Closets, too, are being eliminated in favor of hanging racks, he said. “Or sometimes, there’s no place to hang your clothes at all.”
Still, millennials — even extroverted ones who have earned that generation its reputation for valuing get-out-of-your-room-and-explore experiences — may not be to blame for rooms that have started feeling more space-age than familiar.
According to Michael Suomi, principal and vice president for interior design at Stonehill & Taylor, an architectural firm in New York that works with Marriott, Hyatt and other hotel brands, the changes are aimed at keeping pace with the changing needs of all business travelers.
“Since the advent of the iPhone and the iPad, how business travelers interact with their spaces has changed significantly,” Mr. Suomi said. “In the past, people would travel with briefcases full of documents. They needed a lot more space to work, and they’d have to go down to the business center and print things out and fax it to somebody.”
Those days are long gone, he said. So, too, are most trips that last longer than a day or two because of technological changes, including online meeting tools like WebEx. “Changes in technology have changed the expectations of what a traveler needs in a hotel,” Mr. Suomi said. As a result, rooms are being redesigned at a record pace, often every six months, he said.
The lack of closets in new chains like Moxy, a Marriott spinoff now open in New Orleans and Tempe, Ariz., reflects research showing that guests often do not bother to unpack anymore, said Mr. Suomi, who designed the New Orleans hotel. The bureau-less rooms also demonstrate that dresser drawers are now seen as liabilities. “They’re just one more place for a guest to leave something behind and then the hotel has to send it to them.”
But there is another reason closets are becoming scarce at niche brands like Moxy, whose average room rate is $244 a night, and Vib, an ultramodern offshoot of Best Western that will open its first three locations this year in Staten Island, Chicago and Springfield, Mo.
“A room can start to feel pretty small when you put a closet and a dresser in,” said Ron Pohl, the chief operations officer and senior vice president for Best Western.
But the feeling of smallness in modern guest rooms may be less the fault of closets than of the fact that they are actually shrinking. Guest rooms that were 350 square feet five years ago at what Mr. Suomi called the big three business hotels, Regency, Hilton and Marriott, are now often 275 square feet, he said. That, too, is a response to evidence that time is mostly spent elsewhere. Guest rooms at the new boutique hotels like Moxy and Vib are even smaller, he said, averaging about 200 square feet.
That leaves little space for traditional furnishings. But it paves the way for designs like the one at Moxy, which encourages guests to manage their own spaces by hanging almost every piece of furniture on the wall, Shaker-style, and the one at Vib, which will offer platform beds so suitcases can be stowed underneath.
Among the furnishings hanging from hooks at Moxy are small tables that double as desks, Mr. Suomi said. “People still want them,” he said.
Desks will be in every Vib room, too. “We were never in support of removing desks from guest rooms,” Mr. Pohl said. “But the desk area will double with some drawer space at Vib.”
Multifunction desks — often movable tables paired with desk-height swivel chairs that a guest might put to use as a dining table — have also become standard at many flagship Marriotts, the chain that bore the brunt of customer complaints about the removal of desks from some locations a few years ago.
“What we heard from guests is that the solution we provided didn’t meet their needs,” Matthew Carroll, vice president for global brand management at Marriott Hotels and Resorts, said of the rooms that experimented with swapping traditional desks for tabletop work surfaces. “We responded very quickly. Where we’ve landed is at a place that gives guests multiple points to work within a room.”
So every Marriott guest room now has a desk, often in addition to a movable table that can accommodate a laptop. The room also has plenty of places to charge devices, should guests choose to work from their beds instead of the desk or table.
Stephani Robson, a senior lecturer at the Hotel School at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business, said business travelers should expect to experience such design flaps as hotel chains try to figure out how their customers work.
“We’re going to see more tensions in the next few years, like with the desks, as hotels try to capture smaller and smaller slices of the market,” she said.
There are now more than 500 hotel brands divvying up those slices, she said. But that does not mean a brand has been dreamed up to suit business travelers of every preference and predilection.
For example, “as a middle-aged woman, I want my closet,” Dr. Robson said. Mr. Schlappig wants to be left alone rather than herded into loungelike lobby space where he is expected to both work and mingle. And Brian Kelly, an entrepreneur who travels 125 nights a year to help other travelers maximize their frequent flier and credit card points through his website the Points Guy, wants his minibar back.
“When I’m exhausted and thirsty, I don’t want to have to leave my room to go get water because there’s no minibar. That’s one of my biggest rants,” he said. (Dr. Robson confirmed that minibars are, in fact, becoming extinct. “They take up space and energy and they require a lot of labor to maintain,” she said.)
“Confusion is a good word to use right now,” Dr. Robson said. “What I think is going to happen is, there will become a different brand for every niche, and you’ll become loyal to the brand that gives you what you want, like coffee, a closet and a desk if you’re a business traveler. But right now, with all these new brands, it’s hard for the average consumer to keep them straight.”
Should Dr. Robson’s prediction prove correct, one group of travelers who might not find a brand to latch onto are older business travelers.
“I don’t know of anyone creating a new brand that’s going after older guests,” she said. “Which is kind of interesting, because arguably baby boomers have the most money to spend.”
But that niche, like Generations X and Y, may have already adapted to guest room design tweaks.
“Are there still business travelers like Willy Loman who go around with their Skyriter typewriters and their hard-shell Samsonite suitcases, wearing their hat with a feather sticking out?” Mr. Suomi asked. “I don’t think that traveler still exists.”