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Micro Hotel Craze Living Large

Hotels with itty bitty rooms are taking off in places such as NYC since they’re extremely affordable to travelers. But are they appealing?

Thursday, January 14, 2010
Caryn Eve Murray
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Just as any farmer knows, even the smallest pod can contain the seeds of some splendid, healthy growth.

Hotel developer Richard Born doesn’t need convincing of that. The Pod Hotel, the 347-room creation he and a partner opened in Manhattan in 2007, is big on smallness: Room size starts at about 120 square feet; nightly prices begin at $89. The environment is slick, modern, techy and user-friendly, with the touch of designer Vanessa Guilford.

“It’s everything you need, just on a smaller scale,” said hotel spokeswoman, Gabrielle Etrog Cohen, of Nancy J. Friedman Public Relations. “They are not minimizing quality, just the space.”

As such, micro hotels may well be the Smart Cars and Mini Coopers of the hospitality industry. And Born is looking to get some mileage out of these relatively new vehicles.

He said The Pod Hotel is not only trademarked but, he hopes, very possibly the beginning of something greater: He has been in discussions with various airports, including officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, regarding John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, as well as sites in other American cities. But they are, he said, just discussions for now.

Meanwhile, further downtown is a 200-room micro hotel in the West Village. The Jane is a reincarnation of a former single-room occupancy residential property. Born was part of the partnership that transformed the historic Jane Street waterfront building and opened The Jane last year.

According to Born, the economy and a still-growing budget-oriented youth market combine to make the time ripe for the micro movement to pick up the momentum generated by similarly downsized accommodations in Asia and Europe – just not to that extreme, he said.

“In Japan, they have capsules, where the average room is 30 feet and you can’t stand up. It is more like a mortuary than a hotel,” he said.

However, when space is at a premium, as it always has been in urban areas, micro-sizing with style seems to be just the right fit, he said. The concept may well prove to be as portable, in other urban areas, as travelers’ sleep itself.

“The hotel business has a wide spectrum of potential customers,” said Born. “There are people who want to stay in the Four Seasons, people who want to stay in the Marriott … people who want big and people who want small … and in good times as well as bad, there is a market for everything. I think that, specifically, when you get into more urban areas where space is at a premium, the difference in size becomes more pronounced. It is a lot more expensive to build, maintain and operate a full-size hotel than a mini hotel.”

But just because less is more, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is less to offer.

“In New York City or San Francisco, in Boston, London, Paris or Tokyo, you see the value of space,” he said. “Our customers would rather be in a cheap and stylish room that is 100 square feet than a standardized, franchised 200- or 300-square-foot room and that is where we think our concept pays us our premiums.

“You can feel good about yourself because it is a stylish environment, there is a café restaurant and bar you are comfortable in. At The Jane, you may have to go down the hall to the bathroom … it may be an inconvenience … but our accommodations are pretty nice.”

At The Jane, where the smallest room is 50 square feet and a night’s stay typically costs $99, some of the rooms have space-saving bunk beds. But “all rooms have WiFi, that’s throughout building, free and easy to connect to,” said Chris Rohr, hotel manager.

“The rooms have a DVD player and 26-inch flat screen TV, all have iHome iPod dock with alarm clock, air conditioning in every room, a fan in every room and we have towels and robes in the room for use, while using restrooms in the halls.” There is even a green energy conservation system in place that allows guests to activate the power to the room upon entry.

The on-premises Café Gitane has begun offering room service, as of a few months ago, said Rohr. “We are full swing for breakfast and lunch; and dinner, we are implementing slowly.” Rohr called 2009 “a strong year” for The Jane, which he said has begun to serve more than just its original market focus of young, on-a-budget travelers.

Location, timing and yes, even the economy, will determine whether – and where – the concept spreads beyond New York City limits. Born hopes the investment may continue to be a wise one if he goes national with The Pod Hotel, his version of the micro movement.

“If you go out to Kansas or Nebraska - and maybe that’s an exaggeration - but maybe if you go into places where space is not that much of a premium, the difference shrinks. But in urban areas, there is definitely value in space.”

Caryn Eve Murray
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Caryn Eve Murray is a freelance writer and an assistant editor on the news desk at Newsday on Long Island. During her tenure as a business writer for New York Newsday, she covered the city's small business community for which she won the Distinguished Business Reporting Award of Excellence from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. She has also been a feature columnist and writer and has ...
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