Work/Life: The Pod People

The pod people Kevin McCarthy warned us about in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" are not the same ones living in those micro-hotels that are popping up across Europe and here in the U.S. It is a concept that seems to have been inspired by the airport sleeping pods that are becoming so popular with business travelers the world over.

I love how England's Yotel has realized the concept in which rooms have become "cabins." Microhotels — or "capsule" hotels, as they are also known — have reached critical mass. The recession has shaken the market to its core, such that new hotels which focus on price and function rather than space and luxury have blossomed to serve the road warrior.

Just as with air carriers, business travelers are an important yield-management segment for hotels. While chains have altered their offerings to be more in line with the service and cost imperatives driving business travel, they can only go so far with buildings that were designed in another time. Neither high-end nor budget chains represent the ideal option for many business travelers. This is the niche into which microhotels have moved.

Of course, the concept of a small room that makes ingeniously creative use of every inch of space is not a new one. It's been around since at least the time of Pullman sleepers on trains of the 1860s, and ships had variations on the theme of ultra-compact compartments before that. As tight as these sleeping quarters might have been, the Apollo astronauts one century later enjoyed no such roominess in their capsule accommodations. Perhaps the most memorable iteration of one room that folds out in all directions was the French flat in which Jerry Mulligan (the artist played by Gene Kelly) awoke in "An American in Paris."

You can still live life large in hotel rooms as well designed as the news microhotels are. As an American in Amsterdam, I discovered a compact but endearingly wacky property that I liked so well the first time that I booked it the next time I was in town. It isn't often that you have what you can honestly say is a great hotel experience, but this Amsterdam airport microhotel — part of a new Dutch-based chain called CitizenM — did just that for me. It comes as no surprise that the chain was written up in KLM's inflight magazine, The Holland Herald for "reinvent[ing] the whole concept of a hotel," according to design consultant Gert Kootstra. "It's all an extension of one concept, which has been carried through from the architecture to the coffee cups."

Unlike booking an airline seat or rental car, hotels are a very personal choice with travelers — business travelers more so because they have to both live and work out of them. When staying somewhere on a leisure trip you're probably not spending anywhere near the time a road warrior does in a hotel. It's no surprise that we are so demanding because we have specific needs for functionality, like a good desk, a reliable (and preferably free) Internet connection, and a quiet place to make a conference call or rest up from the day's endless meetings. What I really liked about my Amsterdam digs was that the hotel's smart design made small seem spacious; its format was low-impact and yet futuristic; and it was just walking distance from the terminal.

The newest pod hotel variants are those locations that rent rooms in four-hour blocks. Now, I know that what's coming to mind among you film noir buffs is a fleabag straight out of "Somewhere in the Night." Well, I'm not John Hodiak and there's no Margo Woode waiting for me down the hall. The kind of hotel I'm talking about it epitomized by the Yotel at London's Gatwick Airport. Just as at all the Yotels, cabins may be booked for a minimum of four hours. The cabins come in different sizes but the amenities are standard throughout. The Pod Hotel in Manhattan is another microhotel that has been drawing good reviews both for its excellent business traveler-focused services and its convenient location. As the hotel says, "There's a pod for every person."

As Caryn Eve Murray writes in Hotel Interactive, the pod hotel idea is really taking off. She points out that The Jane is a former SRO which has found new life as a capsule hotel. Like many of its microhotel brethren, bathrooms at The Jane are communal, i.e., down the hall. This is not for everyone, but if what's important is a reasonable rate in the city that never sleeps — along with free wi-fi, LCD TV, DVD player, iPod dock, telephone with voicemail, and so on — it may be for you.

What I really like about the pod concept is that now business travelers who find themselves stranded in airports or stuck in a city have affordable alternatives for 'sleeping around.'

Pod hotels in airports and cities may or may not comply with your corporate travel policy, but enlightened companies will recognize the benefit of having their weary road warriors rested and refreshed before they return to the office. Pods offer a solution to those who might otherwise have to wait interminably in a terminal; and falling asleep in an airport waiting area is never a smart idea. Pods deliver peace of mind and peace and quiet, as well as privacy and a place to work. Gone are the days you when you had no choice but to pay full-day rates for an airport hotel room you'd only need for four or six or eight hours.

Pods aren't just for Don Siegel's body snatchers anymore. Now they're a home away from home for me and you.

 

 

 

Road Warrior • Miami • www.us.amadeus.com

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