Zip and zzz

Giving the customer what they want is usually a good recipe for success in business. For many of those staying in a hotel for the night, what they want is simply somewhere to sleep. Whitbread’s new ‘Zip’ concept does precisely that. By offering ‘pod’ rooms measuring just 8.5 sq m on the outskirts of town, pricing can be set as low as £19 per room per night. For those wanting to stretch their legs, a large communal area is also provided. The Japanese have, since 1979, taken this a step further by offering capsules to sleep in with volumes of circa 2 cu m. It is tempting to think that customers want more than they do (and that they are willing and able to pay for it). The problem with real estate is that the service ‘bundles’ are relatively inflexible (you can’t add a bath to a room at the last minute to suit a customer), meaning that developers need to guess which bundle to build that will optimise the net operating income. However, by debundling real estate elements to their lowest common denominator, it is possible to offer a tailored product. In the case of hotels, this means separating: sleeping, eating, lounging, watching TV etc. Sleeping is (for now) a private activity that still requires a private space. Other activities can be pushed to communal, optional or flexible space at lower cost. The home offers even greater options for debundling, and as cultural barriers erode, the (flatted) home of the future could also be a much more tailored proposition.