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[Update] Break from the norm: the rise of unusual accommodation

It is a game that rewards creativity. Unusual accommodation has been flooding the hotel and short-term rental markets for some years. It is even beginning to become a selection criterion for some guests, if not a destination in and of itself. Recently, iconic symbols of a city or era and iconic film locations have added a new dimension to the offer. Let’s take a look at how this type of accommodation could evolve in the near future.

Unusual accommodation is any accommodation that has a unique or different feature to what one would call a 'classic' hotel or hostel. A gothic castle converted into a hotel, a B&B in a converted brownfield site or a tadpole-shaped cottage for rent are just some examples of the trend. So many different shapes, stories and designs to seduce guests after two years of lockdowns and health restrictions. The phenomenon predates the pandemic but has gained momentum since 2020. This momentum could be explained by travellers' desire to break the monotony of everyday life and rediscover a little glamour or mystique.

This trend has become so popular that Airbnb decided to create a category dedicated to unusual accommodation. According to the American company, more than 30,000 accommodations worldwide joined this offer in 2021 and the OMG! category has been viewed 2.5 million times since its launch last May.

Falling into this category, for example, is the famous windmill that crowns the Moulin Rouge. Airbnb offered three travellers the opportunity to stay for one night each in this emblematic monument of the city of Paris. The filming locations of many movies and series are also becoming a real marketing tool for the sector. The American giant recently offered its customers pop-up stays in the house from the film Home Alone, in the villa from House of Gucci, in the villa that served as the Corleone family home in the cult film The Godfather and in a Lithuanian prison that appeared in the Netflix series Stranger Things.

Recently, Airbnb announced the creation of a new fund dedicated to designing and building of the ‘world’s craziest listings’. The $10 million fund will help finance 100 projects. Those with an original idea can submit it and the successful applicants will each receive $100,000 to fund their projects. Airbnb explains why it is focusing on unusual accommodation: "the fund is shaped in part by the growing trend of flexible living that has emerged in the past two years. As part of this shift, Airbnb guests are craving more unexpected spaces that become the destinations themselves”.

On 27th July 2022, the American giant published its mid-summer report on unique accommodations. According to its findings, nights booked in unique properties have increased by almost 50% globally and by 63% in France.

Dive into the magic of cinema

In Japan, Tokyo Disney Resort will open a new hotel inspired by the world of Toy Story. Hotel guests will be immersed in a setting designed by Pixar Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering. The 600-key establishment has been designed as a "toy hotel" created by Andy to house his toys when he is away. In a similar vein, Airbnb and Warner Bros. have recreated the iconic Mystery Machine that served as transportation for Scooby-Doo and his friends on their adventures. Matthew Lillard, who played Sammy in the 2002 film, even virtually hosted visitors during the three-night rental of the van.

Research conducted for Marriott has shown a 65% increase in online searches containing the keywords 'hotel rooms' and 'themed'. The Curiosity Room by TED will be available this summer in three hotels in San Francisco, Bangkok and London. It is a genuine 'puzzle box' that guests must solve with the help of a Curiosity Journal. In order to obtain a certificate of completion, guests will have to discover hidden messages, search for puzzle pieces and eventually find the solution. The puzzle pieces and elements hidden in the rooms will be inspired by the city in which each hotel is located.

For fans of 2001: A Space Odyssey, US start-up Orbital Assembly Corporation has announced its (very ambitious) plans to open two hotels in space by 2027. The first station, called Pioneer, will be launched in the next three years and will be able to accommodate 28 people. The second, Voyager Station, will be a luxury hotel that can host up to 400 people and will include a restaurant, bar, concert hall, gym and cinema. Initially, it will certainly be reserved for a very wealthy clientele, but the project's founder and architect, Tim Alatorre, is convinced that space tourism will become more democratic as time goes on.

In a similar vein, conceptual plans were recently shared for Sky Cruise, a flying hotel powered by an on-board nuclear reactor. The "hotel of the future" could accommodate up to 5,000 guests in a near-continuous flight and would also feature swimming pools, gyms, shopping centres, a health centre and conference rooms, among other amenities. Guests would enter the hotel via commercial aircraft or private jet. It would have no carbon footprint thanks to its electric engines powered solely by clean nuclear energy.

The Hoxton is also getting into the game, with a focus on environmentally-conscious travel. From 1st August to 4th September 2022, the British chain will transform the Parcel Tiny House eco-cabin into Camp Hox. Located in Normandy, the hut is 100% solar powered and has a dry toilet, thus saving 15,000 litres of water per year. Stays are limited to two nights, and the offer also includes two breakfasts, one lunch and one dinner.

Dining as a destination

These out of the ordinary destinations are not just limited to accommodation. F&B is also on the menu. The ZooSafari in Thoiry is launching a dining concept in the middle of the French savannah. Surrounded by elephants, zebras and antelopes, guests can discover South African cuisine thanks to chef Kobus Botha and his African-style barbecue concept, Kobus Braai. The 'Thoiry Dinners' start this summer and are designed to offer an immersive safari experience.

The U-Boat Worx company is also venturing into catering and events as a destination. It has created a submarine restaurant that will allow up to 120 people to dine or host events/meetings at a depth of over 200 metres. It will offer Michelin-starred catering, as well as a casino, a conference room and a wedding venue. Furthermore, the submarine's windows will offer guests a view out through the ocean depths.

U-Boat Worx is not alone in the world of underwater experiences. The Vinpearl resort in Vietnam is also getting involved in submarine tourism. The Triton DeepView 24 can accommodate up to 24 people and reach depths of 100 metres. Its transparent hull allows guests to see shipwrecks, reefs and marine life in Nha Trang Bay during a 30-minute dive. There is also a show organised during the trip aimed at raising guests' awareness of environmental issues.

A survey in France conducted by the agency Hôtes Insolites found an explosion in the number of unusual accommodations over the past four years. The country alone now has almost 10,000 unusual accommodations. We can clearly see a highly varied and rapidly expanding offer across the world. According to various studies, the turnover generated by this type of accommodation is higher than that of traditional accommodation. Customers seem to prefer creative or innovative accommodation that breaks the mould and tells a story or conveys a different atmosphere. The health crisis has turned the tourism sector on its head, and now it is reinventing itself in its own way. We should not be surprised if we see an even greater growth of unusual accommodation in the post-Covid world.

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