Capsule hotels, pod hotels, overnight caskets: Whatever you call them, modular hotels, long embraced by Japanese businessmen, have evolved into a hip and affordable travel option that has gained traction in parts of Europe and the U.S.
The westernized pod-hotel concept offers more space than its Japanese counterpart—think cruise ship cabin, not sleeping coffin. Plus, the modular rooms are generally built with double occupancy in mind, and many even have en-suite bathrooms. Often stylish and priced well under nearby hotels, this new batch of modular hotels embraces sleek design, efficient spaces, and integrated technologies such as Wi-Fi and flat-screen televisions.
Here’s a review of the modular hotel up-and-comers. And of course, if you’ll be in Japan, you can experience the original in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. Find current exchange rates for hotel prices at XE.com.
Locations: There are three in London (South Kensington, Earl’s Court, and Victoria); one in Budapest, Hungary; one in Basel, Switzerland, and one to open mid-November 2007 in Zurich, Switzerland.
The scoop: Room types vary by location, but expect to find mostly six to seven square meter (75 to 97 square feet) “small rooms” (with or without windows) that come equipped with a private bathroom and shower, plus a flat screen TV (though it costs £5 to get 10 channels). The slightly larger “standard rooms” offer the same amenities in an eight to nine square meter space. Rooms at the London hotels start at £30 per night.
First impression: The London easyHotels’ private bathrooms and clean new spaces are a step up from the typical hostel at a comparable price.
Price check: A small room with no window at the easyHotel Victoria on November 7 was £35; a small room with a window was £45.
Locations: Yotel! at Gatwick Airport is now open in the International terminal.The Heathrow location (in Terminal 4) opens later this autumn, and Amsterdam Schiphol opens in early 2008.
The scoop: Inspired by airplane cabin upper class suites, Yotel! is sticking to the theme and opening its capsule-style hotels not just near airports, but actually in airports. With rates from £25, it’s the cheapest glimpse into first-class you’ll find.
Yotel! offers two types of “cabins.” Standard cabins measure seven square meters (75 square feet), and include a bed the website claims is large enough for two, bathroom with shower, work desk with stools, storage areas, free Wi-Fi, and flat screen TV with programming that includes television, radio, games, internet, and current airport arrival and departure information. There’s an on-screen cabin service menu from which you can order food 24 hours per day. Premium cabins have all the standard amenities plus more, including a bed that folds itself into a couch at the touch of a button, bedside tables, and a fancier bathroom. And, at 10 square meters (108 square feet), it’s a bit roomier.
You can book in four-hour increments or overnight. The airport location makes Yotel! a good option for layovers or early-morning, late-night, delayed, or canceled flights. Rates for four hours start at £25 for a standard cabin, or £40 for a premium cabin, and additional hours cost from £5 for standard cabins.
First impression: Sleek and modular, the perks seem ideal for everyone from business travelers with early departure times to exhausted vacationers waiting out flight delays.
Price check: An overnight stay on November 7 was available for £55.
Locations: The first hotel is already open in Amsterdam. Hotels in Antwerp and Maastricht will open in early 2008. Qbics are located in city centers.
The scoop: Design, novelty, and efficiency are the defining characteristics of Qbic Hotels’ signature “cubi” rooms. Cubis include extra-long beds, private bathrooms with designer touches, flat-screen TVs, work-and-dine spaces, and free Wi-Fi, in rooms averaging a palatial (by modular standards) 30 square meters (323 square feet). You can even change the color of your space to yellow, red, or purple by pressing a button. Rates start at €39 per night.
The hotel’s lobby has a self-service check-in terminal, vending machines with food from local bakeries and caterers, and a digital concierge with information about local restaurants and cinemas.
First impression: Stylish and well-equipped, and the dining area sets it apart from other pod hotels as a comfortable place for a slightly longer stay.
Price check: For the evening of November 7, the rate was €79.
Locations: Just one in New York City’s Midtown East neighborhood.
The scoop: Formerly the Pickwick Arms, the Pod Hotel’s variety of room types suits a variety of travelers. Queen and double rooms have private bathrooms and larger beds, while single and bunk rooms cost less and have shared bathrooms. Clean minimalism with the occasional touch of bold color characterizes the rooms. True to its claim of high style and high tech, all rooms have iPod docking stations, free Wi-Fi, and flatscreen TVs.
With advertised rates from $89 per night, New York City’s Pod Hotel offers a more typical hotel experience than most modular hotels beyond the rooms, with a concierge, lobby lounge, restaurant, and rooftop bar.
First impression: Though it calls its rooms “pods,” the sizes look comparable to the average New York City hotel room. Based on a price check, it looks like rates can be a fair amount higher than the advertised lowest rate of $89, though they seem in line with typical New York City hotel prices.
Price check: For the night of November 7, a single room with shared bathroom cost $159, and a double with private bathroom $249.
Locations: Just Birmingham, England, right now, though the coming soon list includes London, New York, and Berlin, among other cities.
The scoop: Designed to “emulate the feel of a luxury yacht cabin,” the nitenite hotel in Birmingham strives for an affordable and hip guest experience. All of its 104 guest rooms have en-suite bathrooms, flat-screen televisions, and Wi-Fi. Standard double rooms are just under seven square meters (75 square feet). Rates start at £55 per night.
First impression: Sleek design and soothing lighting makes the rooms seem slightly larger than they are.
Price check: For the night of November 7, rates were £50, even cheaper than the advertised rate.
More modular, or just mod, budget hotels
The modular craze is part of a larger phenomenon of affordable boutique hotels. To the delight of travelers who don’t want to choose between affordability and style, hotels offering some combination of modern design, technology-rich rooms, modular layout, and affordability are cropping up all over the place. Here are a few examples of hotels that share one or more of the key characteristics of modular hotels.
In London, you can find affordability, style, and technology at base2stay, which touts itself as a synthesis of boutique and budget hotels. Its “aparthotel” rooms come equipped with mini-kitchens and wired workstations. Rates at this Kensington hotel start at £89 per night. Also in London is the Hoxton Hotel, an “innovative new business hotel” with cheap rates and an emphasis on style.
Big Sleep Hotels in Cardiff, Wales, and Cheltenham, England, dub themselves “design hotels at affordable prices.” Rooms in Cardiff start at £58 and suites at £99. Standard rooms in Cheltenham start at £85.
And newcomer CitizenM, which will open its first location at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in early 2008, will focus on “affordable luxury for the people.” CitizenM likens its rooms to those you’d find on a luxury yacht or private jet, placing it more squarely in the module hotel category. Another soon-to-open modular hotel, Christchurch, New Zealand’s Hotel SO, will begin welcoming guests in late 2007, and promises flat screen televisions, Wi-Fi, MP3 music player plug-ins, and high-quality bedding at rates from $89 NZ, double occupancy.
Expect to see more of these hotels pop up in cities in the coming years. The combination of good value, appealing design, and high-tech amenities is sure to inspire a following among those willing to sacrifice a little space.