I won’t be presumptuous enough to label it a trend but one evolution within the hotel industry I have noticed in recent years is the growing number of hotels in major cities offering a ‘small is all’ concept to deliver a minimum of a room for a downsized nightly room rate. The best part of this development is that unlike a trend where everyone seeks uniformity this evolution instead has yielded a refreshingly diverse set of unique choices and so will offer a few examples I know well or have inhabited in my travels.
Before going further I should note that these hotels aren’t the global equivalent of the Japanese capsule hotels whose plastic frames measure 3 – 4 feet wide and high by 6 feet long and offer a tired or drunk salaryman a rest refuge when a long commute back home to the suburbs wasn’t always possible or convenient. Those types of hotels are still mainly a Japanese innovation despite one opening in 2012 in Xi’an, China.
The more common format for micro hotels is to deliver a small 100 – 150 square foot room with private facilities but an overall minimum of added on-site features which are more typically found at full-service hotels with correspondingly higher rates. Beyond that base recipe however there is a myriad of different formats within this niche including at Yotel whose founder used the compact design and style of airline first class pods with a little Japanese influence to create a thoroughly modern atmosphere from the self-service check-in kiosks to the robotic luggage concierge. The room itself isn’t even called a room but a ‘cabin’ that while small has a sense of style with user-friendly features such as flat screen TV, WiFi, laptop safes and a work desk with multi power point sockets to recharge a handful of personal devices.
Yotel New York offers a choice of cabin sizes that depending upon season and advance purchase can start as low as $189 which in a city that recorded an annual hotel room rate average in 2012 of $281 according to nycgo.com offers a significant savings especially when considering most New York hotels rooms aren’t that much bigger than the Premium Queen cabin’s 170 square foot dimensions.
Unlike many micro hotels the Yotel New York also has incorporated a social element with terraces and lounges.
While researching a past trip to Manhattan I found good value in The Pod Hotel which has two locations, Pod39 (145 E 39th St., 212-865-5700) near Grand Central Terminal and the original Pod51 (230 E. 51st St., 212-355-0300) which opened in 2007 near the United National headquarters. Both locations were renovated buildings given a modern design featuring large lobby murals and a minimalist retro design décor.
Rooms average 100 – 120 square feet and while economize on size have plus features including rainfall showerheads, iPod docking stations, WiFi and a dimmer switch for finding the right lighting level.
A Full Pod with double bed can be had for as low as $145 per night at Pod39 or you may opt for bunk beds for the same price if you’d rather not share.
Both locations offer seasonal rooftop terraces that boast memorable New York City skyline backdrops and are worth a visit for the views alone.
While it’s been a few years since I stayed at the easyHotel Budapest Oktogon (Eotvos utca 25/a
Budapest 1067) I felt it worth including here as this no frills hotel chain has continued expanding since that trip and now counts 20 locations with most being in Western Europe.
A part of the easyJet brand, the easyHotel concept is basically a bed and bathroom with only one coat hook on the wall and no shelves, coat hangars, closets or any other places to store clothing or luggage. The glaring orange colour scheme is also unique but fortunately wasn’t quite vivid enough to keep me awake though the warm Summer night, lack of A/C and late night revellers creating neighborhood noise helped achieve that one night. It was overall an adequate two night stay and would likely return if given the chance but couldn’t imagine myself staying any longer than two or three nights.
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The chain charges for housekeeping, TV access and even windows in some locations but for EUR31 per room per night within a block of one of Pest’s main thoroughfares Andrassy Street it’s hard to go wrong at this price for a short stay. The rooms average 80 – 90 square feet though feel larger likely because there was no other furniture beyond the bed in the room.
Note that like airfares room prices rise the closer you book to arrival date so planning well in advance will yield you the lowest rates but watch the fine print as these rates as they can be either fully non-refundable or carry a cancellation charge one third as much as the lowest nightly rate.
In March 2013 I had the pleasure to stay at the opposite end of the micro hotel spectrum from the easyHotel while visiting Tokyo for the first time staying 3 nights at the Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo which is located directly opposite the sprawling Tokyo Station and offers outstanding value for location. The Ginza with it’s high end shops, the financial district of Maranouchi and Imperial Palace are all a short walk from this little gem of a hotel which I reserved a few weeks in advance for CAD$150 per room per night and was worth every yen.
