Is a smaller guest room the way of the future?

By David Kong

Monday February 22, 2016

I don’t know if Starbucks should be credited for starting this trend, but there seems to be a movement to increase the amount of social space where people can mix, mingle and “be seen.” Restaurants and bars are putting in community tables. Municipalities are creating sidewalk libraries, community gardens or multi-purpose urban parks. This movement has permeated the hospitality industry as well, as more and more hotel lobbies, breakfast rooms, and lounges are redesigned to encourage and facilitate socializing.

Increasingly guests are using their hotel rooms to just sleep – seemingly, it’s no longer where they are choosing to work or watch television. The average size of a hotel room in the U.S. is about 350 square feet; but, it is quickly decreasing. Most of the latest prototypes rolled out to target the new generation of travelers have much smaller guestrooms; but, vast public areas.

Pod 51 on East 51st Street in New York City offers rooms that are as small as 100 square feet, but also offers out-of-room amenities such as lounges, bars, and game rooms. Yotel has rooms in New York that start at 170 square feet but boasts that it has the largest hotel terrace in New York City in addition to other bars and lounge areas. The Best Western Vīb has guestrooms in the 250 square feet range; but, also features a zen zone, work zone, game zone, media zone and even a Skype zone in the lobby and mezzanine.

While smaller hotel rooms may be the trend of today, will it be the trend of tomorrow? Hotels are long-term investments. Will smaller guestrooms enable the owner to be successful in the long run?

A lot really depends on the market and the targeted customer segment. In Texas, where everything is bigger and people are used to bigger guestrooms, it’s difficult to train guests to get accustomed to smaller rooms except in major cities like Austin or Dallas. Also, if the hotel has a high mix of double occupancy, it will be difficult to succeed without larger rooms.

In major cities where real estate is very expensive, developers may have no choice but to go with smaller guestrooms to justify the project. Smaller guestrooms are already accepted in major cities such as Hong Kong, Japan, London or Paris. The key to success is to look for room designs that are highly functional. Consider Best Western’s newest brand GLō. Its center loaded bathrooms save 50 square feet of “dead space” at the entrance per guestroom. Its creative selection and placement of furniture make the room feel spacious although it is only about 250 square feet.

Chasing a narrow niche of customers is seldom a winning strategy. It behooves developers and owners to study the market and to invest in designs that have long-term viability.