Size matters

Size matters. “Bigger is better” is essentially a corollary to the American Dream, whether the reference is anatomy, economics or laundry detergent. But in this climate of shrinking natural and economic resources, re-evaluation produces new ideas and goals.

“What is the right size for a hotel room?” I asked in my last post. Development costs are computed on per square foot, but so are room rates. So the question is, how much is one willing to pay for space — or, conversely — how much does one prefer to save by giving up space?

Certainly, it is not a case of one size fits all. No store would sell only one cereal or one size of pants, but most hotels have one size — or mostly one size — of room. The underlying premise that a brand, especially in the retail and consumer spheres, equates to a specific and identical product is one fundamental concept worth exploring. Perhaps the imprimatur of quality and the methodology of service are sufficient hallmarks of identity, which would allow brands more quantitative diversification, opening up higher and lower price points and a wider customer base. 

Keeping the comparison to retail, think of ordering food sold by weight or by the piece. Unless we are expecting guests for dinner, we buy the amount we expect to consume and pay accordingly. What if the desk clerk asked each hotel guest, “How much do you want to pay?” What if the rate card had a sliding scale by room size and price? More than a few marital conversations might ensue in the lobby — perhaps not all felicitous — but overall, customers would have a beneficial opportunity to pay for as much as they want to have.

Room categories of standard, deluxe, junior suite and various suite types distill the range of choice into a few basic options — much as small, medium and large has permeated clothing sizes — but the steps in price cut the gradation into major distinctions, much like economy, business and first class plane cabins. Small differences loom large, such as the premium now charged for the extra legroom of exit rows or higher-octane gasoline. 

Perhaps one way to provide a range of guest choices is to imagine a hotel where the outside wall slopes in, and room size varies by floor. Guests can pay what they want and get the size they pay for. If we hold to the example, this might improve the value of lower floors — much like the premium price on airline exit rows has elevated them from undesirable to preferable. 

If slanted walls are not the likely solution, there are a range of architectural solutions that can provide a sliding scale of room size. Room rates and room upgrades can then be offered accordingly.

One other permutation of adjusted room size is the pod room. This recent challenge to the notion that bigger is better is growing bigger. Certainly, the reduced price to go along with the reduced size is a major factor, and the timeliness of this during current economic travails is no accident. Also, the conservation of physical resources fits with our current focus on sustainability. The Spartan sensibility encompasses both and infuses them with a sense of finding the essence of what a room for a traveler needs to be.

The basic notion is to keep what must be kept and discard or minimize everything else. The advent of technological miniaturization has shrunk many necessary room components, and an acceptance of a reduction in privacy has enabled the bathroom to merge into the room. Eventually, all we are left with is a bed and some bathroom fixtures, with collapsible or multi-functional elements covering other needs. Clearly this has potential for a budget market, but the upscale pod brings a stronger challenge. Much like a sports car or technological devices — where smaller is better — can the beauty of efficient design bring a premium value to small?

Will the pod find widespread acceptance or niche markets, or will it be a passing fad? Regardless, there is an opportunity to challenge notions of size and the fundamental notion of what our product needs to be.