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The double bed in this Forus Single Discovery room is more than just a bed as the headboard was like NASA mission control housing not only controls for the rooms lights and temperature but an LCD alarm clock which could also be programmed to run to sleep function that automatically dimmed the lights and gently vibrated the bed in order to ease you into a good night’s slumber before raising the lights and more firmly shaking the bed at the pre-set wake-up time the next morning. I was normally so tired after a long day of sightseeing this immense but fascinating city I had little trouble drifting off but tried the controls a few nights for the sheer curiosity factor.
Beyond the bed the room itself was very quiet and seemed well insulated so as to block almost all hall or street noises out and this light sleep appreciated that serenity.
There are many other unique touches that make this room the best I’ve ever experienced from a postage paid postcard home to loved ones to the multi-lingual city maps and rental bikes. The small but well equipped bathroom with multi-nozzle adjustable shower stall with rainfall shower head and a Japanese toilet with its obligatory heated seat and control panel made for a refreshing start to the day after having downed a coffee or cappuccino made by the in-room Nespresso unit.
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The Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo not only delivers such user friendly in-room amenities to make for a very comfortable stay but is a tremendous value in a Tokyo district with a bevy of five-star accommodation options which will set you back several times this room’s rate. The standard rooms are not quite as well appointed as the Forus rooms and for that reason would recommend spending the $20 per night to upgrade. A reminder that smoking rooms are still available in Japan so those wanting a smoke-free room should pay particular attention to which room category they are reserving. In some cases non-smoking rooms may come at a small per night premium.
I should note that on this trip I spent my first seven nights in a more moderate but similarly sized micro hotel near Shinjuku Station, the busiest transportation hub on the planet with some 3.6 million people using it on a daily basis. The Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku is a few short blocks from the station and within comfortable walking distance to the business skyscrapers of Shinjuku. Rooms booked in advance can be had for approx. CAD$100 per room per night including an extensive buffet breakfast though note that those readers like myself who love crispy bacon should prepare to be disappointed.
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If staying at any Sunroute I would recommend signing up for the hotel chains loyalty program for a small 500 Yen (approx. $5) fee as it not only allows later check out at 1 PM instead of 11 AM but also offers the ability to earn points for every night stayed which if you stay long enough as I did returns a 1000 Yen credit to the loyalty card that could be used at local convenience stores. The staff really helped explain the program both at check-in and check-out so if you are staying for more than just a few nights would encourage guests to check into this option.
I came across another micro hotel while planning accommodation for a mid-February 2015 Chinese New Year’s visit to Hong Kong. The MiniHotel has two locations, one in Central which is Hong Kong Island side financial district, while the sister Causeway Bay location is little further East. What caught my eye was that at times these small rooms can be reserved for as little as HKD 565 or CAD $84 per room per night though sadly it seems the busier New Year’s timeframe is not available to be booked.
Micro need not only apply to hotels on dry land as Norwegian Cruise Lines has pioneered a single occupancy stateroom onboard it’s cruise ships I was able to experience in November 2013 aboard the Norwegian Epic. At 100 square feet these Studio rooms are cozy but comfortable and the only minor drawback I found was the little blue LED light in the headboard that couldn’t be turned off and whose light cast a funky glow on this compact cabin.
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The storage space to the right of the picture held life jackets as well as a mini-safe for securing your valuables.
Norwegian didn’t isolate the studios cabins but rather unified them within a space called the “Living Room” which is an exclusive haven for those guests staying in studio cabins and comes complete with bar, two large TV screens and comfy seating for hanging out, reading a book or just enjoying a drink before dinner. Note that only studio guests may access this area with their stateroom card key.
Smaller hotel rooms or cruise ship cabins are becoming more common and if travelling solo they offer far more choices and value than existed a decade ago especially in some of the world’s mega cities where hotel prices can be sky high.
I’ve quite enjoyed my time in smaller spaces but are you willing to trade space for price? How small is too small? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think about this micro hotel movement.