Given that luxury is all about rarity, it's no wonder that pop-ups of all sorts are creeping into the high-end arena. In the world of hospitality, basic pop-up accommodations have been springing up at festivals like Coachella for awhile. But more elaborate, ephemeral digs are only now starting to pop up in unexpected places around the world.
There are pop-up restaurants, pop-up shops, even pop-up museums. The phenomenon is so widespread that it only makes sense that it would hit the hotel industry.
Pop-ups started showing up about 10 years ago, and in 2016 PopUp Republic, a retail marketing database, valued the industry at $50 billion. Most frequently, pop-ups show up in retail spaces, but as the industry grows, there has been a clamor for different types of locations, including hotels.
There are a couple of different ways the hospitality industry can meld with the pop-up platform. One way is by developing temporary accommodation spaces. The other is by serving as a host for pop-up businesses.
For consumer brands looking at places to pop up, a hotel can be a very attractive option. According to Melissa Gonzalez, chief pop-up architect for retail strategy firm The Lionesque Group, the first consideration is “location, location, location,” and most hotels have that edge. Moreover, hotels offer brands turnkey spaces—the Wi-Fi is there, there is air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter, and there are always restrooms—that are very attractive to temporary tenants.
Advantages for the host hotels include media and money. Gonzalez said the hotels in which she has placed pop-ups have seen a 20 percent revenue lift from guest room and event space bookings (some brands kick off their pop-ups with an opening night reception). That figure does not count the revenue from the pop-up rental space itself.
“They could get the same rent using the space for other purposes, but it wouldn’t be as exciting,” Gonzalez said.
Indeed, the buzz is the other big advantage of hosting pop-ups. Since brands conduct marketing campaigns around their pop-ups, the social media halo effect helps the hotels.
“While pop-ups do generate revenue for the hotel they enable 11 Howard to build partnerships within our local community, create an immersive interactive experience for guests and connect with new audiences,” Shannon Sheppard, director of sales and marketing for 11 Howard, a boutique hotel in New York’s Soho neighborhood, said.
“It also allows us to create engaging social media content and foster a sense of newness in a hotel market that is increasingly competitive. [We also find] that it adds intangible value to the guest experience and supports our investment in the local neighborhood.”
But serving as hosts for other pop-ups is just part of the equation. Although in its infancy, the pop-up hotel phenomenon is likely to mature quickly.
According to an article in Retail Touch Points, pop-ups are all about creating “exclusivity and sense of urgency.” In other ways, a pop-up is, in part, defined by its temporary existence. Given that definition, ice hotels may have been the pioneers of pop-up luxury hospitality. But today, there are now companies dedicated to focusing on transient luxury hotel spaces.
While there are some companies setting up glamping sites with long-term leases, only a few are staying true to the ephemeral nature of pop-ups.
For example, Blink by Black Tomato sets up one-of-a-kind, one-time housing options for its high-end clients in out-of-the-way places. A yurt in the Bolivian Andes, a safari-type shelter along the Mekong River or a tropical villa tent in Indonesia can range from $10,000 to $30,000 per person for three to four nights.
“In 2016, we saw a growing trend in clients seeking hyper-personalized experiences,” said Tom Marchant, co-founder of parent company Black Tomato.
“We wanted to explore this further, and to give our clients the chance to have the most personalized travel experience imaginable, to create their own luxury temporary accommodation in locations so private and untouched that no one else will have stayed there before (or again) in the same way. We wanted the core offering of Blink to be truly temporary, adding to the exclusivity and rarity of the experience.”
Meantime, the thirty-something duo behind Contained are taking a different approach. Anatoly Mezhov and Irene Polo have designed two luxury hotel suites out of shipping containers. Since last year, they have been moving the containers around Australia.
Mezhov was previously a construction project manager, who, during the mining boom in western Australia, noted workers using containers as temporary housing. That led him to think about ways of “activating under-utilized pieces of land with compelling food and beverage offerings, using shipping containers in architectural ways.”
After experimenting with innovative restaurant spaces around Perth, Mezhov and Polo set their sights on developing bespoke, yet portable luxury accommodation.
The couple ended up retrofitting 20-foot shipping containers to create a pair of boutique hotel suites. The containers have extendable parts—like a slide-out bedroom and a covered patio—to create extra space when in use. Other features include en-suite bathrooms, air conditioning, minibar and air conditioning.
After first setting up in the countryside of Victoria in 2017, Contained moved over to Cockatoo Island in Sydney this year. The former penal colony, and present UNESCO World Heritage site, happens to be one of the main venues for the Sydney Biennale, an event that draws just the kind of clientele looking for luxury living.
Since the company moved the suites to the island in March (along with a container containing a plunge pool and a Contained-run restaurant), Polo says occupancy has run about 85 percent, with rates averaging $230 (US) during the week and $290 on weekends. The containers will stay in Sydney until June, with a new site to be announced shortly.
Photo credit: A Contained container, pop-up hotel space on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbor, Australia. Daniel John Bilsborough / Contained