Replicating the pod-hotel experience from Singapore, Mumbai gets India’s first cheap and chic capsules to welcome her tourists, explores Nikita Wadhawan
As soon as you arrive at Chakala Metro station ‘Mumbai is upgrading’ sign warns you of the narrowed lanes and disfigured roads ahead. Located on the first floor of a cooperate park in suburban Mumbai, country’s first capsule hotel, Urban Pod, seems out of a futuristic movie. While the cars honk and the city buses groan as they lumber into the nearby depot, the hotel has an eerie silence. The decor is extremely futuristic and minimal, but this is not a hotel where you can check in anytime you like. The front door, like most doors in the establishment, can be accessed only with a key card. Privacy remains a major concern while the pods maintain a complete solitude, the bathrooms and toilets are shared.
Journey to India
Founded by entrepreneur duo Hiren Gandhi, hotelier based out of Gujarat and Shalabh Mittal a shipping baron, the hotel is inspired by numerous pod hotels in Asia, based on Japan’s capsule hotels from 1970’s. The Pods were originally created for businessmen who were looking to spend few hours awaiting a flight or a train home, gradually they were flooded with travellers looking to experience the future and now it has become a global trend. “Shalabh was curious about this concept which is popular in Singapore and other parts of South East Asia. When I visited a pod hotel on one of my visit, I was convinced that this could work here if tweaked a little bit to give it an Indian touch,” says Gandhi.
The tweaks that Gandhi refers to were done keeping in mind the Indian mentality as not everyone will be comfortable sharing washrooms, especially women. “We have added things like singular rooms for women which are not in any other pod hotels in the world. We know that women travellers prefer more safety and privacy, and bathrooms are a part of the room for the females,” Gandhi says refuting any discrimination in terms of prices of the pods. “The prices for women are the same, we don’t want feminist protesting at our hotel,” he jokes while revealing that the number of women visitors is actually more than men.
Door to friendship
So far, the pods’ customers are not science fiction junkies, but business travellers looking for new experience. Solo travellers end up choosing the individual pods which basically are tiny rooms giving you a creepy feeling of sleeping in a morgue, but with Wi-Fi. Avid traveller Tanmai recalls how he managed to make a new friend in a very bizarre way. “I was worried about privacy as the bathrooms are shared and a bit far away but in a weird way made a friend while searching for the bathroom,” he recollects.
Price, not fair
At approximately Rs2,000 per night, the tariff is commensurate with the city’s exorbitant real estate prices rather than the cheap pricing of Japan’s capsule hotels – which ranges from $30 to $50 (up to Rs3,200). “In our price range we are offer more value for money, we offer a different kind of experience; it is a lot easier to access and much safer than normal 3 star hotels. We might be taking away the bathroom privacy but on the other hand we are giving it back to you in terms of hygiene,” Gandhi adds. The customers too seem not to complain. “It is worth the cost as the feeling in the pod is out of the world. People should experience the pod hotel at least once,” Monica, a customer recommends.
It’s an experience
With the rise of Airbnb, a lot of hotels are losing a major chunk of their business. Like the Pod hotels even Airbnb sells an experience and new friendships. But what sets a pod hotel apart is that it gives you the power to decide your privacy, if you want to mingle then you can keep the shutters of your pod open or else shut them and put on a D&D. “I have stayed at places from Airbnb, but when I go on business trips or travel I prefer to stay in a pod as I have my own space and meet people from different countries,” divulges Kevin, a Chinese businessman.
But what about Indians who are known to travel in packs? “Our concept will cater to more single travellers versus family or groups. But if there is a group of single travellers all attending a conference somewhere they are definitely the segment that we are addressing. But we expect there would be families who would want to experience the pod living too. It depends on how much they want to experiment,” Gandhi added.
One such family to experiment was the Sanghis. This family of 11 including a toddler stayed here. “We were in Mumbai for a day and so decided to experience it. I must say it was a really unique experience. The kids had a blast, the teenagers had super time exploring the pods and their facilities like a TV with headphones, USB port for charging phones and other gadgets, alarm clock, mirror with lights to name a few,” he says.
[alert type=”e.g. warning, danger, success, info” title=””]Downers
Less space, will not be comfortable for tall people or people on the heavier side
No timing restrictions, noises at odd hours can disturb other members
Indians lack the ability to respect personal space
Washrooms are not near the rooms
Cheap, for the amount of amenities
Clean and hygienic[/alert]