IKEA To Launch Budget Hotel Chain In Europe

Meatballs for room service? That might be a bit of a stretch, but Swedish home furnishings giant IKEA is launching into the accommodations business, collaborating with Marriott to create a budget-friendly hotel chain in Europe.

The hotels – which will be called “Moxy” – promise to offer contemporary stylish design at an affordable price, though the rooms will not feature furnishings from IKEA. So forget placing your travel guidebooks on a Billy system.

IKEA and Marriott are targeting locations across Europe, but the first one will be in Italy, near Milan’s Malpensa. Rooms will be priced at €60 to €80 a night. The ultimate goal is to expand the Moxy chain to include 150 hotels with between 25,000 and 30,000 rooms. Hey, it’s better than living in an IKEA.

In true IKEA style, many of the rooms will be prefabricated offsite and then assembled much like IKEA furniture. Fortunately though, you can leave your stash of never-to-be-used-again IKEA tools at home.

[Photo Credit: Håkan Dahlström]

Budget Hong Kong: Renting A Room At The Notorious Chungking Mansions

There are two types of travelers: those who would go out of their way to avoid a place like Hong Kong‘s notorious Chungking Mansions – and those who would elect to stay there.

I’d probably put myself somewhere in the middle.

Nestled between luxury emporiums on one of Hong Kong’s most expensive thoroughfares, the Chungking Mansions is a chaotic complex of shops, food stalls, restaurants, wholesalers, budget guesthouses and low-income apartments. The 17-story compound is home to around 5,000 permanent residents, most hailing from South Asia and Africa. That’s not to mention the estimated 10,000 people that pass through its halls each day, trading in currencies, refurbished electronics, counterfeit bags and other slightly less legal commodities. TIME Magazine called the Chungking Mansions the “Best Example of Globalization in Action” because of its extensive network of informal trade, while The Economist compared it to Spaceport Cantina in the original “Star Wars” film. Travel articles alternately refer to it as a “heart of darkness,” a “den of iniquity” or, simply, a “hellhole.”

Naturally, I was hesitant to check out the Chungking Mansions for myself. But I was also intrigued. With single rooms running from HK$150 (US$19.35) to HK$500 (US$64.50), Chungking Mansions is one of the cheapest budget accommodation options in town, stairwell drug deals notwithstanding. Anthropologist Gordon Matthews estimates that more than 129 different nationalities pass through each year.

%Gallery-174068%What I found was … anticlimactic. After a number of high-profile deaths and disappearances in the 1990s, the owners of the Chungking Mansions installed an extensive CCTV system and employed round-the-clock security guards to monitor the complex. There are regular police patrols, and I witnessed no fewer than five crackdowns during my visit.

Because of the heavy monitoring, Chungking is actually a quite safe place to stay, compared with other Asian backpacker ghettoes. It is also conveniently located in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, a lively district in the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. Luxury hotels like The Peninsula and The Sheraton are steps away, along with malls, restaurants, museums, MTR subway stops and the scenic Tsim Sha Tsui promenade. If you don’t mind the cramped quarters and chaotic surroundings, it’s not a bad budget option. Some even claim it’s a quintessential Hong Kong experience.

Not all Chungking Mansion guesthouses are created equal, though. Quality varies wildly, and photos on booking sites like Hostelbookers and Agoda are often heavily edited. The best way to score a good value room is simply to show up and make the rounds of Chungking’s 80-plus options, most of which are clustered in blocks A and B. The Ashoka Hostel, consisting of nearly 100 rooms across three floors, is a popular option; their head reception desk is located on the 13th floor of Block A. The price per night depends on the month (or even the day) so don’t be afraid to negotiate, particularly if you’re traveling during off-season.

The reward? A chance to experience not only a different side of Hong Kong, but also the world. One guesthouse owner showed me his logbook of guests, hailing from Ghana, Bangladesh, Holland, Malaysia, the Philippines, Germany, Japan and even America. “People from everywhere come to stay here,” he boasted. Globalization in action.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Budget Hong Kong” chronicles one writer’s efforts to authentically experience one of the world’s most expensive cities, while traveling on a shoestring. Read the whole series here.

Expedia Releases 2012’s Best Reviewed Hotels List

This week, Expedia released their findings for their 2012 Insiders’ Select rankings, an annual list put out based on more than 500,000 customer hotel reviews. Only 650 of the 150,000 Expedia properties are designated as Insiders’ Select hotels. Likewise, selected hotels are the ones that consistently offer competitive pricing, immaculate amenities and distinguished customer service.

Of the hotels found across 74 countries, there are 28% in North America, 25% in Europe, 3% in South America, 19% in Asia and 25% elsewhere. Moreover, there is an array of star ratings and accommodation styles. For example, 35% are luxury, 17% are sustainable, 11 are ski-friendly, 87 are for families and 116 provide beach settings.

