The capsule hotel became associated with travel in Japan, where population density and premium real estate costs made it a viable product in the marketplace.
Why is the rest of the world now discovering the capsule hotel?
Airport planners are finding there is a market for sleeping space between long security lines and the gate. Some travelers want to take a short nap, while others settle in for a full night's sleep. Imagine awaking and simply walking to the gate the morning of your flight! No parking or security delays. Extra sleep.
Outside of airport terminals, cities with expensive real estate such as New York and Tokyo are prime grounds for putting a lot of beds into a small-hotel space, and the capsule hotel makes that possible.
What is a Capsule Hotel?
The term originated as a description for a space that offers little more than a bed and perhaps a small work space. In some cases, they are literally sleep boxes. In others (sometimes called pod hotels), they are tiny rooms in which you actually can walk on the floor for a few steps.
Japan has offered these options for decades. Initially, almost all the capsule hotel choices were for men only. Frankly, some catered to businessmen too inebriated to navigate the path back home at night.
But others became a solid budget travel option for those who wanted to average in a cheap stay with their other plans. For the equivalent of as little as $12 USD/night in some places, there were the basics: privacy, safety, a mattress and a pull-down shade for sleeping. Most also have electrical outlets for recharging as you snooze.
The Capsule Hotel Concept and Airports
The capsule hotel concept has found its way from the crowded streets of Japan to the busy terminals of Western Europe. The Yotel Group already owns hotel operations at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport and at both Heathrow and Gatwick airports in London, and Paris CDG.
Yotel's aim is to offer style and quiet in these settings, as well as some room to move around. Prices reflect that more comfortable approach and are higher than what you'd expect to pay for a night in a capsule hotel in Japan. A minimum four-hour stay in what Yotel markets as "cabins" starts at £90 ($114 USD) for the Heathrow Terminal 4 location and increases to £102 ($129 USD) for an overnight.
Yotel in New York
Is the next step to see these small spaces offered in traditionally expensive hotel venues such as New York? Yotel is making the move and it bears watching.
Yotel opened a Times Square location with 669 rooms in June 2011. The announcement promoted Yotel as the "iPOD of the hotel industry."
Unlike most of the Japanese models that provide sleeping and work space but no restrooms, the Yotel in New York offers 171 square feet of space in each room and private facilities. Costs start at about $188/night and increase past $500/night for the nicer rooms with views. You can add $15 for two people to have breakfast in the morning.
Note that 10 percent discounts are possible at the Manhattan Yotel when booking at least three consecutive nights. There is also a concierge service that will assist with booking Broadway shows or making airport transfers.
"It is a brand that is going to grow exponentially in the next few years," said Joe Sita, President of IFA Hotel Investment, in a news release jointly issued when Yotel announced its New York plans..
Call them capsule hotels, pods or cabins, but recognize that the general concept is for you to pay somewhat less for a safe, restful overnight in exchange for sacrificing room to roam and some other amenities. It will be interesting to see how many budget travelers are willing to make the exchange.