By Teresa Y. Lee
Thursday, 29th August 2013
Pod hotels are hotels with smaller rooms than traditional hotels, usually less than 200 square feet, with minimum amenities and while these have evolved from their Japanese capsule hotel origin, the four main characteristics of a pod hotel are still small rooms, no frills or extra amenities, low prices, and central locations.
Within pod hotels, there are two main variations: urban areas and airport hubs. Pod hotels located in urban cities provide a cheaper alternative to traditional hotels by trading a smaller space for a lower price.
Thus, many of these pod hotels only provide the minimal amenities and communal bathrooms in tight spaces to cut down on costs such as labor. Airport pod hotels are located right next to the airport and are aimed at weary travelers who need a place to take a quick nap or shower before connecting to their next flight, so are often rented by the hour.
These airport pod hotels were actually inspired by first-class on regular airplanes, such as Yotel. Although there are differences between countries, amenities, and services offered, it is clear that the pod hotel is a trend that is gaining popularity.
Pod hotel characteristics are defined with limited room size, unique luxury design, and high-tech gadget features characterize all pod hotels, whether located in an airport or urban setting. These luxury qualities are accomplished by sacrificing space for price. Pod hotels can be an excellent alternative in locations where traditional hotels cannot be built, such as in airports and in the heart of major urban cities, where land available for development is limited and expensive, and high density projects are permitted.
The biggest difference is the smaller room found in pod hotels compared to traditional hotel rooms. Brands offer several classes or rooms, usually classified by the size of the room and the size of the bed. Different classes will offer two adjacent twins, one queen, one king, or even bunked queen beds. Unlike traditional hotels, pod hotels are tighter vicinities with less open space.
With limited space, pod hotels offer luxury accommodations at lower prices such as power rain showers, internal windows, and luxury bed linens and bathroom fittings. Additionally, a majority of pod hotel designers have a futuristic style and offer multiple innovative, technologically advanced amenities – features not found in a traditional hotel such a free wifi and automated self check-in.
Pod hotels in urban cities target young to middle-age price sensitive travelers, thus the features are designed to make their stay both unique and comfortable. The Pod Hotel in midtown Manhattan differentiates itself as a pod hotel brand by focusing on community networking.
The Pod Hotel has created the “Pod Community Blog,” a customized message board controlled by the hotel itself and created to be a resource for the guests. It supports guest-to-guest interaction, guest-to-concierge interaction, and guest-to-local business interaction. It also enables the hotel to answer any questions prior to the guests’ arrival or during their stay. Current news and messages can be posted on this blog; it simply keeps the guests updated with happening things.
In addition to this community blog, the Pod Hotel also has an outdoor garden café and rooftop deck, both aimed at attracting guests and enhancing their stay. Another noteworthy urban pod hotel brand is Qbic. Guests begin by checking-in using an “i-touch” screen at a digital kiosk. Next, guests experience the true Qbic experience when they enter their room, where they find a Cubi. A Cubi is a “cube-shaped state of the art living space.” At a mere 7 square meters, a Cubi includes an extra-long Hastens bed, Starck bathroom elements, a LCD TV, high-speed internet, a raised bar for working and dining, and a colored lighting system that can be manipulated by the guest.
Figure 1 – Qbic Hotel’s Cubi design
Guests can personalize their room by using this system to choose a color to match their mood. Cubi gives Qbic’s pods an extremely futuristic ambiance, but the brand also offers home-style comforts – guests can grab locally made home-made food from vending machines. The goal of Qbic Hotels is to bring their guests’ experience to new, non-traditional level. Urban pod hotels still focus on convenience while changing guest experience, moving away from the traditional.
Properties at airport locations target travelers dealing with the inconveniences of modern air travel, thus the features are created to make their stay more comfortable while dealing with travel hassle. Yotel’s airport hotel pods can be booked in 4-hour blocks, allowing travelers with semi-short layovers to grab a quick nap in a comfortable, yet convenient, environment.
Offering 4-hour blocks allows Yotel to turn more beds within a 24-hour period. These room rates are offered at a lower rate than overnight rates. Because these hotels are directly connected or in close proximity to the airport terminals, travelers can use an automated check-in system within the terminals as a convenience. Airport pod hotels usually have a small food outlet and may contain a bar.
citizenM Amsterdam Airport has a 24-hour food outlet called canteenM, which sells fresh wraps and sandwiches, beer, coffee, and a selection of sashimi. Airport pod hotels are characterized by their convenience to the exact location of arrival and departure by air for guests.
