Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events, discovers Simon Usborne

For a select few fans of colonial-era sports attending the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, home is a windowless metal box on a derelict former gasworks. The converted shipping containers appeared in just five weeks on Dunn Street, offering tiny hotel rooms to non-claustrophobic guests and boosting the profile of a man more used to spacious – and fast – living. Snoozebox hotels have become a familiar sight this summer at events as varied as Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festival, trading on a traditional shortage of accommodation as well as the profile of the company's president, David Coulthard. The former Formula 1 driver helped launch the firm in 2012. After negotiating some financial chicanes, it is now flying.

Used containers, which are imported from China, are converted to include four air-conditioned rooms, each with a front door that lets in at least some daylight via a frosted glass porthole. Up to three people may occupy a double bed and single bunk above, sharing an "en suite wet room shower".

Coulthard, who retired from F1 in 2008, has for years been linked to the hotel trade, often investing large parts of his on- and off-track millions into new projects. In 2001, he joined forces with Ken McCulloch, who had founded the Malmaison hotel chain, to buy a modest property in Monaco, where Coulthard has one of his several homes. They turned it into the swanky Columbus, the sale of which in 2010 reportedly earned the driver £30m.

The new Glasgow site includes 80 rooms but the company nearly missed out on the event after confusion about the planning status of a temporary hotel. A separate clash with Games organisers required a last-minute name change to agree with branding rules (the place is now simply called Snoozebox Glasgow, with no mention of the Commonwealth). The unusual nature of the business has caused bigger problems still. Last year, its founder and chief executive Robert Breare stood down after the company surprised investors with a profit warning. Breare, who died suddenly last July, was a serial entrepreneur who had been inspired to launch Snoozebox after a miserable camping experience at Le Mans. He opened his first 40-room hotel at the 2012 British Grand Prix, which is where Coulthard came in.

Early signs were positive but profits suffered as a result of "uncertainties" over expected revenues from a deal to accommodate G4S security staff during the 2012 Olympics Games. Contracts since with Glastonbury as well as Edinburgh's Festival Fringe and the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles have helped turn the business round, despite tariffs as high as £2,000 for five nights at Glastonbury.

David Morrison, the company's chairman, admits rooms are compact at best. "You're not going to wish to sleep there 365 nights on the trot, but it takes a bit of time before the feeling that this is a small place takes effect." He says that the pop-up hotels fill a big niche between local hotels that can be booked up years in advance, and camping.

"Even when things were not all that great last year, what kept us going was the level of demand we've seen. We've had incoming demands from over 40 countries. We're launching a new generation of room in autumn this year. Once we've proved the economics of those, the story is how rapidly and sensibly we can scale the business."

Snoozebox is far from alone in realising the potential in used shipping containers. The steel boxes have been adapted for uses as varied as cafes, shopping centres, classrooms in the developing world, lavatories, indoor gardens and disaster shelters. The trend can partly be explained by a global trade deficit. Containers that arrive full from Asia often go back empty. It can be cheaper, therefore, to flog them and buy new containers in, say, China. Something to think about when you wake up from a nightmare in which the walls are closing in.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker