THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING
Young travelers get the social experience
and somewhere to crash
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 roomsthink as small as 50 square feetbut big public spaces that appeal to social travelers.
"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, DC. These are destinations where travelers tend to look for great value and smart design.
Modus Hotels, a Washington, DC-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 unusual, reasonably-priced, and cater to modern, working, frequent travelers," says Garth Holsinger, who has stayed at Yotels many times.
The micro-hotels are particularly appealing to Millennial travelers 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 travelers 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."
USA TODAY took a look at a few micro-hotels in New York. Here's what we found.
Pod Hotels: 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 $89, a mere fraction of what hotel rooms in New York normally cost. The smallest room is 72 square feet. The largest is 200 square feet. 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."
The Jane: 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 pair of slippers," says Courtney Garron, a manager at the hotel. Guests staying in the smallest room, the 50-square-foot Standard Cabin, share communal bathrooms.
There are built-in drawers and a luggage rack, but Garron acknowledges that sometimes people traveling with too much run out of space. "We hold people's bags," she says. The Standard and Bunk Cabins are 7' long and the beds are around 6' long, 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 $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.
Yotel: In addition to the Yotel New York, travelers 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 75 square feet. Rates at the New York location average around $200. Travelers can book at the airport locations in four-hour blocks. With rooms that small, some features have to be customized. 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 traveler, the Yotel New York has a YOBOT on full display. The automated luggage storage and retrieval facility provides entertainment while taking care of luggage.
CitizenM: Rooms at CitizenM in Manhattan's Theater District feature interesting technology such as a digital artwork display that lets guests select whichever contemporary piece of art at which they choose to stare.
Samsung touch-screen MoodPads control the TV, music, window blinds, temperature and alarm. Wi-Fi is complimentary. All rooms at CitizenM are 170 square feet, and each has a king-sized bed that is about 6'6'' long. Rates start at $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 UK, France, Taiwan and USA.
"Our travelers 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.
Moxy: Marriott's brand for Millennials debuted in September 2014 with the opening of the Moxy Milan. More than 150 properties will be added to the collection in the next 10 years.
What can guests expect when Moxy finally arrives in the USA next year? Public spaces with four zones: a welcome area, library and plug-in area, food and beverage outlets and lounges. Bedrooms, on average 186 square feet, have an open storage concept with a peg wall. A platform bed has "underbed" motion sensor lighting. The bathroom has a one-compartment layout with a shower and vanity.
There's free Wi-Fi and keyless entry with your mobile phone. Guests can buy food at Moxy's 24/7 self-service station. The bar is full-service. The Guestbook is a digital platform that collects stories, pictures, and videos from travelers. They are broadcast on the website, Instagram and on hotel screens.
tommie: Commune Hotels and Resorts' first tommie will open in New York's Hudson Square. A second property will open in the city's NoMad neighborhood.
Rooms will have multi-functional furnishings such as a convertible flip-down desk, an open closet and an alcove bed perched against the window. 'It's a micro lifestyle hotel," says Niki Leondakis, CEO of Commune Hotels and Resorts, which also runs the luxury lifestyle Thompson Hotels. "Every square foot is thoughtful."
The hotel will have a General Store where guests can find items for free or for purchase such as toiletries, games, clothing and food and drinks. There will also be a bar and a restaurant. "It's really experiential," Leondakis says. "You don't have anything that is in excess. It's not cluttered."
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Having trouble sleeping? The Yotel channel broadcasts a "Yawn" video to help induce sleep. The video of a man yawning is effective at making viewers yawn enough that they'll want to close their eyes.