Nov 13 2011

Kuala Lumpur hostel Reggae Mansion’s controversial guest policy

Published by at 11:54 am under Accommodation


To succeed, all businesses must identify who their target market is. For a hotel or guesthouse, that means deciding who the likely clientele will be. Often the whole business strategy is based around a particular demographic niche. By necessity, going after one group of people involves ignoring or even excluding other potential customers. A luxury hotel, for example, targets rich people, at the expense of the less well-off.

What would Bob think?

What would Bob think?

It is considered bad form though, as one newly-opened backpacker hostel in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown has done, to explicitly state who you do NOT want as customers. Reggae Mansion (part of a small chain of guesthouses and bars in KL and Penang), has sparked a huge storm by refusing to accept bookings from Malaysians, people from the Middle East and India, and the over-sixties.

Part of the same chain, but not it seems the same philosophy.

Part of the same chain, but not it seems the same philosophy.

Reggae Mansion’s justification is that it is a “party hostel“, primarily a place for young international travellers to meet and have loud fun, while in KL. This involves large amounts of alcohol, as well as noise, an atmosphere clearly not suited to some people. Having been turned away from a hostel in Rome a couple of years ago for being too old, I understand how unpleasant it can feel to be excluded in this way.

What I fail to understand though is the charge of racism being levelled at Reggae Mansion. By stating that their food is non-halal and that they serve alcohol, the ban is not primarily about race, it is about religion, specifically Islam. Why else would Malaysian Chinese be included in the ban, when they generally have no problem with pork, booze or partying? An explicit ban on Muslims though, would have landed Reggae Mansion in even greater trouble.

Ethnically diverse, but not racially equal.

Ethnically diverse, but not racially equal.

What gets me most about this whole controversy though is how trifling Reggae Mansion’s sins are compared to other forms of discrimination in Malaysia. After all, KL has umpteen other places to stay, but ethnic Chinese and Indians have no choice but to put up with the official racial discrimination they face every day.

Grinding poverty based on race, bit more of a serious issue no?

Grinding poverty based on race, bit more of a serious issue no?

Malaysia has favoured Malays in everything from education to housing for more than four decades now. The country’s laws also discriminate against the Orang Asli (the indigenous people of West Malaysia), women, non-Muslims, Shia Muslims, and homosexuals. For senior government politicians to accuse Reggae Mansion of discrimination is gross hypocrisy, to say the least.

One of many attractions where foreigners pay more.

One of many attractions where foreigners pay more.

Malaysia does not just discriminate against its non-Malay citizens, it also does so against foreigners. A total ban exists, for example, against visitors from Israel. Less serious perhaps, is the growing issue of double pricing. Many of Malaysia’s leading attractions charge foreign tourists far more than locals. The Malaysian price is often disguised by the use of term “MyKad holder”, or it is in very fine print.

Highly rated with its target market.

Highly rated with its target market.

Two wrongs do not make a right, but given the unequal policies supported for so long by Malaysia’s government, one hostel publicly stating who its target market is seems like a storm in a teacup. For the record, the ban no longer appears on Reggae Mansion’s website. As for its target market, the hostel appears to be proving extremely popular; so much so that it is Hostel World’s top rated option in KL.

4 responses so far

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4 Responses to “Kuala Lumpur hostel Reggae Mansion’s controversial guest policy” ...

  1. Dave from The Longest Way Homeon 15 Nov 2011 at 5:46 am

    I read about this a few weeks ago, and really didn’t think much of it as I’ve come across it before in other countries. The banning of nationals that is.

    Having spent a considerable amount of time in Malaysia as well, I’ve run across the race issues here too.

    I wrote about them here http://www.thelongestwayhome.com/blog/how-to-live-overseas/what-would-it-be-like-to-live-in-malaysia/ (admin feel free to delete if links aren’t allowed) about my thoughts about what it would be like to live in Malaysia. The conclusion was, basically I would, but I couldn’t stand the racism and derivatives there of, etc that I’ve witnessed everyday in West Malaysia.

    Indeed I’ve been subjected too. Being called a “white” colonist for giving my opinion on lackadaisical rail timetables for example? And then told, if I don’t like it, leave, it’s there country and they’ll run it the way they want. This all from merely saying the rail service isn’t run very well. It all felt like there was tinder box ready to blow.

    I say West Malaysia, as I personally noted a lot more prejudiced in West Malaysia than I did in Sabah, or Sarawak. This could be “justified” by saying West Malaysia has far more immigrants, than Sarawak or Sabah, but nonetheless that’s how I found it.

    Moreover, I noticed a difference in race attitudes between the states too. As highlighted in my own posts comments and the emails I received; primarily west Malaysians began by denying there were any problems. Then got offended on how a foreigner could possibly know anything of Malaysia, to finally “get lost, if you don’t like it” type attitudes.

    Counter this with the replies I got from Malaysians from Sabah, and Sarawak who were a lot more open about race issues in the country as a whole, and identifying the causes. Whats more, east Malaysians were much more open to discussing these issues than west Malaysians. Who, quite frankly, at the end of the day stopped communicating with me after publishing this post.

    Or maybe it was the fact that 3 weeks after I published it, there were race riots in Kuala Lumpur which kind of left egg on their faces in their denial of there being any problems.

    A more interesting side note to all this is that I got a couple of emails from, again west Malaysians, stating they did not want to voice their opinions publicly on blog comments. This, was perhaps was perhaps the most unsettling part of all this.

    Malaysia is indeed a divided nation on sitting on tinder box. Hostels such as this one I don’t think are doing anything I haven’t heard of before in other countries.

    In Scotland I came across several hostels who banned Scots! I too got offended at the idea. But when I moved to another hostel without the ban, I saw why. Long-term unemployed Scots were taking up residence in many of the dorms. It was cheaper than local housing. To travelers though it was very uncomfortable, as these people never left the rooms. And, had for basically set up home in there. Mini TV’s, curtains around bunks, and the list goes on.

    Likewise in Barcelona there were several hostels banning Spanish patrons for similar reasons.

    Move to Nepal and see that nationals and non-nationals like Nigerians are banned. The reason they ban Nigerians is due to the high rate of crime associated with them. Similarly I stayed in a hostel in Kuala Lumpur who also bans Malaysian (all ethnics) and Nigerians for all these reasons. Least we mention Israelis who are surely the most banned hostel occupants in the world.

    I think a business must be run to be profitable. I think this is what this particular hostel was doing. Perhaps they could have chosen their words a little better.

    Do, I think it was a race issue. No. At least not on the surface that a third party could tell. Do I think there are race issues in Malaysia … oh yes, very big ones.

  2. Paton 15 Nov 2011 at 7:59 am

    Excellent comment. Thanks so much for sharing. I was kind of expecting a few “go home colonialist” comments, but so far nothing from the boycott Reggae Mansion brigade.

  3. TravBuddy Blogon 16 Nov 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Malaysian Race Issues Becoming Internet ‘Can Of Worms’…

    And this, admittedly, puts us at the risk of becoming involved, but given the recent storm in a teacup that’s arisen from a number of bloggers posts on race relations in Malaysia – or specifically in many cases, the west of Malaysia, as opposed to the…

  4. Adelon 09 Jul 2012 at 6:42 am

    nope, the “ban” or policy is still very much alive today (9/7/2012)! I just log on and found the notice before making a booking.

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