Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tiong Bahru draws the inn crowd

The Straits Times
Sep 6, 2009
By Lisabel Ting

More hotels open in residential enclave, a draw with its rich heritage and location

The wallpaper is French, the bedsheets are Egyptian cotton, and the toiletries in the bathroom are Chopard.

But peer through the louvred shutters of the luxurious Nostalgia Hotel, and the view is undoubtedly Singaporean.

Located at 77 Tiong Bahru Road, the 50-roomer is the latest boutique hotel to call the sleepy, historical residential enclave home.

Singapore-based Lion Properties Group spent $20 million to build the mid-tier hotel, housed in two conserved shophouses and a four-storey extension built on a plot of land that once housed a Chinese temple and shops which sold songbirds.

Like others in its midst, such as Link Hotel, Hotel Re! and upcoming Wangz Hotel, location was the clincher.

'It's practically five minutes from Orchard, five minutes from Chinatown, and yet near the heartlands,' said Mr John White, the group's managing director.

Although Lion Properties has invested in industrial and commercial properties in Paya Lebar and Chinatown, this is its first hotel venture.

Opened last month, the boutique hotel will charge between $300 and $600 a night for a superior and balcony room respectively, although opening promotional rates are $190 to $480.

The rich heritage of the area has also been incorporated into the decor of the hotel.

Guests who enter the lobby are greeted by a display of traditional items, including an old radio and green-and-white coffeeshop cups.

Hotels in the area are not worried about the newcomer.

'We have a different concept and theme, and we're catering to a different price range,' said Ms Ariel Tan, marketing manager of Link Hotel, across the road from Nostalgia.

The 150-room hotel opened in 2007, and targets mainly tourists from China.

The rates for superior and deluxe rooms are $280 and $380 a night respectively.

Hotel Re!, a retro-themed hotel in Chin Swee Road, is also certain that there is enough business to go around.

'Boutique hotels are still a new trend in Asia and are only more established in markets such as Hong Kong and Thailand,' said Ms Jessica Loo, its marketing manager.

The hotel, which opened last year, has 140 rooms costing between $320 and $750 a night.

'Also, boutique hotels are all very different, and we each have our own niche area.'

Residents of Tiong Bahru are similarly unfazed by the mushrooming of such inns in their backyard, with another, Wangz Hotel, under construction in Tiong Bahru Road.

Although there was a furore over the opening of Hotel 81 in the estate earlier this year, residents The Sunday Times spoke to said boutique hotels are different from budget types which charge hourly rates.

'Maybe the guests constantly passing though the hotels will make our area more vibrant,' said housewife S.H. Chia, 42, who has been living in Tiong Bahru for more than 10 years.

While upcoming hotels may lead to more hustle and bustle, analysts said they are unlikely to affect the prices of properties in the vicinity.

'What they are likely to affect is the demography of the area, and F&B outlets.

If that's the case, then the value of properties surrounding the F&B outlets may rise,' said Mr Ho Eng Joo, executive director of investment sales, Colliers International.

For Mr White, the local food and beverage outlets are part of what makes Tiong Bahru an attractive experience for tourists.

'Although there's a restaurant in the hotel, we'll encourage our guests to go to the nearby Tiong Bahru market to eat, and we'll even recommend them what's good,' he said.

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