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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Guru Careers: Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager is req...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future