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Unusual accommodation, a flourishing market

The popularity of unusual accommodation is well established, with the segment expanding rapidly in recent years in response to growing demand. This offer responds to the need for unique and differentiated experiences advocated by travellers from all over the world. Whether it is spending a night in a cabin in the middle of a forest, in a bubble on top of a mountain or simply in a themed accommodation, there is something for all tastes and budgets. Nevertheless, the legal framework seems to be tightening the noose around the expansion of this offer in France. Will we soon see a similar phenomenon on an international scale?

A steadily growing market

The unusual accommodation market has been growing rapidly in recent years with the constant arrival of new entrants. An offer that responds to the most fanciful desires of international travellers and above all meets the need for experiential offers. This trend is so strong that the Cabinet Alliances and AbracadaRoom have together created the Observatoire de l'Insolite to monitor the development of this market.

Thus, the offer on the French territory has strongly increased since 2019, the last year of reference for the AbracadaRoom and Alliances Observatory. Indeed, France now counts 1,677 unusual accommodation estates, an increase of 86% compared to 2019 and 6,012 modules, an increase of 72% compared to 2019. Overall, France has 22,238 beds belonging to this market, a 70% growth compared to 2019.

Cabins, whether in the trees, on stilts, on the ground, floating or troglodytic, remain the most represented category with 44% of the offer. Bubbles are also among the most popular accommodations with 16% of total reservations at AbracadaRoom. Finally, tiny houses are gaining in popularity with a growth of about 450% on the AbracadaRoom website.

During this year, a survey was conducted to better identify the customers of this market. The first data show that customers travel an average of 252 km, with an average budget of almost 250 euros for an average stay of 1.47 nights. Moreover, more than 80% of them are couples who want to have new and memorable experiences together.

The market is therefore doing very well and is growing in terms of both supply and demand. Nevertheless, this trend could well change next year as new environmental regulations are to be applied to some of the unusual accommodation on campsites. And according to the National Federation of Outdoor Accommodation (FNHPA), this decision would lead to additional manufacturing costs that could threaten them.

Indeed, if the objective of this new regulation is to improve the energy performance and carbon footprint of new buildings, it would increase construction costs "by 30 to 40%, which could increase the price of a stay by 20 to 30%" according to Nicolas Dayot, President of the FNHPA. This is a potential threat to the sector, since the quality/price ratio is crucial in the eyes of customers. 

All of this is based on a good intention, and we are obviously in a dynamic of improving energy performance and the success of the ecological transition, there is no debate on that. [It's all the more paradoxical that we are currently developing a whole reflection with the Bank of Territories for the development of unusual accommodation, notably to save the 3000 small French campsites that could become places of unusual accommodation. 

Nicolas Dayot, President of the Fédération Nationale de l'Hôtellerie de Plein Air

Immerse yourself in your favourite film or series

There are many categories of unusual accommodation, catering for all kinds of desires. Films and TV series have always influenced the tourism sector, giving rise to themed tours or accommodation based on them. A trend that Airbnb has seized upon with the opening of numerous places dedicated to the afficionados of the 7th art for booking.

Thus, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the film The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, travellers can book the emblematic Hobbitburg from The Lord of the Rings on the platform. They will then be transported to Middle Earth with an exclusive stay on the film's set in New Zealand. Russell Alexander, owner of the location, is offering three two-night stays for up to four people, with Airbnb's participation, offering access to the Hobbit's 44 cave dwellings, the Old Mill, the Green Dragon Inn and other iconic locations from J.R.R. Tolkien's work. 

For over two decades we have welcomed millions of passionate fans to the Hobbitburg set, but never before has anyone had the opportunity to spend a night in Middle-earth. I'm thrilled to share the beauty of my family's farm and add this iconic location to Airbnb's offerings for fans around the world. 

Russell Alexander, Airbnb host and estate owner

Still in the world of fantasy, this time it is fans of the Harry Potter saga who have the opportunity to sleep in the iconic bus that first appeared in the third opus, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Enthusiastic hosts have transformed an AEC Regent III RT bus into a life-size purple Magicobus with three floors. Set in the heart of a forest in the town of Kodak, Tennessee, the replica bus has two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a living room, a bathroom and even a hot tub outside. The interior design has also been thought through to the last detail, with several nods to the world of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter is not the only wizard to be featured on Airbnb. Indeed, on the occasion of Halloween but also of the release of the second opus of the saga, it was possible to stay in the Hocus Pocus cottage reconstituted for the occasion in Salem, in Massachusetts. The Sanderson sisters were again the hosts of the cottage for this exclusive stay which welcomed two travellers. The programme included spells, a tour of Salem's haunted spots and an exclusive screening of Hocus Pocus 2.

