A room without a view: Japan's love hotels come to Britain, offering boltholes for lunchtime liaisons

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In Japan, hotel rooms rented by the hour have long been a retreat for amorous couples who want to escape the paper-thin walls and extended families that live in the country's cramped homes. But Japan's "love-hotels" are not sleazy.

Now the concept is being brought to Britain by Simon Woodroffe, the entrepreneur behind the Yo! Sushi restaurant chain, where the food comes round on conveyor belts and robots serve the drinks.

The "Yotel" chain will be launched this month and there are plans to open three hotels in London, then spread them nationwide. The hotels will have a "revolutionary" design and low prices, and, of course, customers will be able to book rooms by the hour. "I suppose the imagination goes wild when thinking what you'd rent it for, but that's not the intention," Mr Woodroffe says.

The Yotel company, part of his growing Yo! Everything empire, is close to signing deals on its first sites, one in the trendy Shoreditch area of London, with a further two at "major" airports around the capital. There will be a further hotel in the West End and the concept will eventually be rolled out internationally.

The idea is to provide a "designer" hotel at budget hotel prices, to combine the budget cost of the Travel Lodge with architect-designed surroundings. The hotels, designed by an outfit that plans aircraft interiors, are little like conventional establishments. The rooms are just 10 square metres, with ensuite shower rooms. They will have rotating beds (a space-saving, rather than kinky, feature), aeroplane-style lighting and the latest television, broadband and WiFi technology.

But there will be no external windows. Instead, the rooms will have "internal ones" looking on to a communal corridor. Natural light will be directed into the corridors by reflective mechanisms and the channelling of daylight. This way, the company can save money on the land needed for the hotels, packing rooms in on a small site, making it possible to have budget hotel prices. Rooms can be rented by the hour or overnight at £10 an hour or £75 a night, for accommodation intended to rival four- or five-star hotels.

Gerard Greene, managing director of Yotel, says the hotels would offer "luxury at an everyday price", adding: "We're offering flexibility. I can't dictate what people do in their rooms. Love hotels are probably the most profitable ones in Japan. If guys are sneaking off with their secretaries, why not make money from it?"

A full-scale model of a Yotel room will go on show at a design exhibition at Earl's Court this month. Yotels says: "It's luxury liner meets The Fifth Element [the Luc Besson film] in 10 square metres."Mr Woodroffe decided after a flight to "use the language of aeroplanes to create a very small hotel room".

Although the Yotel will have an automated check-in, and guests can stay without talking to a member of staff, Yotel is intended to be cosy rather than austere. There will be seats in the corridors, where guests from different rooms can socialise. "The 'cool' phenomenon is over," Mr Woodroffe says. "In the new culture, people want friendliness."

Mr Woodroffe, 53, has been compared to Virgin's Sir Richard Branson and Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the man behind easyJet and a series of "easy"-branded ventures. Mr Woodroffe is still on a high after doing a surprise hit show at the Edinburgh fringe arts festival last month, where he expanded on the motivational talks he gives using his life story.

He has known poverty, has had a spell behind bars (for dealing cannabis), and he has recorded an album with Ian Dury's former band the Blockheads (it has not yet been released). He went to public school but left with few qualifications. When he was sent to prison, he said he thought he had "really blown it".

He then drifted into a hotchpotch career behind the scenes in theatre and rock music. It was not until 1997 that he set up Yo! Sushi, following visits to Japan, bringing Britain high-quality sushi at affordable prices. He sold a majority stake in the business last year for £10m.

Mr Woodroffe says would-be entrepreneurs must be prepared to take big risks and follow their intuition. "Don't strategise too much," he says. "If, in the first few years, you don't come close to the edge, you probably won't get there."