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'We have a critical need': Vancouver councillors suggest empty office space become pod hotels

"We think there's an opportunity here to use existing office space."
Vancouver councillors Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung are asking city staff to look at what it would take to convert unused office space into pod or capsule hotel rooms in downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver real estate has a variety of issues; two of those are a lack of hotel rooms and an excess of office space.

Therefore, city councillors Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung want to get city staff to look at what it would take to turn that excess office space into hotels.

Specifically, pod hotels.

Pod or capsule hotels — tiny sleeping quarters and shared amenities that allow for cheap and dense accommodation — are common in urban centres like Tokyo.

Hotel room shortage in Vancouver

"Everyone is aware we have a shortage of hotel space," Dominato tells V.I.A. by phone. "There's an enormous demand and a lack of supply."

With the Invictus Games coming up in 2025 and the FIFA World Cup in 2026, that shortage will be stressed even further, she says.

In B.C. there aren't many pod hotels but they do exist; Kirby-Yung and Dominato recently visited one of the rare ones (the Pangea Pod Hotel) when in Whistler.

"We thought it was an interesting and innovative idea," Dominato says, adding: "One of the opportunities we saw is we do have office vacancy in the downtown core."

Extra office space could be used

Between new office space opening up and a shift in where workers work (often remotely), the city's core has hit a 30-year high with around 14 per cent vacancy (for context, residential rentals are at about 0.9 per cent vacancy).

"It’s an opportunity to innovate in the hotel sector, address the dire shortage of hotel rooms, add an affordable option to our hotel stock, and address a surplus in existing and heritage office space at the same time," Kirby-Yung tells V.I.A. in an email. "It’s a win-win."

Dominato notes there's already interest in creating pod hotels out of office space, but city regulations are a barrier.

"We've heard from property owners that there is an interest in initiating these pod hotels," she says.

A quick, temporary solution?

With the Invictus Games less than a year away, it could be a tight schedule. Dominato and Kirby-Yung have a motion asking staff to create a report on the feasibility of the idea; a vote is expected on May 29. From there, staff have to research and report back to council.

If the plan is deemed feasible, regulations would need to be updated before projects could begin to move forward. What it would take to develop and make them safe is one of the things the report will look at, which would also affect timelines.

Dominato says that pod hotels in Vancouver could be temporary, or could be permanent, and there could be some combination.

"I think there's more than one pathway," she says.

However, given tourism is an essential industry in Vancouver, she says there could be a future for permanent pod hotels in forma Vancouver offices.

"It may not be for everyone, but we want to have more choice, not less, for people to come stay in the city," she says.