The top 10 properties chosen for this year’s list include:

1. Marrol’s Boutique Hotel (5 Stars, Bratislava, Slovakia)
2. Hotel Al Codega (4 Stars, Venice, Italy)
3. Hotel Royal Corin (4 Stars, La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica)
4. Hilton Garden Inn Aberdeen (4 Stars, Aberdeen, Scotland)
5. Four Seasons Miami (5 Stars, Miami, Florida)
6. Madison Hotel Hamburg (4.5 Stars, Hamburg/Hanover, Germany)
7. Element Omaha Midtown Crossing (3 Stars, Omaha, Nebraska)
8. Sonnenalp Resort Of Vail (4.5 Stars, Vail-Beaven Creek, Colorado)
9. Taj Lands’ End (5 Stars, Mumbai, India)
10. Mr. C Beverly Hills (5 Stars, Los Angeles, California)

Click here to see the full list.

4 Hotel Bargains In the Greek Isles at $75 Per Night Or Less

With the Euro sliding and many tourists avoiding Greece on the faulty assumption that the country isn’t safe, this is a great time to visit the Greek isles. If you can travel outside before outside July and August, you’ll find some amazing bargains.

I’ve spent the last month in the Greek isles with my wife and two young children and these are three of the best deals I’ve encountered for apartment-style hotels suitable for families. Each of these places cost us between 50 and 60€, but if you don’t have kids and need less space, you might be able get by on less if you travel outside the high season. Here are four great deals in Samos, Syros, Santorini, and Patmos.Sirena Hotel/VillageSamos

The Sirena Hotel is a swanky place in the beachside town of Kambos on the gorgeous island of Samos in the eastern Aegean, right on Turkey’s doorstep. Sirena Village is a collection of holiday apartments right across the street from the hotel. We had a beautiful little two-bedroom apartment with kitchen that was very comfortable and full of character. The pool is delightful and my kids loved the turtles that live in the backyard.

Our neighbor was Giannis, the owner’s dad, who lives in one of the villas in the summer (see photo above). Giannis likes to stroll the grounds, watering trees and chomping but not smoking cigarettes. He and the rest of the family make you feel incredibly welcome. We stayed for a week and didn’t want to leave. We had an evening ferry on our last day there and when I asked about check out time, they said, “Don’t worry, stay as long as you like.” I could live at this place.

Lila’s GuesthouseSyros

Syros is an underrated little island – popular with Greeks – that has a bustling, non-touristy port city, great food and beaches. It’s also a ferry hub, so you can make day trips to more expensive islands like Mykonos with no problem.

My love affair with Lila’s Guesthouse started even before we arrived. I booked via email and Lila asked what ferry we were arriving on. I told her we were coming in from Samos at 2:30 a.m. but she still offered to come pick us up. And sure enough, she was there, bleary eyed, in the middle of the night waiting for us as we got off the boat.

Sometimes hotel websites can be very misleading, but what you see is what you get at Lila’s. The place used to be the French consulate and the rooms are beautifully renovated and tastefully decorated. We had a one-bedroom loft with incredibly high ceilings, two balconies, all kinds of windows and light and a small kitchen. As beautiful as the place was, the best part about this place is the hospitality.

Lila and her husband, Dimitrios, are amazing hosts. One morning, I asked Dimitrios to recommend a Laundromat.

“Why?” he asked. “We’ll do it for you.”

“How much will that cost?” I asked, showing him a huge bag of dirty laundry for a family of four.

“No, no, it’s free,” he said, and three hours later he brought up our laundry, all neatly laundered and folded. I’ve been traveling the world for twenty years and no one has ever, ever washed my clothing for me for free. God Bless the Lila Guesthouse!

Rena’s Rooms & Suites– Santorini

Santorini is easily the most expensive Greek island, due to its spectacular setting, so finding a high quality place here at a low price is a bit trickier than on other islands. But Rena’s Rooms & Suites is a very pleasant surprise. The place has some negative reviews online, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the rooms were completely renovated in 2011 and it’s like a brand new hotel.

We have a very stylish two-room suite with a terrace and access to a lovely pool that serves big frosty mugs of Fransiskaner Dunkel Weiss for 3.5€. Best of all, the owners left a whole slew of toys for my children in the room, which were a huge hit.

Hotel Australis- Patmos

Patmos is another gorgeous island in the eastern Aegean that has it all: history, great food, beaches and stunning scenery. We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment at the Hotel Australis for a week, and at the shoulder season (cash only) bargain price of 50€ per night, it was a steal. The apartment was functional, not fancy, but we practically lived on our terrace, which had an amazing view of the port.

The family that runs this place is wonderful. They brought us a bottle of wine when we checked in, and fresh baked goods every day. If we needed a ride somewhere, Peter was always there to help us, and before we even checked out, we were Facebook friends. Right around the corner from this place, you’ll find the trailhead for a great hike up to Patmos’s ancient Acropolis.

