Nov 13 2011
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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