK$270 (US$35) or HK$380 for four hours on weekdays, and HK$30 more on weekends.
Muse X charges HK$280 for two hours or HK$380 for three hours seven days a week.
Tourism lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said the two hotels’ new business direction showed the sector adjusting to new realities.
He said many hotels which previously took in tourists had begun having guests on an hourly basis and were letting out their rooms on monthly terms, neither of which they would have considered before the pandemic.
“The whole hotel sector has been pushed to find different sources of guests,” he said.
Frequent love hotel user Steven* said themed rooms and special features were attractive, but what mattered more were the price and quality of services such as the helpfulness of staff, user-friendliness of the reservation process and catering.
“As for the novelties, people might just give it one try only if the overall quality is not good,” he said.
Another user, Michelle*, said what mattered most to her was cleanliness in the hotel rooms.
Themed love hotels appealed to couples seeking excitement and new experiences, so the features in the rooms would have to be changed regularly to keep attracting guests, she added.
*Names have been changed at interviewees’ request.