Room with a view: Instant hotels

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Media captionOn site with the shipping-container hotel

Beds in shipping containers, beds in tents, beds in huts that seem like they would suit a building site - the world of hotels is changing, and you really cannot tell where the next instant hotel might pop up.

Maybe the Olympics had something to do with it. Maybe it is the global downturn or the age of digital networking.

For some reason, the idea that a hotel need not be permanent, need not be grand or take long to build but can still be comfortable has inspired a new breed of British entrepreneurs who have re-imagined where and how people can stay when they are enjoying themselves.

When London was planning for the 2012 Olympics, there were fears there would not be enough places for visitors to stay.

That led a lot of people to empty their back rooms in the hope of making a killing in a sellers' market. And according to rental agents in London, a lot of would-be landlords got burned that way, but that's another story.

Then came the credit crunch and the recession.

The construction industry took a huge hit as sites lay boarded up and empty.

Building hotels became as difficult as any other development project. The banks were not lending, so finding the funding to create a hotel before the guests started paying was expensive or impossible for many.

The instant-hotel movement was born.

Romantic and pricey

The most obvious form of instant hotel is something the Victorians would recognise - a tent with class, the kind of thing you might find on safari.

Mark Sorrill develops luxury hotels. He is behind two in the Caribbean.

He decided that in Britain what people would go for was luxury with a difference.

His company, Pop-Up Hotel, is working with festival sites and the River Cottage cookery school, pitching strong canvas in quaint locations, putting in soft beds with fine linen and lavish service.

It is romantic - and pricey, thousands of dollars for a three-night stay at a vintage car rally for example.

Container hotels

You cannot get many tents in a field at that price, of course.

The company SnoozeBox has a much more practical and industrial approach to instant-hotel keeping.

Image caption Pop-Up Hotel offers luxury tents for outdoor events

SnoozeBox's 80-, 160- or 240-room hotels arrive on trucks in shipping containers.

It is like a military manoeuvre, so it is no surprise that many of those running the company are ex-British army.

Project manager Gary Thompson, ex-Royal Logistics Corp, for instance, is organising a set of 45ft (14m) containers, each with three rooms.

"You have a flat-screen TV, wi-fi in each of the rooms, we have air conditioning and an en-suite shower room with a power shower and an evacuation system for the toilet and the sink."

The rooms are very neat and clean - and very small. OK for a three-night stay at a rock festival, but any longer and it might feel a bit like a padded cell.

"This is the comfort room, our standard event room at the moment," says Mr Thompson.

"We do have plans for a family room, a VIP room, and a worker room, with more space. That would be for mining companies and oil prospectors who want more space because they will stay for months rather than days.

"All the rooms are prepared before we arrive on site so we can put the units down and operate as a hotel immediately."

Quick and effective

The heart of the system, which can turn a car park into a hotel in less than 48 hours, according to the company, is what they call "the Mother Ship".

That is a separate container that houses all the electrics and plumbing centrally.

A couple of large generators complete the facilities, and they can tank in water and tank out waste at remote sites.

This pop-up hotel does take a lot of trucking into place, a crane to build it up and a lot of man hours to finish.

The rooms are ready, but the walkways and stairs for the double-stacked containers seem to be taking a lot of hammering into place.

The next design stage is to make those outside elements hinged and fixed onto the sides of the containers.

Containers on ships

Mr Thompson slept in a lot of containers while on active service in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the idea for a posher and more comfortable version was not his.

Chief executive Robert Breare came up with the plan.

"Lying in a tent at a campsite in France, I was wondering if I should go for a pee before getting off to sleep, and I worked out it would be a 20 minute walk and my valuables would be at risk while I was gone," he says.

"'There must be a better way,' I thought."

Image caption The logistics are complex but quick

Mr Breare started the company with 80 units. Now there are 520.

SnoozeBox has just floated on the London Stock Exchange alternative investment market and plans to have 1,000 units available in 2013, with 5,000 as a target over five years.

The advantage of a pop-up hotel is that it can go where the people are.

"The north face of the Eiger would be a bit of challenge," says Mr Breare. "But as long as we can get trucks in, we can go pretty much anywhere anyone wants us to."

That is why, after SnoozeBox and the BoozeBox - the bar they put in a marquee next to every event location - Mr Breare is thinking about CruiseBox.

He wants to put the hotel containers on ships and sail them to coastal sporting events or to create temporary holiday resorts.

People sleeping in shipping containers on ships. And they would not be stowaways. They would be paying.

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