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Trendspotting: Container hotels

Forget slipping into cargo pants on your next vacay, now you can check into a cargo container hotel! This new kind of experience is catching the imagination of travellers everywhere.

Repurposing cargo containers to create homes, offices and even hotel rooms is now a thing! Image: Shutterstock/WhoIsDanny.

The world’s veering towards more unique, non-cookie cutter options in every aspect of life. So, it’s not surprising that hotels made from upcycled shipping containers are getting more and more popular globally. In India too, they are popping up in the most unexpected places. They are low-cost and relatively eco-friendly, with a smaller carbon footprint in terms of building materials. Younger, more adventurous travellers are enjoying the experience of these experimental stays that make for fun travel posts on their social media feed too.  

Here are a few container stays you can choose from, across the country…

The Beach Box Hotel, Baga, Goa

Just 200 metres from the beach, this one not only has comfortable, air-conditioned rooms built out of shipping containers, but even a swimming pool created from a tomato red box! A cheery restaurant and bar and interesting murals make The Beach Box Hotel eminently Instagrammable.

Red hot looks of The Beach Box Hotel in Baga.

Fargo, Hyderabad, Telangana

This property on the outskirts of the city in Ghatkesar embodies ‘minimalistic luxury’. Apart from great hillside views, Fargo offers value adds such as a portable Bluetooth speaker, bespoke meals under the stars, and a pool with a view.

Clever design of Fargo in Ghatkesar, Hyderabad.

Zostel, Panchgani, Maharashtra

The stylish cantilever design of this container hostel ensures that every room and dormitory has a fantastic view of the Krishna valley. A fun café, games zone with interesting artwork, and free wifi make the Zostel Panchgani the perfect getaway for friends.

Futuristic and fun, the Zostel in Panchgani is full of zest.

Wild Woods Resorts, Valparai, Tamil Nadu

Two hours uphill from Pollachi, this idyllic spot that is 2287 metres above sea level in the Annamalai Hills, is surrounded by lush tea estates and dense forests. The three containers that make up the homestay by Wild Woods are perched prettily on the hillside, offering great mountain vistas. You can opt for a campfire with music and meals that reflect the location between Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Wild Woods Resorts offer this peaceful getaway at Valparai.

Experimental goes mainstream

The container concept is even appealing to seasoned hoteliers like Himmat Anand, owner of the Tree of Life Resorts and A Dog’s Story. The first phase of his Tree of Life Ecotainers, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, will open on November 1, 2021. We asked him to share a sneak peek.

Tell us the story behind the name ‘Tree of Life Ecotainers’.
Being a ‘new’ product category, I wanted the name to speak for itself. The ethos behind this product is eco-sensitivity, to whatever extent we can achieve it. Hence the word Eco had to be a part of the name. Containers is what the product really stands on and hence came the marriage of both words along with the brand – Tree of Life Ecotainers, Agra. I believe that we are the first branded hotel chain in the country to bring out a product like this and at the level that we will. It has its challenges, but I do see us as being the front-runners in this space. I am already getting queries from people wanting to associate with us and wanting to know more about it.

The Tree of Life Ecotainers in Agra promise carefully curated creature comforts that blend the outdoors and indoors.

It is my belief that it is very difficult to be ‘absolutely eco-friendly’ in the hospitality space. It is a challenging and expensive segment to be in and there is more lip service happening, with only a handful living up to what they claim on the eco front. And I admit that while I am very conscious, I am no crusader of the eco-friendly space as I cannot live up to all that it really needs! So, this project is a balance, striving to do as much as I physically can. The start is hence with recycling shipping containers, which, in itself is a big first step. I also plan to use bamboo furniture. Hundreds of trees have been planted in the three acres space, which will make it a green paradise in about four years’ time. We will use solar energy to the maximum and to grow our sown vegetables, with the assistance of the local villagers.

The plush interiors of the Ecotainers belie their humble origins.

