|By Chow How Ban, The Star, Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia / Asia News NetworkMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 05, 2011--SHANGHAI (THE STAR/ANN) -- The Xitai Capsule Hotel, modelled after famous capsule hotels in Japan, has not received a single guest since it was launched in January.
Travellers have shunned the hotel, located near the Shanghai Railway Station, where the fire authorities have refused to give it a clean bill of health.
The department found that the 300sq m hotel was made of glass-reinforced plastic and other flammable construction materials, the local media reported.
The average space for each capsule unit, which is measured at 2.4sq m, did not meet the city's basic requirements for rental units.
The regulations state that each person shall have a minimum living space of 4sq m.
Even if the hotel operator changed the construction materials to inflammable ones, it would still be hard for the building to meet the other requirements such as emergency evacuation, said an official from the Zhabei district fire and rescue department.
It is the first capsule hotel ever built in China.
Opened by a 32-year-old Chinese man, who brought the capsule hotel concept back from Japan where he studied for several years, the hotel consists of 68 capsule units, each measuring 1.1m in height, 1.1m in width and 2.2m in length.
Each capsule only fits a person and is equipped with independent sockets, clocks, lights, television and wireless Internet service.
The building has other shared facilities like a lavatory, shower room and smoking room.
Hotel owner Ta Zhan regretted the whole episode and said that all he wanted to do was to provide an alternative choice of accommodation for budget travellers, who might be stranded at the railway station at night after the end of the metro and public transport services.
He said he had put in a lot of thought into the construction of the hotel and taken into account the local safety guidelines and standards as well as those in Japan.
He hoped that the authorities would review their decision and look into how to help the capsule hotel industry set new building safety guidelines instead of just saying no to operators of such hotels.
"I have not given up the idea of opening the capsule hotel. This is a new thing in China and although I have been denied a licence, I would like to show the value of such hotels in other ways," he was quoted as saying by Wen Hui Daily.
Despite safety and privacy concerns in the cramped capsule units which do not have doors but curtains, Ta pointed out that the hotel was for male guests only and guests who often snore would stay in a different zone from torpid guests.
The newspaper reported that, apart from fire safety and space requirements that the authorities said were not met, the hotel was equipped with smoke detectors, emergency exit signs and fire extinguishers.
Ta said he had planned to install closed-circuit television and engage two security guards to monitor the hotel compound round-the-clock.
"I am planning to take one million yuan (US$152,253) from my logistics company to maintain the hotel for a year even if it doesn't get the approval of the fire authorities.
"I am willing to wait for the authorities to do something to make capsule hotels like mine legal. I will invite my best friends and relatives to stay here for free and experience it for themselves," he said.
According to him, several companies in Hong Kong and Macau had approached him to see whether he would open similar hotels in both places.
Ta had also agreed to allow a Malaysian advertising firm to use the capsule hotel for a commercial shoot.
The room rate of the capsule hotel is about 80 yuan ($12), cheaper than any budget hotel in the city.
The basic rate is 28 yuan ($4) per person, plus an additional 4 yuan (6 US cents) an hour. The maximum rate is 88 yuan ($13) for 24 hours.
Unlike Xitai Capsule Hotel, the capsule apartments built by 78-year-old Huang Rixin in Beijing had a slightly different fate and he has been upgrading his capsules from the first generation to the present fourth generation.
Huang has been interviewed by dozens of journalists since his venture to convert his 50sq m apartment in Haidian district into smaller capsules about the size of a bed and rent them out to fresh graduates and migrant workers created waves last year.
The first and second generation of capsules, which measure less than 4sq m, received an overwhelming response from blue-collared workers, who rented it for 200 yuan ($30) to 450 yuan ($69) a month.
Because the units did not comply with the latest city's regulations, Huang modified the existing capsules to larger units and came up with his third-generation capsules, which were equipped with a shared kitchen, shower, washing machine and living room.
The new generation capsules had painted walls instead of wallpapers.
Faced with the pressure from the authorities to crack down on collective rental practices in the city's apartments, Huang has lost many tenants and was thinking of donating his capsules to non-profit organisations or developing the fourth generation capsules together with a developer.
Huang may not succeed in making his business model work but he has become a hero of sorts in China. The grandfather, who draws a pension of 2,000 yuan ($304) and spent hundreds of thousands of yuan on his capsules has popularised this new way of living.
To see more of the Asia News Network, go to http://www.asianewsnet.net/home/
Copyright (c) 2011, The Star, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia / Asia News Network
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.