They look more like spaceships than hotels. White walls, neon lights, strange architectural shapes on the walls but above all rooms in the shape of capsules measuring two meters wide by one meter long. These are the so-called capsule or pod hotels, a business model that originated in Japan and has been brought to Europe with companies now trying to break into the Spanish market. But it won’t be easy. First, there are the cultural differences between Japan, an island of 126 million inhabitants where space is limited, and Spain, a country with a strong social culture. Such contrasts pose a significant challenge for entrepreneurs. Regulatory issues further complicate their introduction in Spain, as some regions do not have a legal framework for these types of establishments.
Experts consulted by EL PAÃS insist that strictly speaking, this type of accommodation cannot be called â€œhotelsâ€ – under Spanish law they can only be described as hostels, as they cannot do not have individual bedrooms or bathrooms. On the other hand, they lack many other characteristic features of a hostel, as there are no views, standing or closets, although guests have access to a locker and a bathroom. common bath.
In the summer of 2019, the first pod hostel, Optimi Rooms, opened in the center of the Basque city of Bilbao, a few minutes from the bus station, with an initial investment of â‚¬ 400,000. Two years later, a night in Optimi rooms costs â‚¬ 27 for a single capsule and â‚¬ 38 for a double. The driving force behind the project, IÃ±aki Zabala, insists the pods are larger than those found in Japan. Not only have they been adapted to the Spanish market and the physical dimensions of a typical Western physique, but the goal is to try and appeal to those who might think they are too small for comfort. â€œWe patented this large capsule model in Spain and imported them from China exclusively for our hotels,â€ explains Zabala, who plans to open a pod hostel on Madrid’s Gran VÃa with his partner in October.
After the pandemic, people are strangely more interested in sleeping in mini-rooms
Ildefonso Moyano, professor at EADA Business School
Madrid pods will share the futuristic aesthetic of Optimi Rooms. The capsules come with a flat-screen TV, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and a coffee maker, while the walls of the pod itself are made from a combination of glass panels and ABS that isolate the guest from the outside world. â€œWe are not a hostel, nor a room, but we are more comfortable than some hotels,â€ says Zabala.
Optimi Rooms has a total of 48 capsules with a capacity of 60 people. In Madrid, there will be 82 capsules. “This is a qualitative leap and the experience of Bilbao was fundamental for that”, explains Zabala.
The space problem in Japan prompted the hotel market to offer this innovative solution. Tokyo alone is home to over nine million people, apart from those who commute to the city on a daily basis for work. This factor, coupled with the high prices of hotels, has resulted in the pod hotel emerging as a more affordable alternative, with many of them close to train and metro stations.
The first pod hotel was designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa in Tokyo’s opulent Ginza district. Its intention was to accommodate the workers who spent the week in the city. It was the start of a trend that produced more than 300 such establishments in Japan, welcoming travelers from all over the world.
Entrepreneurs marketing these capsules tried to introduce them to Spain a few years ago, but, according to EADA Business School professor Ildefonso Moyano, “the market was not yet ready for this type of rest station” . As a result, a pod hostel in Barcelona closed just a few months after it opened. The company, Moyano explains, is something that is uniquely suited to Japanese society and culture with its dedicated work ethic, something that is not so intrinsic to the West.
However, in the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic subsides, hostels have grown in Spain. Two are set to open in Madrid and another has opened in the Canary Islands in Spain, off the coast of northwest Africa. Other hostels have opened in countries like Mexico and Colombia, and their owners say they are already profitable.
Fernando Constante, 50, has worked in the hotel industry for 18 years. Last May, he decided to open his own pod hostel in Puerto de la Cruz on the Canary Island of Tenerife. â€œOur aim is to open up new markets in an area where it seems like everything has already been invented,â€ says Constante, who has modified the rooms to offer a view and charges â‚¬ 32 for a single and â‚¬ 41 for a double. â€œWe spent three years preparing and here we are with our Europeanized capsules. “
Pods in Colombia and Mexico
Across the Atlantic, in Mexico City, JosÃ© MartÃn has opened three pod hostels in recent years, two at the airport and one in the financial heart of the capital.
â€œThe operation aims for simplicity, because travelers generally arrive tired and often with very little time to sleep,â€ he explains. “The idea is to provide the basis for a clean and safe rest.” After evaluating short-term accommodation concepts in different parts of the world, he opted for the Japanese model. In Colombia, Caps Future Rooms opened its first low-cost pod business in BogotÃ¡ in September.
â€œAfter the pandemic, people are strangely more interested in sleeping in mini-rooms,â€ Moyano explains. â€œIt makes a lot of sense. It is much easier to disinfect the cabins, the air is filtered, and with a sliding glass door the person is completely isolated from the outside, which would not be possible in a hostel where there is a chance that if your roommate is coughing, you will be hit by particles of saliva.
Then there is the novelty factor. As Eduardo Irastorza, professor at OBS Business School points out, â€œPeople are now looking for experiences. They want to experience things so that they can talk about them and share them on social networks. People want to sleep in pods for the original experience, not out of necessity, which is why they’ve been made bigger and more comfortable.
CorÃ© MartÃn, Head of Investments at Christie & Co, an advisor specializing in buying and selling businesses, is also optimistic about the future of the pod hostel in Spain. â€œFrom an economic point of view, these hostels are a very efficient way to save space and, if they are sold as something fun, they have all the criteria to be successful,â€ he says, adding that it will remain a niche market with a clientele profile that matches those looking for hostel accommodation, a sector that is also moving towards a hybrid model for the sake of increased privacy. “Numerous [hostels] still haven’t opened after the health crisis because people aren’t ready to sleep with strangers in the same room, â€he explains.
In Spain, each region has different regulations for this type of business. But in the Madrid region, as there is still no market, no regulations have yet been drawn up, making their future uncertain. “A law should be passed to prevent them from becoming a trend,” said JosÃ© Manuel Calvo, from Madrid City Hall. â€œIt is very risky to publicize this type of initiative because it allows the pod hotel to establish itself as another accommodation model. There is no place for a business like this in Western law and our own regulations because it is not a proper form of accommodation. This only responds to a demand for more in a low-cost market that is expanding in all areas.
On the other hand, the Association of Hotel Companies of Madrid welcomes all types of hotels as long as they are regulated and comply with the law.