By Rachel Chan
EXPENSIVE rates and full bookings at Singapore's more popular five-star hotels are driving Formula One tourists to look elsewhere.
Premium rooms are available at cheaper rates - not across the Causeway or in neighbouring Bintan island - but right in the heart of town.
The Hotel Alternatives (THA) claims it is the first known company here to capitalise on the luxury-vacation rental concept. It has 50 fully-furnished apartments with en-suite bedrooms nestled in various condominium estates in Tomlinson Road, Somerset and LeonieHill - the prestigious districts nine and 10.
With the world's first F1 night race kicking off on Sept 26 and 40,000 tourists expected for the three-day event, THA hopes to capture spillover visitors, like Mr Sonny Alo, who have been unable to secure rooms at popular five-star hotels.
The Ferrari fan from Cebu City in the Philippines wanted to book rooms at the Meritus Mandarin this month, but was told that the five-star hotel was full.
The 38-year-old moneylender then turned to THA. He has booked a room in Horizon Towers for US$220 (S$315) a night from Sept 26 to 29. In comparison, hotel rates can be as high as $1,500 a night, with a minimum stay of three to five nights.
"I'm very used to five-star hotels and I wanted to stay in Orchard Road because my wife wants to go shopping while I'm at the race," said the Kimi Raikkonen fan in a phone interview with my paper.
Mr Anook, 57, a deputy commissioner from Delhi, India, will also be staying at Horizon Towers with four of his family members from Sept 22 to 29, at a total cost of $3,300.
He had chosen to visit Singapore during this period because his teenage son and nephew are "into F1 car racing".
THA, established in 2005, belongs to Les Vacances Maison Haute Couture International, which is in turn owned by a group of angel investors. The company also deals in properties in Shanghai and Indonesia. Currently, 56 out of the 83 boutique rooms set aside for F1 tourists have been taken up.
THA's apartments belong to home-owners who are not utilising their properties. They are located in potential en-bloc estates like Horizon Towers and Elizabeth Heights.
Thirty apartments have been rented out to expatriates on long-term leases, and the remainder are available for shortterm stay. These are highly popular with Indonesian tourists, particularly during the Great Singapore Sale.
The vacation-rental arrangement makes financial sense to en-bloc property owners for obvious reasons:While waiting for en-bloc deals to be sealed, they might as well make extra cash from apartments they have already vacated.
Home-owners get a 50 per cent cut of what tenants pay THA.
Tenants enjoy free Internet access and over 30 channels of digital cable TV, on top of the usual condo facilities.
Mr Anook said he saves at least 20 per cent by opting for a huge family room with THA than if he had taken two hotel rooms in the Orchard Road belt.
He said: "It's not just about the price, as I'm aware that there are cheaper hotels in areas like Geylang. It's the location."
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