Micro Hotels and Reconfigurable Rooms

January 22, 2019


When the New Year confetti is swept up and the rubbish is hauled away, we’re left with keeping the promises we made to ourselves. Some succeed and others don’t, but most of us – for at least a week or two – take the opportunity to think about how we could better arrange the pieces of our lives.


Of course, the opportunity for reinvention is not really confined to a particular date on the calendar or even just to personal resolutions. In the past two decades we’ve seen a massive shift toward flexibility in work environments, reconfigurable goods and services, and the prioritisation of experiences over things. Few industries have embodied or driven these changes like hospitality has – but for hoteliers, the process of reinvention is a double-edged sword.


On one hand, you don’t want be left behind as new sensibilities emerge. On the other, you can’t follow the trends blindly. Some of the new designs and concepts being put to market, as exciting as they may seem, will no doubt turn out to be red herrings. Hotels that seek to reinvent themselves too eagerly (or too often) can lose sight of who they are.


But what happens when the concept of reinvention is built into the mechanics of the hotel itself? What happens when beds, chairs and workstations can be reconfigured to suit the purposes of guests?


With its new Motto brand, Hilton is eager to find out. A 100-room property is under construction in the Marylebone area of London, and deals are underway to put Motto in cities such as Lima, Dublin, San Diego and others. The rooms themselves are small, with a footprint of just over 15 square metres. That’s half the size of most hotel rooms – a spatial economy that is essential to the value proposition of “affordable luxury” in urban settings.


Motto is not the first to brand be called a ‘micro-hotel,’ nor the first to propose a stripped-down guest experience in popular cities. Pod, and Yotel, and citizenM have all emerged as pioneering brands in this space. In fact, some of them can’t help but use the same language (e.g. “everything you need and nothing you don’t”). Essentially, these brands are upgrading and re-packaging the hostel experience, adding in more privacy and attention to detail – plus the reimagined common areas and technological perks millennials have come to expect.   


Several of Motto’s selling points are indeed shared by other brands, but the multi-purpose functions are unique at this stage. Despite the small footprint – or rather because of it – guests are invited to shift their rooms into new shapes. This is accomplished by beds that retract into walls, or can be rotated to open up space, or convert into spacious sofas for daytime use. Work stations in some rooms can also be folded into the walls, while multi-purpose furniture stows away when not in use. These concepts are not necessarily new (when Citadines began in Europe the fold-away bed was a crucial component in maximizing usable area in small rooms) but they clearly have merit where space is at a premium.


In short, the room can look quite different depending on what you’re using it for. The connecting doors on both sides also allow rooms to be strung together, so that groups of families and friends can combine space. Connected rooms are also nothing new in the hotel world, but linking tiny multi-purpose rooms could make for a unique experience.


Brands like Motto are betting that travelers want more of their money for exploration and experiences. In order to deliver that value, elimination of space and services is a key requirement. Will smaller rooms be easier to accept when they can be pushed and pulled into new shapes? The brand’s London location, when it opens in 2020, could go a long way to answer that question.


It’s obvious enough that today’s traveller seeks to design and configure their own experiences through economy and customisation. A careful study of these trends suggests to me that micro-hotels and reconfigurable rooms are not as dramatic or revolutionary as some of the press releases might suggest but, like all good New year’s resolutions, they will be well tested.


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