The hospitality landscape has been a-changin’ since the turn-of-the-21st-century citizens came of travel age. Hotel developers have started to replace some of the fustier features, such as mini-bars and room service, with more modern ones, such as nightstands with USB ports and lobby lounges. High on the millennials’ wish list: free WiFi, plentiful outlets, community spaces, and locally sourced food and beverages.
For example, Holiday Inn Express recently installed community tables in some of its Great Rooms, a denlike space off the lobby. Now, guests can commune and charge their devices. Hilton’s new Canopy brand highlights the neighborhood culture with evening tastings and a welcome gift (think globally, act locally), supplies loaner bikes (a la bike-sharing programs) and offers mobile check-in (queuing up is so Y2K). And at Marriott’s Moxy Hotels, guests can unlock their doors using their smartphones. (For those with flip phones, there’s a vacancy at HoJo.)
Aaron Katz, president and chief executive of Washington-based Modus Hotels, has kept millennials in mind when planning the Pod D.C., the company’s newest property in the District. (Modus is licensing the Pod name from BD Hotels, which has two Pods in New York and two more on the way.) He says he hopes that the 245-room hotel, scheduled to open in Chinatown in mid-October, will captivate the Me, My Selfie and I Generation. But his target audience also includes those who came before (Gen X, baby boomers) and will one day follow (Gen TBD).
“Trends start with the youth, and then the whole mind-set changes,” the Gen Xer said. “The Pod will appeal to millennials, but we will adapt the hotel to multiple generations.”
Some amenities are pan-generational. Guests from all birth years want gratis WiFi and a good value. The Pod has both. Free WiFi will be available throughout the 11-story hotel, and rooms will cost 20 percent less than the average rate of a midrange property — the Pod’s $160 vs. the neighbor’s $200. However, the small room size — about 150 square feet — might divorce the parents from the children. The tight quarters are intended to push guests out the door and into the social hubs. No more retreating into your carpeted snail shell.
“People don’t want to isolate themselves in a room,” he said. “They want to be downstairs socializing. They want to be part of the community they are traveling to.”
Modus is still forging partnerships with local purveyors and putting the finishing flourishes on the design. But Katz invited us to preview a model room in Alexandria.
Two generations showed up for the tour. I represented Gen X, and Megan McDonough, Travel’s editorial assistant, spoke for the millennials. We inspected the room through our different lenses, noting what worked and what didn’t.
The ultimate question: Can the Pod make Millennial Megan emoji-happy and also earn an uncynical emoticon from Gen X Andrea? Or will the hotel further expand the Great Generational Divide?
Decor and layout
Millennial Megan: I was expecting the Pod to be, well, a little more mod. The decor was simple and conservative, especially compared with the vibrant furnishings found in the sister hotels in New York. I appreciated the rare pops of color, such as the bright blue chair and yellow table lamp, but found some of the furniture to be a bit obsolete. Did they steal the wooden table desk from my freshman dorm room? Possibly.
Some of the space-saving decisions, such as easy-to-reach reading lights attached to the bed’s headboard, were helpful, but many were perplexing. I would never use the purse hooks on the wall, and the small, open nook for clothes was too tiny — fine for an overnight, but inconvenient for a multi-day stay. The nook near the TV was an unnecessary nuisance, and I disliked the fact that the floor-length mirror was broken up by a wooden panel. My suggestion: The hotel should lose the desk and add more — and larger— storage options.
But, for me, the biggest dealbreaker is the quality of the bed, and on that point, Modus delivered: a queen-size, triple-sheet, pillow-top bed. Because, at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. With monuments, museums, shops, restaurants and a main Metro line within walking distance, how much time will you actually spend in your room? Probably little.
Gen X Andrea: The snug room optimized space like a tiny house. The petite size and minimal furniture (bed, desk, swivel chair) would force me to stay tidy. Instead of tossing coats and bags on the extra bed or lounger, I would use the hooks on the wall and tucked under a ledge below the TV. The deconstructed and doorless closet was a puzzle, however. Any garment longer than a thigh-high dress would pool on the cabinet below. Guests with maxi dresses, prepare for wrinkles. (No irons or ironing boards, by the way.) The designers have tossed the unsightly luggage rack and expanded the space beneath the bed to fit luggage. I like this storage feature in theory but not so much in practice.
The overall look of the room is calming: white with bursts of primary colors, like stepping into a Mondrian painting. A blue stripe zigzags across one wall, and a photo of “unexpected” (non-cliche) Washington by Pixellab Photography hangs on another. The bed is dressed in virginal white cotton with no silly ankle scarf or thread counts that make no mathematical sense. (The bunk beds, which we didn’t see, are twins.) The blinds appear in two shade styles, perfect for those who pendulum between pitch dark and natural light. One version blocks out all light and, when drawn, winks blue at passersby. The second option permits shards of rays to enter the room without the risk of exposing yourself to outsiders. This way, I can have my sunshine and moonbeams without sacrificing my modesty.
And now a word about the lighting. I am impatient with newfangled switches, so I was glad to see the traditional thumb-flip style by the door. A pair of lights embedded in the headboard also hit the sweet spot: easy to turn on and off and don’t require more than a halfway arm lift to reach. As for the yellow table light: Sure, it emits the perfect soft glow for snapping selfies (take it away, Megan), but it requires an operations manual. Aaron instructed us to tap the top; I would instead pull the plug.
