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Hostel or Not? Shared Rooms Pop Up in Traditional Hotels

Nancy Trejos, Skift
Hostel or Not? Shared Rooms Pop Up in Traditional Hotels

Hotels have for many years been turning their lobbies into interactive spaces with communal spots for working or socializing. Now they are applying that concept to their guest rooms.

Super 8 by Wyndham, an economy hotel brand, is rolling out ROOM8, a shared room to “accommodate a new generation of road trippers who thrive in communal spaces,” the company said in its announcement.

The suites will have individual sleeping spaces and beds for up to four guests and shared areas for dining and entertaining. Amenities will include an apartment-size refrigerator and microwave, vintage arcade games, a streaming-ready 65-inch wall-mounted TV, and a foosball table.

Element Hotels, one of Marriott International’s brands, recently introduced Studio Commons, which has four private guest rooms with a shared kitchen and living room.
The KEX Hotel opened Nov. 7 in Portland, Oregon. The “social hotel” brand that was created in Iceland has 15 shared rooms and 14 private rooms for a capacity of 152 guests.

The hotel companies are calling these ideas the first of their kind in the hospitality industry. They are not. What these hoteliers are doing is borrowing from the hostel model that was born in Germany in 1909. It spread to the U.S. in 1934, when Americans Isabel and Monroe Smith opened a youth hostel in Northfield, Massachusetts, according to Hostelling International USA, a nonprofit member organization.

Hybrid hostel/hotels have popped up all over the U.S. in recent years. The Freehand brand, which offers shared and private rooms, has expanded to New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. The company calls itself a “collection of hotels that combine the social culture of a hostel with innovative design, award-winning food and beverage, and a community-driven atmosphere.” Generator also offers shared and private rooms at its properties in Miami and throughout Europe. It bills them as both hostels and boutique hotels.

“Shared guest rooms are what I call glosteling, or glamorous hosteling,” said Joyce Gioia, CEO of the Herman Group, a management consultant company. “Once again, the lines are blurring.”

Blurring the lines is the traditional hotel industry’s way of fitting into the sharing economy. But don’t say that to a hotel executive.

“This is not like a hostel situation where you are sharing a room with people you don’t know,” Super 8 by Wyndham President Mike Mueller said. “This is about giving people traveling together an opportunity to spend more time together in the right environment.”

Targeting Millennials

Whatever the case, it’s a clear play for millennials, those highly coveted travelers in their mid-20s to late 30s. Millennials have increasingly turned away from big box hotels in favor of unique accommodations and experiences that they can get from such companies as AirBnb and HomeAway.

“Everything we have done in the last few years has been to try to attract that next generation of traveler,” Mueller said. “We do very well with baby boomers and Gen X-ers but we have to advance this brand for the future. A lot of people out there still think Super 8 might be their grandfather’s dumpy old motel. That is a thing of the past.”

Mueller said hotel brands can offer both a unique stay and reliability.

“What they don’t do, which we do extremely well, is offer a very predictable solution for travel,” Mueller said. “You know where to check in. You know we have your credit card information and it’s safe and protected. You know that if you have an issue and need something, we will always have someone there who will respond. This is really for those who like the idea of a shared space together but don’t want the unpredictable nature of a rental.”

Hotels have increasingly gotten into the business of engineering social situations, creating what the industry calls “social lobbies” with multifunctional spaces where people can work and play. Having shared rooms is yet another way that hotels are trying to create communities of loyal customers.

“Part of that trend is moving from solo travel to social travel,” Element Hotels global brand leader Toni Stoeckl said. “It’s a shift we see with all of our brands. We’ve seen a huge trend of smaller groups traveling together … You look at lifestyle these days, where you are on your mobile device or not, people are looking for that sense of togetherness. Brands nowadays, it’s about that experience, that emotional connection.”

Will the shared room concept make these younger travelers more loyal to a particular brand? Michigan State University hospitality professor Lu Xhang thinks it’s got potential.

“It would be effective to some extent given that the communal living space is one of the reasons why millennials choose Airbnb over hotels,” she said. “It gives them the benefits of socializing and networking without having to compromise privacy, security, space, and amenities.”

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