There’s been plenty of buzz about town regarding Tune Hotels’ first European venture – a 79-room base adjacent opposite Lambeth North in south London. Lambeth North has been unremarkable for pretty much anything except proximity to Waterloo and the Imperial War Museum, and while north Londoners might cock a snook at the idea of anything vaguely approaching hip on the wrong side of the river*, this hotel has certainly got tongues wagging. I spoke to the Independent about it a few weeks ago and was subsequently quoted in the Daily Mail and other pieces, as well as doing some radio interviews.
I was curious then to get a call from BBC News, who were filming an item about the hotel today (Wednesday 25 August) and wondered if I could go down to the hotel on launch day and contribute my view on it.
Tune Hotels, owned by the team behind Malaysian budget carrier Air Asia – whose posters currently adorn many of the walls – take the no-frills travel concept and apply it more ruthlessly to the hotel industry than anyone has before. You have your room, which may cost as little as £9, and a shower.
What’s the catch? Everything else is on top. Want a towel? That’ll be £1. You do get some posh-looking soap, and though Alan Partridge would disapprove of the size it’ll do the job. Your room will be clean on entry but if you want it turning over while there that’ll be £7.50. And that nice flat-screen TV? £3 for the day, £7 for three days, £10 if you want it for the whole of a longer stay. Even with these extras though you should be able to grab a room at off-peak rates for a long way under £50. Want one at weekends? The price will go up. If you’ve flown Ryanair you’ll get the drill.
The hotel has an unassuming entrance, with a Costa Coffee in the same building like many large budget chain hotels on Euston Road and elsewhere. Upon going in there’s a simple reception in Tune’s red and white livery, and two vending machines in case late night munchies strike. The lift whizzes you up to your room – the one we looked at was fashionably and soothingly decorated, but small, and would suit a friendly couple or single traveller. There wasn’t any room for a travel cot. Business travellers, weekenders and sports fans will enjoy it, and if not there’s plenty of competition who’ll throw in a towel and a TV. They’ll probably just cost more. And other hotel chains will be watching this new entrant very closely.
The interview was conducted on the roof which is sadly not open to guests. Access is by a skylight-type door and metal ladder and gives superb views of neighbouring rooftop gardens and the London skyline. The dome of St Paul’s, the Victoria Tower of the Palace of Westminster and Battersea power Station should all be visible from rooms on higher floors. Crystal Palace’s TV antennae are also prominent.
Tune Hotels say they plan to open fifteen more properties in London over the next few years. They already have a network of hotels across Malaysia and in Bali. They clearly have one eye on the influx of tourists around the 2012 Olympic and a slice of the pie of the world’s second-most visited city. The hotel is open now in ‘soft launch’ mode, so now may be a good time to grab a room for later in the year.
If the way budget airlines have mushroomed in popularity is any indicator, this hotel and ones that come after it should do well. London gets enough visitors to be able to withstand competition, even in the budget category. Critics will say that existing chains have been doing many of these things for years. That’s true, but something as extreme as charging to power-up the in-room hairdryer is always going to attract attention. One to watch.
*London’s Cycle Hire scheme has made it here, too, so you can be over the river back to civilisation in under a minute.
I’ve always found it strange that the UK has a lack of real budget chain hotels – we’ve seen a certain influx of Formule 1 and ETAP hotels, but they’ve not caught the public imagination or pocket in the way our motorway Holiday Inn chain have – and that’s very irritating from a personal point of view, but a happy thing when you’re paying on expenses – and there is the crux of the issue.
When paying yourself, a great deal of the paying public are happy with a good bed, a good shower and a basic level of service – when other people are picking up the bill we start to demand a greater degree of service, a little kettle an iron and a TV with a full range of channels.
One thing should be standard, and Formule 1 in France has worked this one out – cheap or free and fast internet access 🙂 I must admit I look forward to my trips across France on the motorbike and my nightly stay at that cheap and cheerful chain – complete with ($3.50 extra) breakfast.
Thanks for your comments. One of the interesting things about budget hotels is how much less they charge for internet than upmarket hotels. The price of everything in hospitality is flexible. I would suggest that free wifi would be an enormous potential selling point.