LOCATIONS & TARGET MARKETS
Pod hotels cater to two target markets: young to middle-aged, price-sensitive travelers in big urban cities, and frequent travelers with layovers, delays, and cancelations in airports. Companies, such as citizenM Hotels, focus on building in both types of locations.
“Prime urban locations” are usually centralized in a popular major city or in centers of entertainment, business, or innovation. “Prime international airport locations” are those directly connected to or adjacent to terminals. A high concentration of pod hotels have been built in Europe, but expansion seems to be heading global, especially in Southeast Asia.
These properties are located in the heart of a busy city, whether it be an artsy town, a business district, or any major attraction area. These pod hotels attract younger travelers who do not want to sacrifice design for price and middle-aged travelers on a tighter budget, as well. Because of the environment, these properties focus on accessibility and proximity to increase convenience.
An ideal development location would be close to lively city centers that contain business, nightlife, restaurants, and entertainment. Additionally, these locations should be well connected by public transportation and be close enough in proximity to main points of interest that they are within walking distance.
Qbic Hotel in Amsterdam: Located in the financial district and economic focal point of Amsterdam, this property was built in July of 2007 in the World Trade Center building. It is extremely close to the RAI Convention Center of Amsterdam and to the Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport. In addition, it is a relative 10-minute ride to the center of Amsterdam. This property is centrally located for tourists and business travelers traveling to Amsterdam.
citizenM Amsterdam City: Centrally located in the heart of Amsterdam, this pod hotel was open in April of 2009. In addition to its criteria for its airport hotel locations, citizenM aims at building properties in cities with over 500,000 inhabitants. In 2008, Amsterdam’s population stood at 747,290 people. Because of its location, this property caters to many young travelers, commonly backpackers, exploring Europe with a tight budget.
citizenM Glasgow: citizenM Hotels developed its third pod hotel in Glasgow, United Kingdom in 2010. Glasgow has a population of around 593,000 people as of 2011. citizenM chose Glasgow for two main reasons: (1) it meets the company’s “roll out strategy:” European expansion as the company’s primary priority and (2) it meets its location criteria: building in cities with a population exceeding 500,000 people. citizenM Hotel is driven to open five to ten hotels annually throughout Europe. After dominating Europe, it looks to go global.
Yotel Times Square in New York: Right in the heart of midtown Manhattan, the location of the Yotel New York is prime real estate. Not only is it located right in the heart of New York’s tourist attractions with the closest metro being the 42nd Street/Times Square, but it is also only two blocks from Port Authority bus terminal and a 15 minute walk from Javits Convention Center, making it attractive to convention travelers as well.
Airport pod hotels provide brief-stay hotel rooms for travelers dealing with early-morning flights, long layovers, delays, and cancelations.
While frequent flier clubs (e.g. “Admiral’s Club” with American Airlines) provide upscale waiting areas, food and beverage services, and sometimes even showers for air travelers, airport pod hotels provide a room for guests not looking for high-end accommodations or a big room, but rather the essentials: a bed, a bathroom, and a TV.
In many situations, people need to catch up on some sleep between flights, so the pod hotels such as the Yotel in London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airport provide rooms for as short of a stay as 4 hours. They are also designed to accommodate travelers avoiding the expensive city prices, looking for a cheap, convenient hotel for the entire night. citizenM hotels aims at building near international airports attracting over 15 million passengers a year.
citizenM Amsterdam Airport: citizenM at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport is the located at the 12th “Top Airport based on Passenger Traffic,” according to Airports Council International. The number of passengers using Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport increased by 10.9% to 42.6 million passengers in 2011, which clearly surpasses citizenM hotels’ criteria of 15 million passengers. Another transportation convenience for travelers is the underground railway station right below the terminal. Travelers may explore the “second largest catchment area in Europe” with over 33 million people within 200 kilometers of this airport. Thus citizenM Hotels found this to be a prime location for its first pod hotel. Because it is located on the premise of the airport, it is a convenient two-minute walk from the terminals. A strong, consistent flow of travelers is what attracts this type of development to this location.
