Size does matter

27 December 2018

Global brands are betting big on small hotel rooms in an effort to appeal to the younger generation of travellers who want an affordable experience that doesn’t sacrifice comfort or privacy. Hilton’s Tripp McLaughlin, Premier Inn’s Carlo Del Mistro and Pod Hotels’ Richard Born make small talk with Elly Earls.

Size isn’t everything to the younger generation of travellers, who tend to value quality over quantity and a buzzing community vibe over unnecessary square footage – if the price is right.

This was certainly the reasoning behind the launch of Hilton’s new affordable lifestyle brand Motto, which will feature ‘micro-hotel’ design with an urban vibe in prime global locations.

Debuting in 2019 – the year Hilton celebrates its 100th anniversary – Motto’s average room will measure only 163ft² compared to 340ft² for an average midscale hotel and 230ft² for a Tru by Hilton property.

Guests will be able to choose between a solo king or queen bedroom, a Murphy bedroom, where the bed will fold up to provide desk space and a couch for meetings or workspace, and a queen bed/bunk bed combo.

Motto hotels will focus heavily on social spaces, new tech and F&B operations, all in an effort to fill the ‘white space’ the Hilton team has identified for lifestyle properties in city centres at an affordable price point.

Brains of the operation

The brain trust behind Motto has identified, defined and targeted ‘connected and confident’ travellers who “create shareable moments in key urban locations, whether traveling for work or play, in a group or solo,” says Hilton vicepresident and global head of Motto, Tripp McLaughlin. “Ultimately, guests think experience is everything and they look to make smart trade-offs to experience higher-quality meals, authentic local culture, moments and memories.

“For example, these guests are willing to trade off smaller room sizes to be in prime urban locations with accommodations that have authentic and comfortable ‘lifestyle’ design, provide flexibility for groups, have great F&B and include amenities that focus on social/communal spaces.”

Hilton isn’t the only global hotel company betting big on smaller rooms. In the same week Motto’s launch was announced, Premier Inn revealed details of its new ‘super-budget’ brand, ZIP, which is aimed at the “ultra-pricesensitive customer looking to zip in and out”. Its £19-a-night rooms are even more diminutive than Motto’s at just over 90ft², less than half the size of a standard Premier Inn room.

As Premier Inn’s head of innovation, Carlo Del Mistro explains, “our extensive market research has identified a large segment of very price sensitive customers who are not normally staying in a Premier Inn. These guests are people spending time on the road for work, often on limited budget and functional leisure travellers who are travelling to attend an event.

“The two customer groups look for a clean, safe place to spend the night without paying for extras they don’t need. ZIP will be able to offer an appealing proposition to these guests and give them a clean, safe and comfortable accommodation option at a great price.”

Spacious and sociable

Although Motto and ZIP are different in many ways – Motto hotels are midscale and in the heart of the action while ZIP is super-budget and will house its guests out in the suburbs – there are a several common denominators, not least the focus on providing spacious and sociable public spaces.

ZIP’s first property in Cardiff, for example, will have a spacious communal area split into different zones to cater to different customers’ needs. While guests who need to get some work done on their laptops will have access to comfortable working stations with plenty of power points and free Wi-fi, those that just want to relax can sit in the chill-out area or at the fully serviced bar.

“We are very keen to provide a comfortable and spacious public space to offset the small private space,” says Del Mistro.

Similarly, Hilton’s Motto Commons lobby area, which will function as a cafe by day and a bar by night, will offer casual hangout space, free Wi-Fi and power outlets aplenty. By designing the public areas in a way that captures the essence of the neighbourhood, McLaughlin says, the hope is that they will appeal to hotel guests and locals, ‘inviting in the neighborhood to activate that space.’ Hilton and Premier Inn appear to have taken their cues from a brand that introduced the micro-hotel model to New York City in 2007.

“Community spaces are very important in a micro-hotel model, because guests will inevitably spend a majority of their time outside of their room,” says BD Hotels co-founder Richard Born, whose Pod Hotel brand has now expanded to five properties, four in New York and one in Washington, DC.

“The Pod culture has been organically shaped by independent, social travellers drawn to a hotel that encourages interaction and discovery. Our intention with communal areas was to create a playful, open environment that would enhance this travel community’s experience and encourage guests to connect and socialise.”

Maximise functionality

When it comes to the tiny hotel rooms themselves, scrimping on square footage doesn’t have to mean sacrificing functionality or comfort – if designers are clever with dual-purpose amenities.

In Pod Hotel rooms, which start at just 72ft², bed frames have hidden storage options and closets have been swapped out for hanging racks that store a safe.

The brand offers bunk bed style rooms that allow for extra space but do not compromise on privacy as each bed has its own television and charging amenities.

Meanwhile at ZIP, it took 12 different room iterations over the course of several months to reach the final room layout, which features two single beds that can be converted into a double by pushing them together, a 24in television, a small bathroom with a power shower and overhead storage and hangers.

“At each stage we’ve tested the design and functionality with guests, collected their feedback and built it into the next room iteration,” says Del Mistro.

One feature he’s keen to mention is the lightbox. “As part of our effort to minimise wasted space, some of our rooms are not facing the exterior of the building and therefore don’t have a traditional window,” he explains.

“To improve guest comfort, our designer has developed a feature light box, mimicking the look and feel of a traditional window and adding a fun element by using a colour changing LED strip. This will allow our guests not only to select the intensity of the light coming from the lightbox, but also its colour, giving them control of the room mood.”

Small rooms at small hours

At Motto, which has initial plans to open in London, Dublin, Lima and Washington, DC, among other major cities, the main priority in the rooms – on top of providing a great shower, great lighting and easy access to power outlets is to ensure the properties deliver a reprieve from the busy and activated neighbourhoods in which they will be located.

“To us, this means having an elevated sleep experience with sound dampening materials to reduce overall room noise, great blackout curtains, quality mattress and pillows, and other sleep amenities,” McLaughlin explains.

But it’s the brand’s focus on enabling its guests to book two, three, four or even five connecting rooms that really sets it apart from other affordable options on the market.

“Whether travellers are on a business stay and need a room for a meeting space or a group of friends are traveling together, this room functionality makes for an easy stay,” McLaughlin says. “Our goal is to allow guests to confirm these unique room configurations at time of booking, which will address one of the top requests from our guests and will be an industry first.”

And speaking of firsts, Motto will be the first Hilton brand to fully adopt the company’s new ‘Connected Room’ technology.

“This means guests can use the Honors app to manage most things they would traditionally do manually, from controlling the temperature and lighting to the channels on the TV,” says McLaughlin. “We will have streaming functionality with partnerships with Netflix, Showtime and others.”

Pod and ZIP count cutting-edge technology as a key part of their offering too, with ZIP set to speed check-in with kiosks and Pod providing iPads in the lobby for guests to surf the web and discover the surrounding neighbourhood.

In 2007, the concept of The Pod Hotels came from the need to cater to savvy, ‘young-minded’ travellers, who valued quality and affordability over quantity, and wanted a sleek, no frills experience that didn’t sacrifice comfort or privacy, according to Born.

Over ten years later, the hospitality industry at large is beginning to tap into the same mindset. “The microhotel trend is gaining speed, and with more and more young people travelling, we believe this model will only become more popular,” Born predicts.

A Murphy queen room – the bed can be folded away.
Hilton’s Murphy rooms contain an optional solo or queen bed room, with a desk that can be adapted into a workspace. Additionally, a queen bed/bunk bed combination is also present, allowing space and comfort for multiple guests.
ZIP’s rooms boast two single beds, with the option to combine them to create one double.

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