NOTE: Room rates will vary based upon time of year, occupancy, number of persons in the room and other factors.

(Photos and videos by Dave Seminara)

New York City’s worst rated hotels

Stunning Cockroaches. Dodgy brown stains. When we got to the room, all I could do was cry. Moldy swamp pit. Dried boogers on the wall. Cheap porn set. We met mice in the corridor. Smelled like murder and hookers. I thought we were going to be raped or murdered.

These are excerpts from user generated Trip Advisor reviews of five of New York’s most maligned hotels and hostels, the New World Hotel, ranked the 393rd “best” hotel on the site, Hotel Riverside Studios, ranked #395, La Semana Hotel, ranked #400, the Sun Bright Hotel, ranked #403, and the West Side Inn, ranked #405. Another poorly rated hotel in Trip Advisor, the Aladdin, has actually been converted into a homeless shelter.

There are literally hundreds of scathing reviews for these grim hotels but in order to find them, travelers need to click through fourteen pages of higher rated hotels on the site. Travel publications devote a huge amount of space to celebrating the world’s best hotels, but virtually none to condemning the worst ones, so it’s easy to see how inexperienced travelers could be disappointed in New York, America’s most expensive city, where $100 a night doesn’t buy much.

I’ve spent a good deal of time traveling on a budget in the developing world and consider myself to be something of a cheap hotel aficionado. I’ve stayed in hotels frequented by drunks, prostitutes and outright criminals, places with no running water, pit toilets with no doors, filthy mattresses tossed on the floor- places squalid enough to occasionally inhabit my nightmares to this day. But I haven’t stayed in any of these hotels, so please note that these reflections are those of travelers writing on Trip Advisor. And even the worst reviewed places have some defenders. But not many. Per the Trip Advisor ratings, here are the worst among the worst:Hotel Riverside Studios (pictured above) – The hotel web site boasts that the place has a “European flavor,” and “charming rooms that have recently been upgraded,” but it has some 168 1-star (“terrible”) reviews on Trip Advisor, which make the place sound anything but charming. One reviewer described the shared bathroom as having, “pubic hair everywhere, feces on the floor, and a sign on the door reading: ‘If you don’t like the dirty bathroom CLEAN IT YOURSELF!'” One writer mentioned “dirty hallways that were like a horror movie,” while another said they cried upon entering the room and concluded that one would be “better off sleeping on the street.” The hotel’s site also claims that they offer travelers the chance to “mingle with true New Yorkers,” but according to the reviews, the “true” New Yorkers are actually homeless persons using the hotel as a shelter.

La Semana Hotel (right) – This hotel advertises “state of the art” “deluxe rooms” for “people on the go,” but customers described a hotel they wanted to flee immediately after checking in. Two noted that the front desk clerk seemed to be ostentatiously surfing porn at the front desk, and another posted that they thought they may have bumped into a murder witness in the lobby. One traveler described floor-to-ceiling mirrors that were reminiscent of a “cheap porn set.”

West Side Inn (middle right) – This “tourist/student class hotel” advertises itself as a “hip and trendy” place to stay, but of 263 reviews on Trip Advisor, 153 rated it as “terrible.” Reviewers described this budget hotel/hostel as a “moldy swamp pit,” with “feces-stained toilets,” hungry bedbugs and “used condoms on the shared bathroom floor.” One concluded that it was like a “crack house from out of the movies,” another opined that one should “tell your worst enemy to stay at the West Side Inn.” Another traveler titled their review “Welcome to Hell.”

New World Hotel (bottom right) This place has private rooms for as little as $55 but many considered it overpriced even at that low rate. A traveler from Philadelphia, who wrote that they booked this place through hotels.com, wrote that they tried to trade in a pillow with blood stains, but were given another bloody pillow. A Romanian reviewer said that the hotel was even worse than what they experienced during the Communist era in Romania, and concluded that a homeless shelter would have been more comfortable. Others described “watermelon sized bedbugs,” garbage strewn windowsills, and “horrifying” rooms with “box springs as beds.”

Sun Bright Hotel – This budget hotel, which offers private and dorm style rooms ranging from $33-90, has 68 reviews on Trip Advisor- 31 gave it 1 star, 16 gave it 2 and zero gave it 5. One poster referred to the place as a “prison camp” and concluded that they should “not let animals stay there,” but still gave the place 2 stars. Another traveler described the dorm rooms as a “chicken coop” with chicken wire separating the rooms and “infested” with cockroaches. An Australian traveler described the conditions as “subhuman” and stinking of urine. Several others noted that there were no ceilings- only chicken wire and one traveler from New York titled her review “Uninhabitable, Unsanitary, Unbearable.”

Caveat emptor. You get what you pay for. Sometimes less. Especially in New York.

[all photos courtesy Trip Advisor]