MM: Don’t expect to find a big, comfy robe and fuzzy slippers awaiting you; the hotel room is pretty bare-bones when it comes to amenities. Gone are the traditional, old-school frills such as ice machines, pay-per-view movies and trouser presses. And while I approve of most of the changes, especially the eco-conscious ones (refillable shampoo and conditioner pumps in the shower instead of wasteful mini-bottles), I draw the line at chucking free in-room coffee. I personally love hogging a fresh pot of the stuff in the morning.
I guess I could consider kicking my java habit for an affordable rate in a great location. I hope that the hotel considers adding a different perk, such as loaner bikes or free yoga, in its place. It would definitely go a long way with guests.
Gen X-A: Grumpy Morning Hermit needs a coffeepot in her room — or, at the very least, a free hot beverage station in the lobby for repeat cups. I grumble at the idea of paying for coffee or tea, even if it’s a boutique roast or gourmet tea selection. I’ve been hopelessly spoiled by the convenience — and economy — of mid-tier chain hotels.
In the bathroom, I embrace the move to environmentally friendly toiletries and toilets. (Dual-flush saves the world!) As for my own health and wellness, I am grateful for the free fitness center, though I hope that the company, which has gratis yoga at one of its Georgetown properties, partners with a local studio. My chakra would really appreciate it.
MM: Free and reliable Internet service is a must for me, whether traveling for business or pleasure. Out of town, I rely on my smartphone for just about everything: reviews of restaurants and attractions (Yelp, TripAdvisor), public transportation schedules (DC Rider, Amtrak), and social media apps to communicate with — and humblebrag to — friends back home (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat).
Fortunately, the hotel caters to tech-friendly — or, should I say, tech-reliant — travelers by outfitting the rooms with free and fast WiFi, accessible outlets in convenient spots (no more battling the roommates over the bedside outlet), and a big, flat, high-definition TV that can stream on-demand content such as Netflix. (“House of Cards” marathon, anyone?) Another perk: extra phone chargers in every room. Perfect for the forgetful packer.
Smartphone-wielding visitors will also have the option of mobile check-in and communicating their questions and requests to front-desk staff via a concierge texting service. All generations — even my iPhone-carrying 93-year-old grandmother — can get behind this.
Gen X-A: With Lucky 7 outlets, I can feed my iPhone, laptop and flip phone without having to choose my favorite child. Plus, the outlets appear in intuitive spots, such as by the bed and near a pocket ledge the width of a smartphone. No more hauling furniture to reach the power source or unplugging clock radios.
I don’t have Netflix (yes, I know what century it is) or steer my entertainment content, so I wouldn’t bother with the on-demand perk. But as a docile passenger on cable TV’s jalopy, I welcome the familiar channels. This might state the obvious, but fast and free WiFi is as essential as air. I need both to survive, and so I shall at the Pod.
Though guests can pre-check-in on their mobile devices, they will still need to pick up a fob key from a “guest ambassador,” who supposedly will roam the lobby like a Disney greeter. As long as I can find this person, the arrangement sounds efficient to me. Same goes for texting as the main form of communication with the front desk. Aaron said guests should receive a response within 10 minutes. I feel no nostalgia for standing in line or pressing “0” for the operator.
Food and beverage
MM: Aaron couldn’t disclose many details, except that the lobby will offer fast-casual options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I hope they have healthy grab-and-go options, such as cheap bagels and smoothies, instead of traditional hotel fare, like a costly breakfast buffet.
As a Chinatown resident, I would like to see a delicious deli or taqueria, such as Salvation Taco at New York’s Pod 51, move into the space. A high-end roastery, such as Stumptown Coffee, or a veg-centric spot, such as Beefsteak by José Andrés, would also be welcome additions to the neighborhood.
Gen X-A: With little information to mull beyond a partnership with a local restaurateur and a thrice-a-day meal plan, all I can do is share my preferences. The restaurant should work as a stand-alone destination and draw locals, as do April Bloomfield’s eateries in New York’s Ace Hotel. It should stay open late. Serve vegetarian dishes. Whip up cocktails that I can comprehend. And be reasonably priced — no hotel price inflation, please.
Community and neighborhood spirit
MM: The lobby is still a work in progress, Aaron says, but will be conducive to working and socializing. Ideally, it will incorporate some of the same elements of hotel lobbies in New York, such as the Ace Hotel: comfy chairs, communal tables, lots of easy-to-find outlets and free WiFi. Work-friendly furnishings would encourage guests and nearby worker bees alike to plug in and connect, both online and with each other. To further foster the community spirit, the hotel could offer evening tastings of local wines or craft brews, nibbles that incorporate locally sourced goods, and shows by neighborhood artists and musicians. Most of all, as a guest and a nearby resident, I hope they offer a stellar happy-hour deal.
Gen X-A: Maybe this confession will expose my true Gen X colors, but I don’t understand the concept of turning a lobby into a community space. For me, the lobby is a flyover state that I must endure to reach a better land — namely, any place outside the hotel. Plus, I don’t want throngs of people blocking my escape route. But if the Pod books local bands or hosts wine/craft soda/dim-sum samplings, then I might not take the next elevator up.
Correction: An earlier version of this headline incorrectly claimed that Pod D.C. was the first microhotel in Washington. It is the first Pod-licensed hotel in Washington. It has been updated.