When guests walk into the soon-to-open Moxy hotel in the Theatre District, they won’t see a reception desk. Instead, the first thing that will come into view is a truck that has been retrofitted as a photo booth. They can step inside the social media-friendly, non-functioning vehicle and take selfies with props provided. If you’ve ever wondered what millennial catnip looks like, this is it.
For guests who opt not to use Moxy’s automated check-in kiosks, the reception desk at the micro hotel doubles as the bar. Or maybe it’s a bar that doubles as the reception desk.
On the other side of town at the newly opened citizenM micro hotel at North Station, the check-in process is also automated. When guests arrive, they’re greeted by a long table set up with check-in stations where they can enter a code and activate a room key. A hotel employee stays close by to assist the technology impaired. Beyond the desk is the lobby — they call it the living room here — that’s dripping with midcentury George Nelson pendant lights, Alexander Girard pillows, and, what’s that in the corner? Well, hello, kitty. It’s a very large sculpture of an orange cat. There’s no photo booth, but it’s hard to resist taking pictures of this omnium gatherum of Euro design and art.
Both hotels are part of Boston’s new wave of micro hotels. Let’s call it a micro wave (yes, I went there and I don’t regret it). In addition to the Marriott-owned Moxy (which is currently slated for a mid-September opening) and the Amsterdam-based citizenM, Hilton said it plans to open its micro hotel brand, called Motto, in Boston as well. These three micro hotels join Yotel, which opened in the Seaport two years ago. citizenM is also planning a second Boston location by 2022.
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a micro hotel has tiny rooms — in some cases as small as 50 square feet — with large social spaces for mingling, working, eating, and drinking. These hotels, which emerged in Japan and spread to Europe and New York more than a decade ago, are primarily located in urban centers and cater to younger travelers. They lean heavily on high-tech features (high-speed Internet, automated check-in, Internet TV), and high design, such as splashy murals painted by local artists.
A small room doesn’t necessarily mean a small price. The average nightly rate at citizenM is $250 to $350 depending on demand. At Moxy, prices range from $199 to $299 a night. Each room has a private bath. At citizenM the capsule-like bathroom is part of the chic room design.
The driving principle behind the Lilliputian rooms is that travelers don’t hit the road to explore their hotel room, they come to experience the city either for work or pleasure. Robin Chadha, CMO and cofounder of citizenM, said about 70 percent of the chain’s occupants are business travelers.
“It’s a good choice for people who are coming into town one or two days,” said Chadha, who looks like the kind of chic professional who would stay at citizenM even if he wasn’t the cofounder. “I could stay at the Four Season, but do I really want to pay $1,000 a night when I’m going to be out all the time at client meetings and dinners? Or if I’m going to be exploring the city?”
These hotels are not designed for families. Expect rooms around 150 square feet at both Moxy and citizenM. According to citizenM’s website, “It’s just the right amount of space to swing two cats.” Let’s hope that’s a cheeky euphemism and not to be taken literally.
Whereas citizenM goes by a slogan of “affordable luxury for the people,” Moxy has its sites squarely focused on a demographic that lives on social media. In addition to the photo booth truck at the entrance, there are places throughout the hotel that are practically begging to be photographed with murals, dizzying tiles, and buzzy common spaces. One section of the lobby at Moxy will be devoted to games such as Cards Against Humanity and Jenga. Staff members will be on hand to initiate the festivities.
“Can you imagine Mr. Marriott playing Cards against Humanity?” said Dustin Kovats, general manager of Moxy Boston, referring to J.W. Marriott Jr., the chain’s 87-year-old chairman of the board.
It’s also difficult to picture Mr. Marriott tucking himself into bed at the Moxy and lifting the receiver of the room’s retro looking phone to hear a bedtime story. Yes, that’s right. If you want to hear a bedtime story at the Moxy, you press a button on your phone.
Back in the common spaces, both guests and non-guests are encouraged to hang out, eat, drink, and work. You can buy beverages and food, or pop in with your own coffee for a breather. The Moxy will have a rooftop bar reserved for guests or private functions. A DJ will spin while guests sip on batch cocktails.
At citizenM, the public is also welcome to hang in the lobby, bar, and canteen (you can purchase a day pass if you’re not a guest and you’d like to spend an entire day working there). It’s a comfortable place for a quick bite or cocktails for those who opt not to stay in their room. It’s full of furniture from designers such as Verner Panton and Hella Jongerius. It’s very design-oriented, and very Dutch.
When you arrive in your room at citizenM, the television and iPad greet you by name. The iPad controls all features of your room, including mood lighting, which you can set yourself or pick from predetermined moods, such as business or party. The room itself is a study in maximizing space. You may be occupying a room the size of a walk-in closet, but there’s a king bed and plenty of storage. Boston is citizenM’s first foray outside of New York in the United States, but it has plans to open five more US hotels by the end of next year.
Moxy, which is also expanding rapidly, uses natural light to make its Theatre District rooms look larger. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer spectacular views on higher floors. Space is further maximized with furniture that hangs on the wall and can be taken down as needed.
“It seems that the North American market is more than ready to embrace micro hotels,” said Michael Coletta, manager of research and innovation at Phocuswright, a travel research group. “First, there’s the tiny home movement, which has shown people that it is possible to live comfortably in a small amount of space. People are also more flexible about where they stay, and they’re OK with communal experiences. Look at the success of Airbnb.”
From a business point of view, the micro hotel trend is popular in the hospitality industry because smaller rooms mean more rooms. And that translates into more revenue, Coletta said.
Or, perhaps they’re just popular because they’re fun. When I stayed at citizenM (the hotel did not know that a writer from the Globe was staying there), I sprawled out on the comfortable bed, took out the iPad, and started changing up the moods and music in my room. Later I went to the lobby for a drink, chatted with tourists, and, of course, took selfies with that huge sculpture of the orange cat.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and on Instagram @Chris_Muther.