David Behrens: A window of opportunity for budget hotel rooms to meet demand

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Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by having watched Grand Hotel once too often, but there are one or two prerequisites I like to see when I check into a room.

I’m not asking for a monogrammed robe in the bathroom or even a bowl of fruit on the minibar – but a tray of tea bags and UHT milk is not unreasonable, and a hairdryer in the drawer next to the Gideon bible would be nice.

I certainly wasn’t expecting the “extras” offered with my booking this week. For £10 on top of the room rate I could have a window. For another £2.50 they would throw in a towel.

I’m no architect, but surely a room without a window isn’t a room – it’s a cupboard.

As for the towel, the hotel’s explanation was that it “operated a limited service concept”, which is marketing speak for not employing housekeepers. On the scale of gibberish, it’s up there with the “radio kit” that was an optional extra with the bottom-of-the-range BMW I ordered in 1982.

I can’t remember exactly how much extra BMW wanted for it but I do know that the kit included no radio – just a strip of plastic to cover the hole in the dashboard where it would have gone. The hole came free.

You will be familiar, I’m sure, with other such euphemisms. “Chocolate flavour” drinks contain no chocolate. Mistakes, especially when made by public authorities, are “learning opportunities”. Your call is important to us, but not so important that we’re going to answer it.

But the shrinking hotel room is an interesting development. Boutique operators are buying up old properties in city centres and squeezing into them as many compartments as space and the fire regulations will allow. Typically these are in centres popular with tourists and business travellers seeking something more individual than a Travelodge but less expensive than a big old railway hotel with its bathrobes and fruit baskets.

The one I had seen was in Liverpool, whose status as European Capital of Culture back in 2008 was the catalyst for regeneration on a scale that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. Its revived and fabulous waterfront stands as an exemplar for cities everywhere, even those without water, and the place is apparently so popular that visitors are having to be crammed into every conceivable crevice.

If the economic legacy of Hull’s term as the UK’s culture capital is even half as great, it can look forward to a similar boom. Not having a window in every room would be a small price to pay for that.

York, of course, has long been a destination for tourists, and I imagine that but for the shortage of available properties in the city centre, it would also have become a magnet for the boutique chains. Just this week, the travel guide Lonely Planet named it one of the world’s best-value destinations for overseas visitors, on the basis that the pound is now worth only 0.4 of a Belgian bun from Bettys.

Ironically, the Shambles there must have been full of windowless rooms in the 15th century. “Two guineas for a towel.” “What’s a towel?”

Actually, once you get over the pared-down amenities, boutique hotels are an attractive proposition. The one I looked at in Liverpool was an international brand – I think its slogan is “Even without a window we saw you coming” – but many are run by families as upmarket B&Bs. Others cater specifically for backpackers, whose money is as good as anyone else’s yet who have traditionally had to put up with the benches and bunk beds of some back street hostel.

It is a growing phenomenon and Hull is not the only part of Yorkshire it could benefit. I know of no better place to spend a weekend than Whitby, Scarborough or one of the other little sanctuaries that pepper the East Coast, and the prospect of designer boltholes there, at Travelodge prices, would be yet another attraction.

But Hull, given its enhanced profile this year, is the more immediate opportunity. People seem to love visiting coastal cities – I know I do – and if I were a developer I would be buying up property there left, right and centre and getting people in to take out the windows.

“Will there be a wardrobe?”

“Yes – you’re sleeping in it.”