Airbnb offered another experience for Halloween thrill-seekers, namely a stay in the original settings of the horror film Scream. A pop cultural phenomenon, this unusual offer comes on the 25th anniversary of the film and the release of the final instalment of the saga in cinemas around the world. The platform has gone to great lengths to offer a virtual welcome from Sheriff Dewey on arrival at the location, a phone line to Ghostface, the opportunity to explore every corner of the house and a movie marathon of the four films on VHS for retro appeal.

If films are conducive to the development of this offer, so are series. The proof is in the pudding with the palace of "The Empress" from the Netflix series. A series dedicated to the youth of the famous empress Sissi, nickname given to Elisabeth of Austria. The castle of Weissenstein, where the series was filmed, opens its doors for an exceptional stay that takes guests back to the end of the 19th century. Located in the west wing of the palace, the suite is usually reserved for the Schönborn family, the owners of the castle. During their stay, guests will be given a private tour and will be able to discover the buildings usually closed to the public, including the "Shell room", where dinner and breakfast will be served, inspired by Sissi's habits.

Airbnb is also offering guests the chance to stay at the same location where the K-Pop group BTS stayed during the filming of the series In The Soop! The huge property where the members of BTS stayed during the filming of season 2 of the reality series IN THE SOOP produced by HYBE, is available exceptionally for one night. Guests will be able to enjoy a karaoke area, a sound system and all of BTS' hit songs and albums.

Experience fun and memorable stays

What could be more unusual than sleeping in a giant 6-ton potato? It may sound like a joke, but the accommodation is real and can be booked on Airbnb. The potato was originally used as a promotional item for the Idaho Potato Commission. Kristie Wolfe, a spokeswoman for the commission, later bought it back and turned it into a little cocoon for rent. Now called The Big Idaho Potato Hotel, the unusual accommodation has a minimalist, modern design and everything you need for a great stay.

It is also possible to book a stay on the platform in the middle of a dressing room filled from floor to roof with trainers, but not just any dressing room, as it is DJ Khaled's. Indeed, the artist invites his fans to spend an exclusive stay in a reconstruction of his legendary sneaker collection. Guests will have the opportunity to walk away with a pair of Air Jordan 5s from his "We The Best" collection, signed by DJ Khaled himself, and to discover some of DJ Khaled's favourite places in Miami.

Also in the US, Airbnb is offering a stay at The Great Escape Parkside Mansion. Located in the state of Florida, near the city of Orlando, the 15-room estate is entirely inspired by the world of board games. The interior of the house is made up of a multitude of rooms, including a chess room, a Risk room, another in the colours of the famous game Twister, a Jumanji cinema room, a Pac-Man bathroom, a second one in giant Scrabble format, a Cluedo room or even Doctor Maboul. This amazing property can accommodate up to 54 people.

And the platform does not intend to stop there, as it wants to offer even more memorable stays to its customers. To this end, Airbnb recently launched a $10 million Wow! fund to bring 100 new accommodations to the ground for inclusion in its Wow category of highly unusual accommodations. Among the 100 winners are a fossilised dinosaur skull in the desert, a floating house in the shape of an avocado, a giant hoof-shaped hut in a Dutch field, a luxury campsite in a giant disco ball and a habitable woven beehive.

Sleeping in the heart of nature

One of the greatest luxuries of unusual accommodation is the opportunity to stay close to wildlife. In a highly unusual marketing strategy, the Emma mattress brand offered to sleep under the stars in a dome called "Shleep Sanctuary" in the heart of Sussex, surrounded by pre-numbered sheep for easy counting. The stay also included dinner and a breakfast hamper of local ingredients followed by an introductory yoga class.

While bubbles and domes are the perfect accommodation for star gazing, other unusual accommodation is taking over the forests to offer unforgettable stays. For example, you can stay at The Barö hotel in Finland, which offers stilt cabins built from Finnish pine and heated with solar energy. With 18 cabins named after Scandinavian mythology, a 40-seat restaurant, a sauna and an outdoor Jacuzzi, The Barö is a place to immerse yourself in Finnish nature.

For even more immersion, Andreas and Jaak Tiikhis have created ÖÖD. The concept consists of cabins whose exteriors are covered with mirrors so that they blend in completely with their surroundings. There are currently 200 ÖÖD mirror houses in over 20 countries, including Norway, Africa and the USA, and the company is now looking to expand into the UK. 

