Words by Jenny Southan, editor of globetrendermagazine.com
Photo: City Hub Amsterdam
The Japanese are always a couple of steps ahead of the West when it comes to technological and lifestyle innovations. When I worked in Tokyo ten years ago, long before we had smartphones in the UK, I had a flip-screen mobile that transformed into a perfect colour TV, and could be used like an Oyster card on the subway.
In a society in which people work seriously hard, sleep is a big thing – my manager hadn't taken a holiday in four years and some of my students would arrive for a Saturday-morning English class in rumpled suits after working all night. Recognising the need for a place to crash for a few restorative hours, capsule hotels were born in the 1970s. For many years they were just for men, but nowadays we all use them.
Finally, Western hoteliers have caught on, installing them in the places we need them most – airports and city centres – where regular hotels can be prohibitively expensive, and stays are for hours, not days.
Simon Woodroffe, the founder of the Yo Sushi restaurant chain, led the way with his first capsule concept, Yotel, in 2007 at Gatwick, with rooms as small as 6 sqm. Now he also has them in Heathrow (above), Amsterdam Schiphol airport and New York's Times Square (although cabins are bigger here).
Upcoming openings in the next two or three years will be in Paris Charles de Gaulle and Singapore Changi airports, and downtown locations in San Francisco, Boston, Miami, Brooklyn, Singapore and Dubai.
In the meantime, here are five other capsule hotels you can try around the world…
Built in a repurposed warehouse in the Dutch capital's hip Oud West district, this trend-setting hotel opened in October and has 50 sleep cabins (pictured above) complete with coloured mood lighting, a double bed with fresh white sheets and free wifi. Luggage can be stored in a locker, while bathrooms are communal (rather like an upmarket gym). One of the most sci-fi things about City Hub, though, is that you are given a personal RFID wristband for opening the door to your unit and paying for drinks in the bar. Check-in is done via virtual kiosks 24 hours a day. Prices are from around £39 a night, room only.
If you have to catch a hideously early flight, the Yotel in Heathrow's Terminal 4 can be booked for as little as four hours, giving you the opportunity to get some rest and have a shower before setting off on your journey. The smallest cabins have a single bed and measure just 7 sqm so there is no space for sharing, but you can also get a larger Premium one if you are with your partner. (There's not much privacy, though, as showers have glass walls.) Other features include free wifi, flatscreen TVs and the ability to order snacks from Mission Control. Prices are from £30 (for four hours).
Japanese chain Nine Hours opened this pod hotel in 2014. You will find it in Narita International airport's Terminal 2, so if you are flying out of here this will save you having to sprawl out on a bench while waiting for your flight. If you only need to freshen up, you can pay ¥1,000 (£6) for use of the slick shower block, or pay by the hour to sleep. The all-white facility sports single-person pods (1.1 metre wide and 2.2 metres deep by 1.1 metre tall) that are stacked like washing machines – it looks like the kind of accommodation you'd expect astronauts to be bedding down in onboard the International Space Station. Sections are divided for men and women. Prices are ¥1,500 (£9) for the first hour, ¥3 thereafter, with a shower included.
Not exactly a hotel, last year this European airport unveiled a cluster of 19 freestanding cocoons by Gate 31, allowing weary jet-setters to have a nap before boarding their plane. (You'll have to find a nearby washroom to do your hair and make-up, though.) Climb inside and pull the lid over you, and the ergonomic seat will recline into a bed. You can also securely stow your hand-luggage underneath. Like Nine Hours, they are not for the claustrophobic, being just one metre high by two metres long. Prices are from £6 for one hour.
This compact hotel concept arrived in London Gatwick's South Terminal (just before security) in 2014. The 245 modern units start from 9.5 sqm and all have monsoon showers in wardrobe-sized wet rooms, free super-fast wifi and HD LED televisions you can watch from a double bed made up with smooth Egyptian cotton sheets. The besr ones have views of the runway. Samsung tablets control the lighting (also in calming mauve), air con, blinds and one-touch check-out, allowing you to whizz away without engaging with a member of staff. Prices from £59 a night.
Jenny Southan is the editor and founder of Globetrender, an online magazine dedicated to the future of travel.