A New York hotel with luxury sheets and state-of-the-art audio for less than $100 (around Rs5,100) a night? All you have to sacrifice is a bit of privacy and a little (well, a lot) of space.
Compact comforts: A room at The Jane hotel. Mary Altaffer / AP
Moving beyond budget accommodation to an idea that borrows from a ship’s berth or a train’s sleeper car, developers are gambling that in tough times, travellers looking for a little pampering at lower prices will embrace micro hotels. The concept of an entire hotel room the size of a modern US bathroom has spread across Europe in recent years. And as the US economy deteriorates, interest in the idea has grown, especially in high-priced markets such as New York City, where there are fewer options for budget travellers.
“It’s certainly the right product for the times,” says Tom Botts, a specialist in the hotel and travel industry at Hudson Crossing, a strategic advisory firm. The trick, says Sean MacPherson, co-developer of The Jane hotel, is to make its 150 tiny single rooms, about 7x8ft, feel “charming and special” rather than simply cramped.
With no room for extra furniture, guests at The Jane, which is opening in stages between now and the end of summer, stash suitcases and clothing in storage spaces above and below the narrow bed. A large mirror and a small window help stave off claustrophobia.
A similar hotel in midtown Manhattan called The Pod, which opened in January 2007, has rooms with a bunk and no bathroom. The tariffs peaked at $190, and have now dropped to $89 a night. The 350-room hotel’s design is more bare bones than The Jane’s, the bed linen less luxurious. But it, too, offers amenities such as flatscreen TVs.
The “micro-luxury” touches at what was, in 1908, a hotel that rented cabin-like rooms to sailors for just 25 cents a night now include 350 thread-count sheets, a 23-inch flat-screen LCD television, DVD player, iPod dock and free wireless Internet. “If you stay at a hotel at any price, you have to have a sense of hospitality and luxury,” says MacPherson. That’s especially true in this economy, he adds, when people are looking to get the most bang for their buck.
The bathroom? Alas, you’ll likely have to share two public bathrooms on each floor, each of which contain a pair of tiled shower stalls and toilets. The hotel also has 150 larger, and higher priced, “captain’s cabins” that include private bathrooms and offer a view of the Hudson river.
Where to squeeze in
Expensive cities and airports are the prime locations for the concept. But Bjorn Hanson, a hotel expert with New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, says some suburban locations near industrial or research centres might also work.
Botts is skeptical that micro hotels would work in markets apart from the very largest US cities and questioned if the model will be worth the investment for the biggest hotel chains. “It might be a lot of work for not a lot of payback,” he says. However, hotel developer Richard Born, who is involved with The Jane and The Pod, says he and his partner have been approached by at least one national hotel chain looking to expand the micro-hotel concept in the US. In the midtown neighbourhood near the UN, The Pod’s occupancy levels are hovering near 90% as some oncebustling NYC hotels sit half empty.
European micro-hotels owned by the easyHotel chain saw a steady rise in demand last year that accelerated in the second half as the economy deteriorated, says commercial director Calum Russell. Occupancy at easyHotel’s London properties surged to 81% in January from 65% in the same month a year earlier. Russell says the company has also noticed more business travellers at its hotels as companies scale back on their corporate travel spending.
“People are more budget-conscious,” says Gerard Greene, chief executive of British-based Yotel, which books pod-like rooms at its airport locations for as little as £25 (around Rs1,690) for a 4-hour stay so people can nap during a layover. “The extra 10 pounds, it makes a difference to people.”
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