Any plans for the St David’s Day 2019? The optimum location for Friday 1 March is Cardiff, and thanks to a new hotel opening that day, two people will be able to stay in the Welsh capital for just £19 a night. Provided they like each other.
“Small rooms, small prices,” is the boast of Zip by Premier Inn. “No paying for space you don’t need. Because, hey, you’ll be asleep.”
The space you do need, according to the giant budget hotel chain, is 8.5 square metres; if you prefer imperial measures, that equates to a 9ft 6in square.
Into this concise chamber are squeezed two beds (which can be moved together if you are especially amicable), a bathroom and a TV. A sense of contact with the outside world is maintained either in the traditional manner with a window, or a “light box” which purports to carry out the same function. And no, says Premier Inn, you can’t choose: rooms are randomly allocated.
People who want to linger longer in Cardiff should note: “While you’re with us, we’ll clean your room every three days. If you’d like it cleaned daily, it’s an additional £5 per day.”
The promotional images suggest the concept shares some DNA with the humble caravan – but also with the first-class suites installed in aircraft. It is no surprise that the concept comes from PriestmanGoode, an industrial design consultancy that works with airlines to extract the maximum comfort from the world’s most valuable real estate: floor space on passenger aircraft.
The London design firm has some previous experience. It designed even more miniature rooms for the Yotel chain, which began life at airports. Space is at a premium, and so are the rates; at Gatwick a double room for the night of 1 March costs £99.
Besides far lower prices, what makes the Zip concept different is the choice of location. The Cardiff hotel is three miles from the centre, in the suburb of Roath. With due respect to this pleasant corner of the Welsh capital, land values are not quite as high as in central London, Manhattan or Tokyo – which is where you might expect to find such a concept. Indeed, Japanese guests have been squeezing themselves into coffin-like “capsule hotels” for decades.
But it appears to me that Premier Inn is attempting something quite different: to define the minimum space that people who are “only buying the sleeping” will tolerate.
If the firm gets it right, expect arch-rival Travelodge to come up with something similar very quickly – as Ryanair did after easyJet began to revolutionise short-haul aviation. Like the no-frills airline revolution, I think we may be on the brink of something similar for hotels. While plenty of people complain about the way that flying in Europe has become commoditised, you don’t tend to find them grumbling about the fares.
A tenner per person per night (based on two sharing) is only the lead-in rate; as with easyJet’s opening £29 offer, which during strong demand quickly ratcheted to £59 and beyond, don’t expect £19 a night when there’s a big match at the Principality Stadium or a graduation at the University.
Commercially it is a big risk for Premier Inn, which is still opening new, conventional budget hotels at a rate of about one a week. Will Zip simply cannibalise the parent business, enticing people who would otherwise be staying in “proper” Premier Inns? Or on nights when not much is going on in Cardiff (and I believe there may be one or two), could room rates for hotels or Airbnbs in the city centre fall so low that the savings by heading out to Roath are not worthwhile?
Also, I am not sure how deeply Premier Inn researched the name “Zip”; the last budget brand with this name was a Canadian low-cost airline, set up by Air Canada to compete with WestJet, which shut down within two years.
But, were I a hotelier in Cardiff whose pleasant two or three-star property is in need of some refurbishment, I would be watching Zip with more than a little concern on St David’s Day. And night.
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