A night as Pod people
As Astrid promised, here is a post about the hotel we stayed at on a Saturday night in Birmingham, called NiteNite (or nitenite, as in their very heavily-type-designed style). Effectively, this is a “pod” or “micro” hotel. Let me start with a little background. The concept comes from the Japanese “capsule” hotel. Have you seen the Seinfeld episode where Kramer accommodates the Japanese businessman in his dresser drawers?
Not surprisingly, this concept isn’t terribly popular in the west. However, there are now at least three ventures that attempt to translate the concept of mini-sized hotel offerings for low prices.
First, there’s easyHotel. You may not be too familiar with the orange empire, but it began with the very successful easyJet, created by a very rich Greek guy named Stelios Haji-Ioannou. Since he started easyJet, Stelios has basically tried to expand the concept to just about every other concievable business, with very little success (easyInternetcafe, easyCar, easyMoney, easyCinema, easyPizza, easy4Men, easyBus, easyCruise, easyOffice, easyMobile, etc). easyHotel may be one of the most successful of these spin-offs, which isn’t really saying too much – but there are now 10 locations acround Europe. It is essentially the same as easyJet – you pay low rates, especially if you book in advance, for a very basic product with very little space and very little service.
As you may recall, we stayed in the easyHotel in South Kensington (who would have thought then that less than 3 years later I’d be working a 10-minute walk away!) for part of our honeymoon during Christmas 2007. In short, it was absolutely dreadful. There are no windows, and the “tiny loo” behind that raised orange door in our case was pretty ratty and dirty. The bed was very low, and we barely had room to put our suitcases, much less open them or hang winter coats! The orange was oppressive, and there was a tiny TV mounted in the corner which cost extra, about US$10/day at the time. We paid what seems like too much now – about US$90/day – for it, but keep in mind that the exchange rate was over 2x at the time, and London hotels are at NYC prices or higher!
Ok, so on the second – the YOTEL! Brought to you by Stelios-wannabe Simon Woodroffe and his YO! Company, this place is at three airport locations – London Heathrow, London Gatwick, and Amsterdam Schiphol. The YO! Company flagship is YO! Sushi, a sort of fast-food sushi place that seems to be pretty successful in London, with 59 total locations in 5 countries.
We haven’t yet stayed here, although I’m thinking about trying the one at Heathrow the night before my very early departure for Shanghai in October. When we were here on the honeymoon, “fresh” from the sour easyHotel experience, we convinced the clerk to let us see a room inside the Heathrow location, and it was amazingly better.
Aside from not being orange, the “cabins” were modern and sleek, and included a flat-screen TV, free wi-fi, 24-hour room service. The goal was to provide a place at airports for travelers with long layovers to rest in comfort and style – so they charge by the hour, with a minimum of 4 hours at about US$38, up to about US$100/night.
Finally, back to the title – nitenite. This upstart Birmingham establishment is much more like Yotel than easyHotel, and at £49.95 regular and £29.95 special that I paid, a great value! The location is only a 10 minute or so walk from Birmingham New Street, the main Birmingham railway station that is effectively the crossroads of the national rail network, and very near the attractive canal district that Astrid posted about previously.
The amenities were good – free largeflat-panel TV, free wireless Internet, and two free bottles of water. The TV’s “home” channel was a webcam looking out from the building, which I thought was brilliant – in effect, every room then gets the same “window” view! While the rooms are quite small, and you wouldn’t want to spend much time there, it is all you need for sleeping. I give it a big thumbs up and would gladly stay there again – I hope they spread to more European cities for those of us whose hunger for travel (and private bathrooms!) exceeds our budget 🙂