W Hotel Seoul - Confused Image / by Tyler Wood

NEW YORK – June 25, 2013 – W Hotels Worldwide today announced a strategic partnership with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.”

 The 'Fabulous Suite'

The 'Fabulous Suite'

This is the news the chain of hotels is currently posting on their website (www.starwoodhotels.com/whotels). This hotel chain that promotes a “Retreat to surprising, sensory environments where amplified entertainment, vibrant lounges, modern guestrooms and innovative cocktails and cuisine create more than just a hotel experience, but a luxury lifestyle destination.”

The chic interior and design coupled with their advertising of young, trendy people partaking in art and fashion along side their support of equal treatment and innovation tells the tale of a sleek, modern hotel brand that caters to the young and progressive. Pushing the ideas of equality and art also infers the idea that they are open to foreign exchange and cultural openness. That’s what I thought – until I stayed there.

I booked a ‘Wonderful Room’ for a stay-cation to relax at the end of the Chuseok holiday. I wanted to dine in style, sleep in style, and swim in the stylish pool. I checked in and relaxed in the room after eating a delicious, though over-priced, NYC-style smoked turkey deli sandwich. When I was ready to go down to the pool, I was greeted with something I was shocked to be running into at this place. I was told I couldn’t swim in the pool because of my tattoos. The only way I could was to wear a full-body covering swimming suit they would let me borrow.

“Excuse me?” Their reasoning was traditional Korean culture. They said they don’t allow any tattoos larger than the size of a fist. My tattoos are about 15 fists large, according to the W Hotel measuring system. Could I have a horribly offensive tattoo, as long as it’s smaller than a fist?

I refused to cover the art on my skin and left. I immediately went to the front desk and complained.

I have lived in Korea for four years now and, though it is true, Korea is pretty conservative about tattoos, I have never – not once – been told to cover up or been rejected anywhere in Korea. I have been to all of the major water-parks (where Korean families go), public pools, jjimjilbangs (Korean bathhouses) in multiple Seoul neighborhoods and other cities, and numerous beaches and hotel pools and never have my tattoos been an issue. Why, of all places, is the W Hotel, with the image it is projecting, the place where I was treated like this?

I didn’t see a bunch of soju-drinking ajjushis hanging out at the bar playing baduk. Where is this ‘traditional Korean culture’ they speak of at this international hotel chain? How many Korean tourists stay in the W Hotel when traveling to Seoul anyway? Also, I’m pretty sure being pro-LGBT equality isn’t exactly screaming “traditional Korean culture” either.

Having complained, I do have to thank the staff for taking my complaint serious and taking care of me well after that. They upgraded my room and apologized, but nowhere on the website or in the process of booking was it mentioned. I checked-in in a t-shirt with clearly visible tattoos and no one said anything, so really it was a disappointing experience they made a little better. But It will remain my one and only stay at their chain of hotels until they change that policy.

If you have no tattoos, then I’m sure you will enjoy your stay there. In all fairness, the food at The Kitchen and Namu were very delicious, though very much over-priced. If you are a tourist, I would recommend venturing out of the sanctuary of the hotel and eating a little closer to the street level if you are interested in getting to know Seoul at all though.

The Wonderful Room, my original room, was nice and comfortable and had a nice view of Achasan, as long as you didn’t look down at the parking lot below. It was, as the image they promote suggests, trendy and chic. It was red and white with a furry blanket in a natural brown tone and plenty of pillows for childhood fort-making. It had a bathtub and separate shower as well.

 Fabulous Suite's Living Room

Fabulous Suite's Living Room

The second room was much nicer, obviously. The Fabulous Suite had an in-room jacuzzi overlooking the Han River. On the other side of a partition wall, It had a wrap-around couch with a flat-screen TV and vintage 60’s blue-green cabinets with cocktail shaker and martini glasses, a la James Bond. The bedroom was in it’s own room with another flat-screen TV. All the amenities one could ask for were there, mostly for extra cost. It felt very much like the suite in The Hangover – pre-roofies.

All in all, however,  it’s hard to review this hotel in an unbiased way when there is a huge fault in it’s policy and treatment of someone different. The treatment was all the more of a shock because it doesn’t match the image they advertise or beliefs they promote. It was a really disappointing experience made manageable by the staff. If you actually believe in equality then I would recommend staying at a place that puts their policy where their mouths are and skip the W Hotel Seoul.