Family rooms are common in Japan and Korea, where multi-generation travel is the norm. When you have grown up co-sleeping with your parents, you think nothing of co-sleeping with your grandparents as well. And if the bed is a futon mattress on the floor, then the boundaries of your bed are harder to draw than if it is raised 30 cm above the floor.
Since children stay for free until they are six in most cases, the hotels do not make anything off their stay. On the contrary, they are a cost since they will eat breakfast and require changes of bed linen and room cleaning. When you book a family room, you have to pay for the kids as well - it is baked into the price of the adult stay.
If you are a group of more than three - for instance, a family of five with a grandma in tow - you are probably better off if you stay in an AirBnB than a modern hotel. You can find very nice places for a fraction of what you would pay for comparable hotels. And you do not have to trade off much, you might even gain from it. Our kids still talk about Villa Kohola that we rented in Okinawa, surrounded by a wonderful garden and within walking distance to the beach. But there were no hotels near there. Well, a small pension up the hill.
We had a wonderful trip to Okinawa, by the way, and it made a great impression on our kids, providing them with some really good learning experiences.
But we had to rent a villa to house all of us. If you are a big group, the price comes down quickly. But the supply is limited. You have to be very early to find a great place that is not booked already.
Finding a great place is much harder than finding a place. Especially if there are more than two of you, the number of people most hotels are built for. Reviews on AirBnB are as accurate as reviews on Amazon, but occasionally you hit a dud. And you can hardly return the room you rented to AirBnB and pick a new one, like you would return a book you did not like to Amazon and pick a new one.
Getting the place you are going to stay right is crucial, both to the enjoyment of your trip and the economics of it.
But if you have to book three rooms in a hotel that has 300 rooms you are booking one per cent of their rooms. If you are booking three rooms in a hotel with only thirty rooms it is ten percent.
More Than One Room Required
As a family of six (when we bring grandma), we often run into problems how to stay when we travel. Not all hotels are as well-equipped as the Hilton Tokyo Bay, one of the Disney partner hotels close to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea. They have family rooms which sleep up to five - adults. And kids under six are free (as long as they use the existing beds). The breakfast was great for kids too, even if the pool could have been bigger (and as warm as that of Sheraton next door). But they have a great convenience store downstairs.
But not every place is like that, and most hotels have much smaller rooms. Business hotels hardly have space for an adult to turn around, and capsule hotels are not even possible to consider. This means you are either constrained to two rooms or very upscale hotels (or ryokan, which is not a bad idea). Or AirBnB. Case in point: When we stayed in the Royal Park Hotel The Haneda at Haneda Airport, we had to have two rooms. Only if you have three four-year-olds you can imagine the soundscape of the bickering and argumentation for who should sleep with their parents and who would sleep with grandma, because with two rooms they can not run back and forth between the beds until they settle down (or we tell them it is enough), as they would if we were sleeping in a family room.
No Discount For Bulk Purchases
When you fill up the hotel that way you should expect a discount. But booking an AirBnB is much cheaper than booking three hotel rooms. Cheaper than one hotel room, in many cases. And booking the right place to stay is crucial for your positive memory of the trip. Even if it is just a stopover. We typically use Booking.com rather than AirBnB, by the way. The biggest advantage is not the selection - professional hosts tend to be on both AirBnB and Booking.com. But Booking.com offers something else that is very useful: Free cancellations. If you have not decided when or where you are going, you can book a great place and then cancel if your plans change, without any extra cost. The free cancellation periods vary though, so you have to be careful that you cancel before the offer expires.
But if you are going to stay, it is surprising that the booking sites - or the hosts - do not treat you better. For sure, their business is to run an automated system, not to be hospitable to people they have never met, but to give you a membership and points that you can only use at their site is a bit lame. When you frequently book for a large family, having some way of skewing the selection towards child-friendly rooms would be nice. Even though they will probably not get paid for it, since children under six are usually free in Japan, as long as they do not need beds (or cribs) of their own.
The Hotel Will Forget Your Name
f I go into a store and buy ten pairs of trousers, they will probably throw in some socks and underpants as well, because I am now a very good customer, and they probably want me to come back. Preferrably before I have worn out all the pants.
But once I check out of a hotel room I might as well have taken the next flight off the surface of the Earth. I greeting messages from the place we stayed in Seoul, which is great because we would definitely consider staying there for our next trip. It is great because I keep forgetting where it was (in Seoul, but I get the location wrong for some reason).
But other hotels seem hardly to care less. Maybe they thought our kids were too noisy. But we clearly did not make it into the VIP category. Or maybe they are so big that they do not care. I can sort of relate how the Hilton Tokyo Bay, one of the Disney partner hotels and one we often use, do not feel it is meaningful to come back to all customers. Although if they knew my kids, they would know that dropping me an email a couple of months before their birthday would guarantee them a booking. Frozenland is not open yet but when it opens my kids are likely to be first in line.
Being too few for a group booking does not really help. The closest I have got to someone offering group discounts to ordinary people is Hotelplanner, but a family of six is does not seem to be big enough for them to bother (they have not came back to my requests).
So perhaps as a traveling family you need to be more proactive, and bring more families to a location. Perhaps renting an entire hotel would help, although the conference I arranged would never have filled a hotel. It is no more difficult to book a vacation for a group than for an individual if you do it online. The hard part is getting the group together.
Do It Like Thomas Cook
If you are inviting people you do not know you to share your trip you are not doing anything different from what Thomas Cook did in 1841 (although that many people would be overkill - you would need a pretty mig hotel). But if you could get a nice discount it would be nice to share with more people.
Maybe you do not get access to the same discounts that a travel agent would, but hotels are quick to give discounts if you book everything they have. This would be feasible with a small hotel or pension, and the good thing about the idea is that there are plenty of those in Japan.
So I have a proposition: Join us and let us rent a hotel. There are plenty of nice hotels in the Japanese ski resorts, many of them with hot spring baths. Although not all of them will be able to promise four meter deep powder snow, and not every year.
Want To Come Travel With Us?
Let me know if you and your family would be interested to go see the snow monkeys in Nagano and go skiing with your kids. The skiing season in Iapan is short but we have lots of snow. February 2019 looks like good timing. Our kids will be five and a half by then. Let me know by May 2018 if you would be interested. Email address is email@example.com
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Tokyo to Sendai, previously of Bangkong and Honolulu. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning seven - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.