ÖÖD's mission is to create and manage a global portfolio of Mirror Houses that blend seamlessly with nature and provide travellers with a unique experience wherever they are. Our Mirror Houses are as beautiful as their surroundings and the UK, with its diverse nature and landscape, offers many places for our Mirror Houses to be amazing. 

Robin Böhringer, President of ÖÖD

Cabins are particularly popular in the Nordic countries, so new actors are capturing this thriving market like Heima. Heima is a startup THAT reinterprets cabin holidays, overseeing the development and management of eco-resorts built in pristine locations and consisting of isolated cabins immersed in the wilderness. The founders are determined to make outdoor travel accessible, especially to luxury travellers.

In a similar vein, Jordan Bem has launched Moliving, which he describes as "a mobile luxury hotel". Seeking to create a niche space between glamping and traditional luxury hotels, he envisioned Moliving as a "nomadic, hybrid hospitality solution". Moliving functions as a cluster of units, or hotel rooms, that can be placed in one location depending on demand. Designed in-house and built on a custom chassis, the number of these rooms can be increased or decreased according to seasonal demand and they can be easily transported to other destinations.

The company does not own any assets, in fact the locations will be developed as joint ventures between the company and the landowners. In addition, the development costs of these rooms are much lower than those of traditional hotels, allowing the company to enjoy faster returns on investment. Not only are the rooms built with recyclable materials, but they are also self-sufficient, in that they can operate 100% off-grid.

Many companies have tried to do this by using existing products. For example, some hotel operators use shipping containers, but no one has created a product specifically for the hospitality industry. More importantly, no one has created something similar for the luxury hotel sector. We are a hybrid, between the mobile side of the business and the other side, we exist in the ultra-luxury space. [...] The idea is to reduce costs and operate a project at maximum occupancy levels. By having mobile units, we can open hotels cheaper and faster.

Jordan Bem, founder and CEO of Moliving

Teleworkers and other digital nomads can also enjoy an unusual experience in the heart of nature with Archetype Smartpod. The concept takes the form of atypical 10 m² garden offices for working with a view of the flora. They are fully equipped to allow people to work in comfort. A very unusual concept that allows you to rethink the work space.

Immerse yourself in history

Shortly after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the Garden House, located at the Sandringham Estate, was made available for rent on Airbnb. Formerly the home of the Queen's Head Gardener, the house can accommodate up to eight people and is furnished by the Royal Collection. There is no shortage of green space, including a private garden and fenced meadow, with a playground for children. Within the estate, it is also possible to visit the Sandringham Exhibition and Transport Museum, which houses the first car ever owned by a member of the Royal Family.

Less royal but still historic, in Paris you can stay in a former diamond bank at the Banke Hotel Opera Autograph Collection. Located in the Opera district, this neo-baroque Haussmannian building was renovated in 2009, blending old world charm with contemporary style. The property has 90 rooms and suites as well as the Josefin restaurant, orchestrated by the chef Pedro Dias Carvalho.

In the heart of the Marais district of Paris, the façade of a former 17th century bakery conceals a 4-star hotel with 16 rooms and the suite, all decorated by Christian Lacroix. The furniture plays with styles between baroque rococo and couture aesthetics.

In the land of the rising sun, the historic headquarters of the Nintendo brand has been transformed into an unusual luxury hospital experience. Abandoned for decades, Nintendo's historic headquarters has been reborn as an 18-key hotel, including 7 suites, called "Marufukuro". In the original building, architectural details from the 1930s have been preserved while an annex complements the original building with bright and spacious rooms in a more contemporary environment. The Marufukuro also has a bar and restaurant.

In Berlin, a former women's prison was the site of a luxury hotel. In the Charlottenburg district, the German firm Grüntuch Ernst Architects has renovated two listed buildings dating from 1896 to create the Hotel Wilmina. The former courtyard houses the hotel's reception and a temporary gallery called the Amtsalon. An extension housing the Lovis restaurant connects the courtyard to the U-shaped block of former prison cells, which now houses 44 rooms on five levels, including a penthouse on the top floor. There is also a roof terrace above the penthouse and next to it a library, bar, spa and gym. Fun fact, the prison bars have been retained to remind visitors of the building's history.

Nevertheless, the unusual has its limits and can quickly fall into bad taste, as evidenced by the scandal surrounding an "1830s slave shack" that was available for rent on Airbnb. Airbnb was quick to speak out following this story, apologising profusely after removing the offer from its platform.

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