food / travel

Cheap And Chic: A Boom In Designer Budget Hotels

Sit by the virtual fire at the Edinburgh-Royal
Sit by the virtual fire at the Edinburgh-Royal
Verena Wolff

The hotel’s location is practical, in one of the most sought-after areas of Edinburgh: just steps away from the railroad station, with the Old Town and Princes Street shopping only close by.

Old and imposing on the outside, inside it’s all modern, minimalist, and even a little Scottish. Chairs in the reception area are upholstered in a brown and turquoise tartan, and sheepskins have been thrown casually on the deep-set window seats.

Not only is it centrally located and chic — at just 70 euros a night, it’s also inexpensive. The Royal Hotel is one of German hotel chain Motel One’s most recent new venues. The chain, which opened its first hotel in 2000, is one of many populating the the so-called budget hotel market.

According to the German Hotel Association (IHA), the biggest player on the German market is Ibis, which is regarded as a budget hotel forerunners. Its first, in Berlin, dates back to 1982.

Since then, its French parent company Accor has changed what were formerly All-Seasons, Etap and Formule-1 hotels into Ibis Styles and Budget properties, and there are some 200 of them in Germany, most with clean, modern designs.

“This market segment still has huge growth potential,” says German Hotel Association spokesman Christopher Lück. And Munich-based hotel consultants PFK expect that the number of inexpensive hotels in Germany could rise 30% to 40% over the next few years.

“We get both vacationioners and business travelers,” says Oliver Goslich, sales manager for B&B Hotels in Germany. The chain was founded in 1990 in France and opened its first German hotel eight years later. The chain runs 200 hotels in France, 61 in Germany, 14 in Italy, three in Poland, two in Portugal, one in Morocco, and one in the Czech Republic.

If Motel One is loyal to its signature colors — brown and turquoise — B&B hotels are recognizable by their very vivid colors and their rooms’ chic wallpaper that features local-specific imagery. “That way, you know where you are,” says Goslich.

But Motel One and the B&B hotels have one thing in common: Aside from locations with easy access for all types of transportation, the decoration is simple but chic, wifi is available free, and parking is generally free. At Motel One, prices run between 49 and 69 euros per night. “During expos and other events, there are extra charges of 20, 50 or 70 euros per room depending on the event and the city," says spokesperson Ursula Schelle-Müller.

B&B Hotels also have clear and simple pricing, with singles equipped with French beds (bigger than twins, smaller than doubles) costing between 49 and 54 euros, “and marginally more during expos,” says Goslich.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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