Tiny hotels: Check in, then squeeze in

Moxy hotel room rendering.
Source: Marriot Hotel Development's Moxy Hotels

Hotel chains think that today's travelers want a luxurious experience at their accommodations but that they won't necessarily mind if their actual room is micro-size.

The average size of a hotel room in the U.S. is about 330 square feet, but these new modern-style digs being offered come much smaller. Rooms at Marriott's Moxy Hotels begin at a "cozy" 183 square feet, while Best Western's Vīb offers spaces "just a hair under 200." The rooms are priced aggressively for the three-star category to attract a younger generation, who might not mind the tighter fit versus the savings.

What these hotel rooms lack in size, the chains insist that they don't lack in substance, thanks to innovative designs and technology-focused amenities. While this style of hotel has existed in Europe and other international markets, it hasn't come stateside until now.

"It's this idea that we're giving our guests everything they want, and nothing they don't need," said Marriott's Moxy Hotels director, Vicki Poulos.

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Moxy Hotels, owned by Marriott, is a three-star tier boutique-style hotel chain that operates on the smaller rooms, large public space concept. It currently has one location in Milan, Italy, but has 41 more hotels in development. Fourteen are scheduled for eight U.S. cities, expected to open by end of 2017.

Checking in at a Moxy Hotel? You can do so online at the hotel bar, where a bartender is on hand to make you a drink, or help you if you have any issues. Room service has been replaced by 24/7 "grab and go" technology-enabled vending machines. Instead of flipping through endless TV channels, you can screencast your Netflix using the hotels Wi-Fi. (They still have basic channels if you can't find anything to watch.)

Poulos said what Moxy Hotels focuses on is what the "next-gen" traveler really wants: active public space. Its large lobby areas are styled in raw, industrial chic — think concrete floors and purposefully exposed wires — and let people work in the communal areas, meet locals to get tips on the city, and chat with fellow travelers.

"The trend and behavior for millennials is a lot different to what historically travelers wanted," Poulus said. "Baby boomers back in the day wanted a comfortable bed, and they wanted a hot shower. Those elements of functionality were important to those kinds of travelers. Millennials and lifestyle travelers, it's more about experience."

Twenty years ago, the average hotel was a little over 350 square feet, said New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism clinical professor Bjorn Hanson. New hotels are getting smaller because they don't need to be big, he said. Bulky TVs have been replaced for flat screens. Some hotels have even custom-made beds to be between the size of a twin and a full, a nod to the rise of the single traveler.

"Apparently we have no travelers other than millennials, based on the work that is being done," he said. "But it is true that millennials don't spend as much time in their room as boomers did."

While it is true the millennial lifestyle lends itself towards smaller spaces, he believes the entire industry was heading down this path because of cost-cutting measures.

"Millennials make a really good excuse for smaller rooms," Hanson said. "Every square foot taken out of a room makes it less expensive to build, maintain and air-condition. We can attribute it to millennials, but the millennials gave the industry a reason to downsize guestrooms."

What's more, Lodging magazine editor Megan Sullivan said that millennial travelers are looking for technology-connected hotels that give them opportunities to socialize. She credits the trend to the growth in popularity of coffee shop communal work spaces.

"Today's consumer is more savvy," said Sullivan. "It's just the changing times. People are just more interested in having that social experience where they can interact with other travelers and where they can meet the locals."

To get around the smaller rooms, Best Western's director of design, Amy Hulbert, said its urban Vīb hotels and secondary market and college town-based GLō rooms are focused on letting light in. Instead of a wall separating the bathroom from the bedroom, a glazed-glass partition divides the two. Luggage can be stored under the bed or in a nook next to the bathroom. There are large windows to bring in natural light, and beds face the city to make the room feel less claustrophobic.

Best Western just broke ground on its first Vīb hotel in Chicago, and has 15 more of the modern-style hotels in the pipeline. Rooms at GLō are slightly larger — starting at 249 square feet — but still operate on the modern small-room idea. Vīb's Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago rates are expected to range from $120 to $200 a night. GLō will average in the mid-$90s.

"That will help us get more guest rooms into a building and a greater payback," she said.

They'll both have large areas for socializing. One potential GLō hotel even has plans for a microbrewery. Hulbert is hoping that the new Best Western-owned hotels will become bring in young travelers who will want to Instagram and tweet about their stay, giving the brand an organic social media marketing boost.

"It has a tremendous impact on contemporizing the brand," she said. "More than anything, they're going to becoming billboard properties for us."

Another similar hotel chain, Yotel — which started out as sleeping pods in airports — has spacious areas with long tables for people to create their own workstations and enjoy meals. There's plenty of power sockets to plug laptops in without trailing wires across the corridor, and comfy chairs to lounge in. In eight new hotels currently under development, soundproof phone booths are being added so people can have private calls on their smartphones without having to travel back to their rooms.

"People who travel a lot like the flexibility of being able to work wherever," Yotel Vice President Jo Berrington said. "With laptops and mobile tablet devices, it doesn't make a difference if they are sitting at a desk or not."

Its New York rooms start at 170 square feet, and some of those rooms include bunk beds to stash extra travelers. The price will be around $200 a night. Berrington said the chain realized that what travelers today wanted was a good shower, an excellent bed, free wi-fi and good things to watch on TV. While they are in the heart of the city, prices remain on the low-to-mid-range end.

"You don't need an extra 20, 30, 40 or 50 square feet of space to do that," Berrington said. "And, you pay more for space. We can fit 50 percent more rooms, and ultimately it's a better return for investors and partners, and a better value for guests."

Hotel: Behind Closed Doors at Marriott
Hotel: Behind Closed Doors at Marriott

While this can appeal to younger travelers and even those with a "millennial-mindset," Lodging's Sullivan pointed out that some customers might be shocked by the buzzing establishments that aren't geared towards tranquility. But since many of these chains have older established brands that still offer that style of hotel, Sullivan feels that those travelers still have places to go for now.

"(The major chains) still have so many different brands that they can give the consumers a choice," she said. "If you're of that (older) age set and the website looks geared toward a younger set, maybe you use one of their other brands. But, there could be a few (cases) where a customer doesn't do their research, and that customer could be surprised."

Best Western's Hulbert doesn't believe that older travelers will be turned away at this new style of accommodation. Times are changing, and these travelers want connectivity and a new experience.

"I asked my parents if they would feel comfortable in the room because the offering is so different, and the flow of the room feels different," said Hulbert. "But, guests are becoming more comfortable with that more contemporary style. They want something that's different that they wouldn't have at home, and we're starting to see hotels make that shift. I think the North American traveler will forgive the size."