Capsule hostels the inn-thing

Wink Hostel, which opened in 2011 in Chinatown, is believed to be the first capsule hostel here. Sleeping spots (right) have room for a ledge, and spacious lockers for luggage. Each capsule measures about 1.2m in height and width, and is about 2m lon
Wink Hostel, which opened in 2011 in Chinatown, is believed to be the first capsule hostel here. Sleeping spots (above) have room for a ledge, and spacious lockers for luggage. Each capsule measures about 1.2m in height and width, and is about 2m long.PHOTO: LIM YONG TECK FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Hostels with tiny pods a boon for travellers who want privacy, space to mingle with guests

A bed, reading light, power outlet, privacy, and some storage space - that is all some travellers need.

To cater to this group, hostels with capsule-like spaces, similar to those in Japan, have emerged, and are gaining a foothold in Singapore.

Over 10 such hostels have popped up in recent years, and international chain Yotel's first capsule hotel in Asia will open its doors in Orchard Road in 2017, with a second one at Jewel Changi Airport in 2018.

The pricing of such accommodation is between that of a hotel and a basic backpacker's lodge. The hostels have shared facilities such as showers and kitchens, and services such as having beds made.

The cost of a night's stay in one of the capsules or pods here ranges from about $30 to about $110 per night, with some hotels increasing prices during peak seasons.

Mr Heng Choon Boon, owner of Wink Hostel, which opened in 2011 in Chinatown and is believed to be the first capsule hostel here, explained why he got into the business.

"Back then, pricing for hostels was about $20 to $30 per night, and cheap hotels were at $90 to $100. Wink could immediately occupy a unique price point at $50, untapped and unserved in the market," said the 49-year-old, who was previously a senior vice-president in a multinational company.

He used Japan's capsule hotels as a reference point, but pointed out that the ones there are more functional, mostly serving employees who need a place to stay after a night of drinking.

The sleeping spots at Wink have room for a ledge, and spacious lockers for luggage. Each capsule measures about 1.2m in height and width, and is about 2m long.

One draw is the chance to mingle with other guests, while having privacy when needed, as there are social spaces like lounge areas.

Mr Andrew Krishnan, a return visitor to Wink, stayed for five nights. He said that it was the warmth of the staff and the opportunity to meet other travellers that have drawn him back to the premises.

Mr Krishnan, 31, an event planner from Malaysia, said that he never stays elsewhere.

"You meet strangers who somehow become your friends," he said.

Adler Hostelin Chinatown, which offers private "cabins", identifies itself as a luxury hostel with emphasis on spaces for socialising.

Said owner Adler Poh, 28: "Travellers are seeking an experiential trip. Our residents value the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals in our cosy environment that encourages interaction."

Capsule hostels here said that guests include young professionals, student groups, families, backpackers and even Singaporeans on staycations.

They said tourists are also drawn to their lodgings for their central locations, in areas like Lavender, Chinatown and Arab Street.

But those running such accommodation are bracing themselves for some tough times because of declining visitor arrivals and increasing competition.

Ms Margaret Heng, executive director of the Singapore Hotel Association, said however that capsule hostels provide variety for tourists.

"They offer privacy, and there are some people who like that privacy. Businesses are going into this area because they see opportunities for them here," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 13, 2015, with the headline 'Capsule hostels the inn-thing'. Print Edition | Subscribe