PHILADELPHIA—Micro hotels are anything but small. The trend is seemingly here to stay, providing both value and necessity for hotel guests. The Pod Hotels brand—the micro-hotel concept—has opened its sixth location and first in Philadelphia, Pod Philly.
“Not a trend or fad, it’s an alternative that appeals to travelers who seek value and don’t need all of the space that is contained in a traditional hotel room because they don’t intend to spend much time in their hotel room,” said Aaron Katz, CEO/president of Modus Hotels, the developer, owner and operator of Pod Philly. “All of the major hotel companies have introduced small-room concepts and so I would expect to see this segment continue to proliferate.”
Modus franchises the Pod brand from BD Hotels in New York. Pod currently has four properties open in Manhattan (all developed by BD Hotels), and Pod DC in Washington, DC (developed by Modus Hotels).
“The truth is that micro hotels aren’t new; they have been in place for many years, but as a much smaller segment in the travel industry,” Katz said.
He added that the rapid move toward micro right now is in response to the changing needs of the traveler and the rising cost of urban infill development.
“Travel needs have changed and it’s a little less about space in guestrooms and more about social spaces in the public areas—and, of course, it’s always been about location and neighborhood,” Katz said.
Each Pod hotel relies heavily on destinations, keeping guests immersed in the location and the offerings that set it apart from others.
“Micro hotels still offer quality and personalized service, but eliminate unnecessary extras so travelers pay only for amenities they truly need,” said Rani Gharbie, head of acquisition and development, The Pod Hotels. “The Pod Hotels provides a great value to modern travelers who want to spend the majority of time exploring the destination by offering complimentary walking tours and concierge services to arrange local activities.”
According to Katz, these locations are focused on major urban centers with strong ties to locale.
“The Pod DC development was based on location and efficiency. In Philadelphia, the same thought was to find an A-plus location and design with efficiency in mind,” Katz said.
Pod Philly offers a bit of a larger room, 180 sq. ft. compared to the 150-sq.-ft. rooms in DC. The 252-room Pod Philly also includes larger studio rooms.
But, according to Katz, even though more space is always a plus, travelers are spending less time in their guestrooms with more of a focus on good energy and excitement in public areas.
“Some segment of the traveling public would prefer to pay less because they don’t need all of the space of a traditional hotel room,” Katz noted.
Modus Hotels, which already has an established footprint in Philadelphia with The Windsor Suites, felt that Pod was a natural next step in the market to bridge the gap between the four in NYC and the Pod DC.
“So far, the response has been terrific,” Katz said. “We believe there is a place in the Philadelphia hotel market for a fun, value-driven hotel—one that places travelers in the center of the city’s happenings, inspires an outreach to local adventurers and offers them a social experience that is new to Philadelphia. Pod Philly will allow travelers to do all that without breaking the bank.”
Pod Philly is located in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, in the center of the city’s business and retail districts, and appeals to all types of travelers.
“There is no typical guest. Guests run the gamut in terms of age, demographic, purpose of travel and nationality. It is truly a diverse concept that appeals to a mindset more than a specific cohort,” Katz said.
The location not only brings in this diverse set of guests but also informs the hotel’s design, which was spearheaded by NY-based Stonehill Taylor, which was tasked with making the most of the micro space.
“Philadelphia is such a great, vibrant and creative city,” said Sara Duffy, senior interiors associate, Stonehill Taylor. “We wanted to make sure we honored that energy by creating a calming room where guests can unwind and disconnect after a long day.”
The design, Katz said, required full utilization of each guestroom.
“Some items serve dual purposes while others are scaled to meet the room size. It requires careful thought of space utilization and layout efficiency,” he added.
The bed is outfitted with storage nooks for luggage with additional storage space in custom-made bedside benches. As for the dual-purpose features, the nightstands double as side tables and in the 18 larger studio rooms, there’s window seating.
“In a micro hotel, every inch counts, everything has to have a place and so our focus is on creating functional and good organizational designs,” Duffy said. “The rooms are small, so lighting is essential. For this project, we designed a lit cove above the windows, which allows the exposed concrete ceiling to be highlighted and, most importantly, creates a greater sense of height in the space.”
As with any hotel, there are challenges to consider, even though micro hotels provide innovative lodging alternatives.
“Airbnb is a major competitor for all hotels, not just micro. As hoteliers, we need to understand this competitive alternative to hotels but stay focused on our business,” Katz said.
This optimism runs deep, as leaders are confident that the micro-hotel guest seeks something that other lodging alternatives can’t provide.
“The first Pod property opened in 2007, before Airbnb had taken off, and they have always appealed to a different segment of travelers. This group is social and wants to interact with like-minded travelers, and values convenience above all else,” Gharbie said.
Oversupply is also something for these types of hotels to consider as more and more brands enter the space, Katz explained, but what gives Pod hotels an edge here are the experiences they provide outside of the guestrooms. For example, Pod Philly has partnered with Defined Hospitality for its F&B programming, bringing in local flavors and three distinct spaces to enjoy them in.
According to Gharbie, The Pod Hotels also utilize space efficiently with 40% smaller rooms and average nightly rates 10% lower than any other micro hotel currently in the market.
“As such, one of our biggest challenges is finding spaces that accommodate our unique specifications and extremely efficient hotel assets,” Gharbie said. “To uphold The Pod Hotels’ room standards, we’re forced to be very selective and walk away from many existing buildings with inefficiencies, like floor plans that are too wide or windows that do not align with our room modules.”
Gharbie said that Pod is preparing for the conversion of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles into Pod LA, which is slated for a 2021 opening.
“We set the goal of expanding the brand from five to 50 properties in the next decade and dove into our ambitious plan this year with the opening of Pod Philly,” Gharbie said. “Since I joined BD Hotels as head of acquisitions and development earlier this year, we set sail to expand to even more key markets.”
These locations include Miami; San Francisco; Chicago; Austin, TX; Boston; Nashville, TN; Seattle; in Canada in Montreal and Toronto and abroad in Mexico City, among others.
“Micro hotels appeal to any guest who prefers the energy and vibrancy of a public space that is focused on creating a sense of community for travelers,” Katz said. “That happens to meet the needs of many younger travelers, particularly those on a budget. They appreciates the sophisticated design, efficient use of space and smart technology.” HB