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Marriott’s new millennial-aimed hotel room: Stylish, cheap and smaller than 200 square feet

A rendering of a room in a Moxy microhotel planned for New York. Design by Yabu Pushelberg for Marriott International.
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America’s staid, beige hotel rooms, with their sad ironing boards and packaged soaps, have always paled to the promised coziness and cheap chic of vacation-rental sites like Airbnb. So to win back millennials, hotel giant Marriott is doing something very different: Launching a coast-to-coast line of stylish microhotels, where trendy bars take precedent — and the rooms are cheaper and ultraslim.

The hospitality chain is working with investors to open new hotels under the Moxy flag in New York, San Francisco and Seattle that would feature “space-efficient” rooms more likely to be seen in a European hostel. But what they’d lack in size, they’d gain in youth-targeted perks: A Moxy in Milan, Italy, features sound-reducing walls, free Wi-Fi, floor-to-ceiling art pieces and “luxurious power showers.”

Hotels have struggled to out-cool Airbnb’s home-rental startup and a flurry of voguish boutique hotels. But Marriott’s Moxy push — with upgraded perks and downsized rooms — could lay out a blueprint for how hoteliers in the future compete for young travelers’ cash.

“The old conventional hotel model was a customer checked in, went straight to their room and never came out,” said Tony Capuano, Marriott’s chief development officer. “We have a very attractively designed guest room, with a European sensibility, with really exciting public spaces, that will encourage guests to come down.”

Moxy rooms are designed to be simple, no-frills spaces that the chain says are “defined by attitude rather than affordability.” A Moxy room in Italy can cost less than $100 a night, though an average room in Manhattan might cost more than $200 a night.

Most will be smaller than 200 square feet, about half the size of the average hotel room. But the common areas are glitzier, with open bars, all-night cafes and “a buzzing living space where things are always happening.” On its Website, Marriott has advertised the hotels as “just like home….. but with a bartender! ;)” (Winky-face theirs.)

Moxy opened its first outpost in Milan last year, with plans to spread quickly to Berlin, London and other European hot spots. But analysts said squeezing out a space in America’s saturated hotel empire, where open room space has always been a prime selling point, could be tough.

Marriott, based in Bethesda, is one of the world’s biggest hotel brands, with more than 4,000 international properties and plans to open its millionth hotel room this year. Moxy is the chain’s attempt to be hip and sleek and boutique-y while also operating as the chain parent of fuddy-duddy workhorses like the Residence Inn.

It’ll be a tough balancing act, but it couldn’t come at a better time. Bottom-barrel gas prices and the U.S. economy’s recovery are expected to boost travel spending this year. Marriott is experimenting with a number of perks with its other brands to attract some of those vacationers: In eight non-Moxy hotels, the chain is testing out TVs that would let customers stream from their Netflix, Hulu Plus and Pandora accounts.

So why the focus on millennials? It’s not just that they are the biggest generation in American history, with the buying power to match. A hotel that secures young budget-conscious travelers now, the chain is betting, could also lock them in when they’re traveling for work or vacation later in life.

“We want to get these guests into the Marriott portfolio early in their lives,” Tina Edmundson, the company’s global officer for luxury and lifestyle brands, told the Wall Street Journal. “And as they go through their lives they can avail themselves to other brands.”