Sun, Jul 29, 2012 - Page 14 News List

European hotels vie for style on a budget market

Budget hotels grew faster than the overall sector in 2011, with Motel One and citizenM attracting guests with contemporary style

By Victoria Bryan  /  Reuters, FRANKFURT

Hotelier Dieter Mueller wants to achieve a first by creating an international German hotel chain that proves cheap can be so much more than cheerful in the increasingly competitive budget sector.

With its promise of high design at low prices, Mueller’s fast-growing Motel One chain has joined citizenM and B&B Hotels as part of a new breed of hotels leading the charge on established budget brands such as Travelodge, Whitbread’s Premier Inn and Accor’s Formule 1.

Mueller, Motel One’s chief executive and founder, aims to bring the brand’s turquoise and cream stylings to the UK, Austria and Belgium.

“There’s not a German hotel chain with an international presence,” he said. “We want to change that.”

The city center locations and funky decor of the new chains are proving popular with tourists and business travelers alike as they rein in budgets in debt-hit Europe. Motel One says that 60 percent to 65 percent of its guests are on business trips.

In Germany, large firms have cut spending on business travel by about 12 percent since 2007, even though the average amount of traveling has remained unchanged, the VDR travel association said.

“Budget hotels are making a bid for the cost-conscious, but style-seeking consumer, and are remodeling their rooms and atmosphere to compete with the look that the boutique hotels made famous,” Euromonitor travel and tourism analyst Nadejda Popova said.

Sales figures for budget hotels rose 10 percent last year, representing a 41 percent share of the US$162.5 billion European hotel industry, Popova said.

“The budget segment has changed dramatically,” said Ursula Kriegl, of the hotel investment services company Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels. “More chains have expanded and contributed to a more diverse, more professional offer.”

Citizen M, whose motto is “affordable luxury for the people,” offers rooms in London from about £99 (US$150), while Motel One rooms in Germany generally start at 50 to 60 euros (US$62 to US$74) a night.

Marc Socker, senior director of hotel fund management at Invesco Real Estate, said this was a good time to invest in the hotel sector.

“Supply is very low — there are very few hotels being built in Europe — but demand is high, with occupancy near historic highs, and global tourism is continuing to grow,” he said.

The IPD Pan-European Hotel report published this month said the budget hotel sector provided a 9.8 per cent return on investment last year, beating the 6 percent for European hotels overall.

The pressure from the new chains means that the established players are having to sharpen up their act and give their hotels a more contemporary feel.

“You have to ask these days ‘what is budget?’ If you can pay an extra £10 and get a more design-style hotel, then you will,” Socker said. “I’m wary for players like Premier Inn and Travelodge because, with the sort of product they have, there are few barriers to entry.”

Accor’s Ibis, Europe’s largest economy hotel chain and the fourth biggest worldwide, saw second-quarter sales growth slow, dragged down by its budget hotels business.

Ibis is renovating its budget hotels, rebranding the Etap/Formule 1 and All Seasons properties as Ibis Budget and Ibis Styles, with a focus on unique design features and new beds, mattresses and pillows. Holiday Inn, which terms itself mid-range and is part of the world’s biggest hotelier InterContinental, recently finished a US$1 billion refurbishment.

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