Traditionally, rooms in Hong Kong's love hotels can be booked by the hour, but a new take on the concept is currently proving popular with Millennials. With most young Hongkongers still living with their parents, these next-gen love hotels offer some private time for intimacy while keeping things discreet thanks to online booking and new services to make guests feel at home.
Love hotels boomed in 1960s Hong Kong after gaining popularity in Japan. These hotels -- offering stays of just a few hours -- were essentially used as a place for discreet sexual encounters. Sixty years later, the quest for private time is still very much on the minds of the Hong Kong population, and love hotels have found a new and different usage among the younger generation.
In search of privacy as well as intimacy
Young people are particularly affected by Hong Kong's lack of privacy since most of them still live with their parents. According to 2019 government data, nine out of 10 people age 15 to 24, and six out of 10 people age 24 to 34 were still living with their parents in Hong Kong. The reason is simple. Priced out of the housing market, young people are often forced to stay at home with mom and pop for financial reasons. Even if a couple moves in with one set of parents, the incontestable lack of space prevents any kind of intimate, physical contact. This proximity makes all manner of romantic endeavors extremely complicated, even for married couples. Cheng, who runs a love hotel in the Mongkok district, told the BBC that "some [guests] are even married couples who want to have some privacy to themselves at the weekend, when it is too packed at home."
With almost 300 love hotels in Hong Kong, the new generation is currently turning to these establishments to get some semblance of privacy, to almost believe that they could be relaxing at home in their own apartment. Indeed, a new breed of love hotel has started to emerge, offering in-advance self-check-in and with rooms equipped with TV sets and streaming services -- sometimes even a kitchen and a bathtub. Young Honkongers are now looking to spend time with their other half, and not just for having sex. "They include Netflix or video games in the room so couples can enjoy spending time together. If we go to traditional love hotels we only watch Netflix on our phone. These hotels offer private space that feels like a home to a couple," 26-year-old Wayne told the BBC.
Discreet reservation systems appeal to Millennials
As well as new facilities and services in the rooms, the new love hotels also offer greater discretion, allowing guests to simply book and pay for a room via their smartphone and at a reasonable price. They are then sent a code to open the door without having to encounter anyone else. "Some [traditional] hourly love hotels charge arbitrarily. And on some occasions, you have to line up for hours -- it's even more embarrassing if you bump into someone you know," Jensen Tse, who runs the self-check-in Mansion G love hotel, told journalist Chermaine Lee for the BBC. Wayne adds: "In love hotels, you can hear the noise from other rooms, but you don't know who they are, so it's less embarrassing."
Since the covid-19 pandemic, certain proprietors of modern-day love hotels have noticed an unexpected increase in reservations in February and March, as Yee, who runs the Fortress Hill No. 7 love hotel confirmed to the British media. Proprietor Jensen Tse also claims to have had more customers, some of whom simply wanted a place to eat lunch or dinner. With the covid-19 pandemic ongoing and the lack of space an inherent problem in Hong Kong, love hotels are becoming places to enjoy some time out from the hustle and bustle of the overpopulated city.