The woman behind the check-in counter is pointing to the kiosk in front of me. “First, scan your passport,” she says politely. As I cautiously creep my passport into the scanner, my reservation details appear on the screen in front of me: my name, the number of nights I’m staying, the amount I owe for the room. “Just like that,” she nods and gestures toward the credit card machine. I swipe my card and, within seconds, the machine spits out two room keys and breakfast vouchers.
Just like that, indeed, I am checked into Hoshino Resorts’ OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka hotel. Just like that, I bypass the traditional check-in process, relieved to have avoided waiting in line or for the concierge to type in all of my details after a 15-hour flight. It’s so easy and efficient, but it’s also one of the ways that OMO5 keeps costs down.
“OMO5 is a city hotel brand which only targets tourists,” says Yoshiharu Hoshino, CEO of Hoshino Resorts. “If you target the tourist, you don’t have to adhere to what business travelers want.” Unlike Tokyo’s more business-focused hotels, the OMO5 is located in a cultural district that’s relatively unknown to visitors. There’s a common room with pay-per-use washers and dryers instead of laundry service, the no-frills breakfast must be purchased separately, and some rooms even feature bunk beds to accommodate multiple guests. It may sound unglamorous, but it makes sense for the type of traveler who cares less about amenities and more about exploring the city.
Tokyo has no shortage of luxury hotels, but it’s always lacked a solid selection of cool, affordable properties. That is until recently, when the city gained a slew of budget-friendly openings, from The Knot last August to Hotel Koé, Muji Hotel, and Tsuki earlier this year. Like OMO5, these hotels cater to tourists who normally stay at economy hotels frequented by business travelers, but are now seeking other accommodations. Rates range from around $120 to $300 per night, and the hotels are often located in less-touristy neighborhoods, helping expose guests to areas they might otherwise overlook. “In the past, there have always been good, clean, cheap hotels in Japan, but they tended to be business hotels, so guests viewed them as nothing more than a bed to sleep in,” says Tyler Palma, Tokyo office manager for England-based travel agency InsideJapan Tours. “What’s most interesting about the recent budget openings is the very high level of design, the thoughtfulness of the room layouts, and the inclusion of bars and high-quality restaurants.”
Palma attributes this wave of stylish, cost-effective openings to an overall hotel boom in Tokyo. “It’s happening against the backdrop of more hotels at every level. At the very high end, there are some really big openings coming from chains like Aman, Park Hyatt, and Four Seasons, so I think the building spree at the lower end is just one part of a larger picture,” he says. With Tokyo the setting for the Rugby World Cup this fall and the Summer Olympic Games in 2020, more beds are certainly a good thing for the city. Less so for locals, however, who are starting to feel crowded by the more than 2 million tourists who flood Tokyo each year. For many hospitality brands, the solution lies in connecting travelers to surrounding communities. Says Palma, “A number of these new hotels and hostels have become a gathering place for locals as well as tourists. This is fantastic because it creates a brand of tourism that gives back to the locals and entices people to stay for longer.”
Located in the off-the-beaten-path district of Koto City, the riverside Lyuro hotel, which opened in April 2017, does this particularly well, featuring events, tours, and pop-ups that inspire guests to explore the area and mingle with locals. Back at OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka, which sits north of the city center, the “OMO Rangers” program offers guided bar, restaurant, and shopping crawls that visit places tourists would have trouble finding on their own. (Feeling a little lost yourself? Browse AFAR’s guide to Japan for first-timers.) While it’s situated in the busy Shibuya district, even Hotel Koé is committed to the community, hosting a slate of music, fashion, and cultural events that attract both travelers and Tokyoites. By keeping room rates down and enabling guests to travel deeper, hotels like OMO5 are creating a new way to stay in Tokyo. Checking into one of the city’s trendy, less-traditional properties now means more closely experiencing Tokyo through the eyes of locals—without worrying about taking full advantage of your $800-per-night hotel room. And even if you do choose to spend the morning sleeping off your sake hangover, at least you won’t be snoozing across from a swivel desk chair.
>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Travel Guide to Tokyo