What do you envisage the guest experience to be?
Ever since I started the Tree of Life Resorts over a decade ago, I have always looked at each property of ours from one clear perspective – what will my guest want? This one is no different. It will have all the facilities that a guest expects when on a holiday. However, this time I want to bring the outdoors indoors, with the focus being more on the former. To start with, I’m looking at a total of around 15 units on three acres of land, in line with the Tree of Life thought process of staying ‘small’. This will give guests a huge amount of private space – again, a positioning which the Tree of Life stands for. The idea here is that while the indoors will be adequate and comfortable, with 300 sq ft plus of space, the focus will be on all that is provided outdoors. Each air-conditioned unit will have around 1,500 sq ft of private garden space, outdoor covered and open seating, grill and bonfire. There will be a cycling track, along with sport facilities like Croquet and Badminton. We will also provide some very interesting excursions to neighbouring places, including a boat ride on the River Chambal.

Each Ecotainer is surrounded by plenty of private space.

Can’t ‘contain’ your excitement?

In case you’re considering building a container home or hotel yourself, you can learn a lot from Jacqueline, owner of the Red Earth Riding School, who hosts The Black Box Home in Auroville, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, on Airbnb. Excerpts from the interview.

How long ago was The Black Box built? What made you choose this option as a building material?
I was always fascinated by recycling anything. So, the idea of building a container home had been in my head for a very long time. I had spoken to a lot of people about it and looked at endless pictures of cool container houses on the Internet, before I finally started. The project started about seven years ago, by me and some friends going to Chennai to choose the containers we wanted to use. We were told to look for the ones which had the least amount of dents, and good, solid wooden flooring. I remember the day the containers arrived in the riding school. All my workers looked at me as if I had totally lost it. And it certainly wasn’t as easy as I had assumed to make these metal boxes into liveable, beautiful spaces.

The Black Box in Auroville, Puducherry, seamlessly brings together steam-punk style and natural beauty!

How cost-effective is it in terms of air-conditioning and ventilation?
The insulation is done with thermal foam behind wooden planks, and we created air pocket levels between the two floors to bring the temperature down. Even with the house being located under trees, Puducherry summers still require ACs to make the days and nights bearable.

Design accents add to the experience at The Black Box.

How did you go about creating a cosy space in a very industrial structure?
I worked with a German engineer, a group of enthusiastic friends, and local welders and carpenters. There was a lot of trial and error involved. I had originally thought that using containers would be a cost effective, fast way of building guest accommodations for our riding school, but then we ended up spending a lot more money and time than planned. However, the outcome made us all very proud and convinced everyone around that I hadn’t lost my sanity!

The theme of the Black Box is steampunk. We painted the containers with a special heat resistant and anti-rust paint, which was originally produced for rockets.

The Black Box’s industrial chic that is comfortable too.

How do you eliminate/reduce sounds when guests walk around the metal containers?
The containers have wooden floors, and we used some rugs inside the bedrooms, so the walking sound is really not an issue.

What have been guest responses to The Black Box? What demographic of guests does it most appeal to, in your experience?
One of the most striking aspects of The Black Box is the stark difference between the metal industrial look and the integration of nature. We are located in Auroville at the Red Earth Riding School, which is a little nature paradise. You can sit on the terrace and listen to the birds, watch the ponies right in front of you, as well as look at the most amazing flowers around the property. Our guests always react to the beauty of that. Most of our guests are a young group of friends, who want to get away from city life and/or people, who are especially attracted to the architecture of the place.

Well-equipped with all the amenities, The Black Box home stay on Airbnb makes for a fantastic getaway.

Is it easier or more difficult to maintain this type of accommodation? Does the housekeeping team have to be trained in some specific way?
The lady, who looks after the place and the guests, lives on the riding school premises and loves to help the guests with their stay as well as any requirements. She has been trained to keep the space clean and tidy as well as be hospitable to the guests.

Tell us more about the other features of The Black Box, value adds to the experience that you offer, expansion plans, etc.
As The Black Box is located within our Red Earth Riding School, our guests have the opportunity to see the horses, book a lesson, if wanted and we are always happy to give them some more information on our international community in Auroville, as well as share local recommendations of places to visit.

Airbnb host Jacqueline emphasises how pet-friendly The Black Box is.

Read more.

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5 Airbnbs that have redefined sustainable and responsible travel

How to have a pawsome time on your next vacay!