Why pop-up hotels are in fashion

Staying in an air-conditioned luxury shelter at a music festival or a bespoke yurt in the Andes seemed like a distant thought even just a few years ago.

June 28, 2017

Now, both experiences have become a reality for a small but growing group of festival goers and travelers thanks to pop-up hotels.

“Pop-up hotels offer adventure seekers an exciting travel experience they can post about on their social media accounts,” says Geraldine Guichardo, Americas Head of Hotels Research for JLL. “Music festivals in particular are driving the opportunity for pop-up hotels to exist.”

Marriott’s partnership with Coachella, a California music festival that takes place in the Colorado Desert, provides an ideal way to bring a perk to its loyal members — glamping (glamorous camping) tents complete with electricity, air-conditioning, and comfy beds. With only eight of these tents set up for the 2017 event, potential guests could either purchase a tent night or use loyalty reward points to bid on a chance to win a one-night stay.

“One of the strongest benefits a brand like Marriott gains from having pop-up hotels is that it can design and personalize each tent by recreating a brand from its portfolio,” says Guichardo. “Another benefit is the potential of winning new guests. A guest that has never stayed in a Marriott hotel may be more inclined to stay in a Marriott after having experienced the brand through a pop-hotel. The allure comes from having experienced the brand in a unique, non-traditional tent environment.”

Offering unique experiences around the world

While big brands are starting to experiment with pop-ups, the space is dominated by boutique groups. Take The Pop-up Hotel, which provides festival accommodations, mainly in the UK has plans for expansion, in Australia, the Caribbean, and The Maldives. While thousands of music fans brave the weather every year in camping tents at the UK’s Glastonbury festival, a select few stay in its glamping tents where guests enjoy the comfort of all the boutique services it offers, including a full-service spa, bar, dining room, pool with lounging deck, electricity, showers, and flushing toilets.

Other concepts provide more memorable experiences. Icehotel in northern Sweden is built afresh each winter with elaborately designed ice suites crafted by artists and even an ice chapel for wedding services. In warmer climes, Zand Hotel in the Netherlands opened two pop-up hotels made from sand – with reinforced walls – featuring the standard comforts of traditional hotels including running water and beds.

And the Welsh countryside has just got its first pop-up hotel with eight luxury cabins incorporating elements of local mythology into their design. Currently located in Snowdonia, the cabins will then move to the Llyn Peninsula for the remainder of the summer.

A new area for big brands

While the pop-up space may be in its infancy, it’s an area that big brands are open to experimenting with, says Guichardo. “If Marriott is experimenting with the concept, that could encourage other brands to consider adding pop-up hotels, too,” says Guichardo. However, while the idea of a temporary hotel may seem straightforward, the planning, resources and financial outlay required may deter some brands.

“The expense of creating and personalizing pop-up hotels, getting all the amenities that these rooms require and making sure that the rooms are up to brand standards, is very costly.” And those costs are passed to the consumer. “It may prove to be a memorable experience but at the end of the day, you’re sleeping in a tent but paying significantly more.”

Although there are experience-driven alternative hotels in urban environments, such as the rooftop boat that sits atop a London art complex, Guichardo sees the market for pop-up hotels as being mainly in remote areas, not in large cities. “I don’t see it making much sense when you have the presence of alternative accommodations as another option outside of traditional hotels” she says.

Retail pop-ups target hotels

That’s not to say that urban hotels are not embracing the pop-up trend in other ways; some hotels are including pop-up venues inside their buildings. For example, Lowes Atlanta Hotel featured a traveling bar for a month, where hotel guests could sample mixologist cocktails while sitting in a historic elevator car. London hotels such as The Goring and The Courthouse Hotel created pop-up bars based on European ski chalets during the winter months.

Retailers, who have driven the pop-up store trend, are also now joining forces with hotels. Canadian clothing retailer Kit and Ace is popping up in major city hotels across the world to offer its travel wardrobe essentials.

Pop-up hotels may reflect the growing importance of providing travellers with new and unique experiences – as well as enhancing experiences such as festivals by enabling select guests to stay close to the action while creating a sense of exclusivity. But whether pop-up hotels prove to be feasible remains to be seen.

“Some of these hotels, like Icehotel, have become bucket-list destinations for all types of travelers,” says Guichardo. “Although I don’t see some of these outside-the-box concepts taking flight, if pop-up hotels offer features guests appreciate, we could see more of them in smaller regional areas.”