Yotel at London and Amsterdam International Airports: In 2007, Yotel opened its first two pod hotels at two of London’s international airports. The one at London’s Gatwick Airport is located at its South Terminal with direct access to the airport. The second is located inside Terminal 4 of London’s Heathrow Airport. As of 2012, London’s Heathrow Airport stands at 3rd with approximately 70 million passengers. In 2008, Yotel opened its third pod hotel at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport in the lounge 2 area. Schiphol Airport stands at 16th busiest airport with largely 51 million passengers in 2012. All of Yotel’s pod hotel properties have direct access to the airport terminals, which emphasizes their commitment to their guests’ convenience.
Throughout the next 10 years, the pod hotel industry should see dramatic global expansion. The majority of the existing properties are located in Europe, mainly concentrated in Amsterdam and London. New developments are underway in London, Paris, New York, and Milan. citizenM stated that the company projects to build 20 hotels within Europe in the next five years, beginning with the Glasgow property opened in 2010 with two locations in London and two locations in New York having already been confirmed by citizenM.
Beyond Europe, many companies look to Australia, Southeast Asia, North America, and Latin America. China and Hong Kong are citizenM’s next focus. Future properties in the pod hotel industry are to be built in both central urban locations and airport locations.
People are more budget-conscious these days so the demand for cheap hotel accommodations in big cities is sky rocketing. Woodroffe says “there is a criminal lack of superior-quality, but reasonably priced hotel accommodation in London and throughout major cities worldwide.” Development of these pod hotels is rapidly increasing as companies try to fill the gap in the market and keep up with the increasing consumer demand of cheap hotel rooms in major urban cities.
Despite the economic downturn, companies like citizenM and Yotel are actually building new pod hotels in airports and planning future expansion. citizenM has one planned to open in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2014. Hugo McNestry, the previous finance director of Yotel Hotels, says while they “aren't immune from the recession….it isn't all bad news for [them].” McNestry also sees great future potential for the company because they have established a great reputation having won the 2009 business accommodation of the year award. He believes that more and more people will trade spacious rooms in the city centers for the “great location and beautiful design” of the Yotel hotels.
ADVANTAGES FOR DEVELOPERS AND OWNERS
While pod hotels provide many advantages to guests by giving them the essentials they want and passing on the savings of not providing the extra amenities usually offered, there are also many advantages for developers and owners. Having smaller rooms helps conserve space, allowing brands to place pod hotels on smaller properties or more rooms into similar plots of land.
For example, the Yotel Times Square’s developer had initially planned a 300-key traditional hotel; the pod design permitted 669 rooms. The entrepreneur behind Yotel Hotels, Simon Woodroffe, described the company in an article in “Travel Trends” with the following quote: “Yotel's innovative design with 10sqm rooms/cabins and internal rather than external windows allows it to go boldly where other hotels can't – tricky central city locations, airports, even underground.”
The newest pod hotel for London is slated to be at the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus with 600 identical windowless rooms. While windowless rooms may not be possible in Germany or the States due to regulations, reducing land costs enables all pod hotels to offer more affordable prices. The high-tech automated systems usually found in pod hotels also cuts down on labor costs.
With many pod hotels providing kiosks for self check-in and the Yobot at the Yotel Times Square taking care of luggage storage, many traditional hotel positions such as a front desk agent can be eliminated. Additionally, although it may seem that housekeeping costs would be higher due to the higher turnover found in short-stay airport pod hotels, the smaller rooms also means a shorter amount of time cleaning per room.
Overall, this new concept of properties with small guestrooms is targeted at two distinct targets: (1) younger travelers who still want a well-designed room and more price-sensitive middle-aged travelers in urban areas and (2) business and other travelers who want the convenience of a private room.
Due to the lower land operating costs, pod hotels are also very attractive to developers and owners. Lastly, pod hotels are currently located mainly in Europe such as the citizenM in Amsterdam and the Yotel at Heathrow and Gatwick Airport in London, with the exception being the Pod Hotel, Pod39, and Yotel in Manhattan, but new developments are already underway and will definitely be expanded into Southeast Asia.
In conclusion, pod hotels are definitely a growing trend that should be increasingly popular in the future.
About the Author
Teresa Y. Lee is a Consulting and Valuation Associate with HVS’s New York office. Teresa graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Hotel Administration and Minor in Real Estate Finance. Teresa has worked at various hotels and resorts both in the country as well as internationally. Since joining HVS in 2012, Teresa has appraised hotels in various states throughout the United States.
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