Hotels are thinking big by going as small as they can.
Independent hoteliers to big-name brands like Marriott are getting into the “micro-hotel” trend. The hotels have tiny rooms – think as small as 15 metres – but big public spaces that appeal to social travellers.
“It is a slightly literal example of the ‘living like a local’ trend – where an apartment is often just a place to sleep, and the public spaces are where one spends the majority of their time,” says Gray Shealy, executive director of the Master’s of Hospitality Management Program at Georgetown University.
Micro-hotels first popped up in urban centers such as Japan and New York City where real estate is particularly expensive. Packing more rooms into a property made financial sense.
In the USA, micro-hotel chains such as Pod, Yotel and CitizenM are expanding to other cities like Miami, San Francisco and Washington. These are destinations where travellers tend to look for great value and smart design.
Modus Hotels, a Washington based hospitality company, plans to open a Pod Hotel and the Hotel Hive, both micro-hotels, next year in the nation’s capital. Marriott will introduce 10 Moxy hotels next year in major metropolitan locations such as New Orleans, Chicago, Seattle and San Diego. Commune Hotels and Resorts will launch its micro-hotel brand Tommie early next year in New York City, with other domestic and international destinations to follow.
“These are hotels in every city that are 1) unusual, 2) reasonably-priced, and 3) cater to modern, working, frequent travellers,” says Garth Holsinger, who has stayed at Yotels many times.
The micro-hotels are particularly appealing to Millennial travellers, who are starting to travel more and spend more.
“We are focused on the Millennial-minded consumer, with an emphasis on style, attitude and design at an economical value,” says Vicki Poulos, global brand director for Moxy.
Some travellers don’t necessarily agree that the comfort level equals that of regular hotels, but room rates can make staying at micro-hotels worthwhile.
“At first, it is entirely novel,” says Diana Edelman, who writes a travel blog called d travels ’round and stayed at the Yotel at London’s Gatwick airport. “But then reality hits that it is nearly impossible to open a suitcase in the room without hitting your head on the bed’s ‘roof’ or that you are showering next to the toilet and sink.”
“The room is tiny,” she says. “And I mean tiny, so for people who don’t like small spaces, it can be claustrophobic.”
Here are a few of the New York hotels embracing the micro trend.
Hoteliers Richard Born and Ira Drukier introduced the micro-hotel trend to New York City in 2007 with the debut of Pod 51 in Midtown East. Pod 39 opened in June 2012 with a rooftop lounge, a communal play room where guests can engage in ping pong matches, and a Salvation Taco restaurant that, on an early Friday evening, drew as many or more young locals as guests. Pod 51 has an outdoor garden area and weekly happy hours.
“My target audience when we built it was the very next stage after you build a youth hostel,” Born says.
Rates start at US$89 (NZ$154) a mere fraction of what hotel rooms in New York normally cost. The smallest room is 72 square feet (22 metres) The largest is 200 square feet (61 metres).
Some rooms have bunk beds, each with their own plugs and TVs with headsets that were made for airplanes. Cubby holes provide storage space.
“It’s designed for intelligent people who understand the quality of design of the room and avail themselves of the technology,” Born says. “The rooms are very well thought-out meaning there’s a space to put your bag, there’s a space to put your things, there’s a plug wherever you want to plug in your device.”
Once home to survivors of the Titanic, this hotel in the West Village feels more like a cruise ship or a train with sleeper cabins. Rooms have single beds or bunk beds.
In the rooms with bunk beds, “there’s two of everything: two TVs, two waters, two bathrobes, two slippers,” says Courtney Garron, a manager at the hotel. Guests staying in the smallest room, the 15-metre Standard Cabin, share communal bathrooms.
There are built-in drawers and a luggage rack, but Garron acknowledges that sometimes people travelling with too much run out of space.
“We hold people’s bags,” she says.
The Standard and Bunk Cabins are 2 metres long and the beds are around 1.8, large enough for an average-sized person but perhaps a tight fit for someone taller. Larger Captain’s Cabins with their own bathrooms are available as well. And with prices starting at US$99 a night, upgrading to the larger cabin would still run you less than a regular hotel nearby.
An historic ballroom with a bar, lounge and mezzanine plus a rooftop with views of the Hudson River provide entertainment for those who want to get out of their rooms.
In addition to the Yotel New York, travellers can try out this micro-hotel in London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Expansion plans are in the works for Boston, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Miami, Dubai and Singapore. The smallest room, found at the airport locations, is 22.8 metres. Rates at the New York location average around US$200. Travellers can book at the airport locations in four-hour blocks.
With rooms that small, some features have to be customised. Yotel recently introduced the adjustable “SmartBed by YOTEL” created in partnership with Serta. Think of a Barcalounger for beds. Guests can convert the bed into a sofa for TV watching or working on their laptops.
Having trouble sleeping? The Yotel channel broadcasts a “Yawn” video to help induce sleep. The bizarre video of a man yawning is effective at making viewers want to close their eyes.
And in a nod to how important technology is to the modern-day traveller, the Yotel New York has a YOBOT on full display. The automated luggage storage and retrieval facility provides entertainment while taking care of luggage.
Rooms at CitizenM in Manhattan’s Theatre District feature interesting technology such as a digital artwork display that lets guests select whichever contemporary piece of art they want to stare at. Samsung touch-screen MoodPads control the TV, music, window blinds, temperature and alarm. Wi-Fi is complimentary.
All rooms at CitizenM are 51.8 metres, and each has a king-sized bed. Rates start at US$199 in New York.
There are five European properties in addition to the New York CitizenM. Plans are in the works to open more in the United Kingdom, France, Taiwan and USA.
“Our travellers appreciate an inspiring environment, a place where they really connect to the atmosphere, a great sleep experience … without having to pay the high rates of a typical boutique hotel,” says Noreen Chadha, commercial director, USA, for CitizenM.
Yet the New York property has the vibe of a boutique hotel. A hip bar plays curated music. A shop features books by Mendo, a popular Dutch store. And a rooftop bar called Cloud Bar has a fireplace and outdoor terrace. For now, it’s only open to guests.