Is This Small Hospitality Option the Next Big Idea?

Author: David McMillin       

After shipping containers make their way across the world’s oceans, some innovative thinkers are finding creative ways to use them again. From restaurants in Vancouver to schools in California, the vessels are being repurposed for a range of uses. In June, two shipping containers will arrive on the outskirts of Indianapolis — with three more to follow soon after — to deliver a new kind of experience for travelers. The properties, part of Tiny Urban Escapes, will be located 15 minutes from downtown in Eagle Creek Park, and while the setting may be rustic, the lodging itself will be anything but.

“I’m not a traditional outdoorsy-type of girl,” Tiny Urban Escapes founder Robin Staten told PCMA. “I asked myself if I would stay here — and what I would want it to look like.”

For Staten, the answer involves high-end amenities and a sleek modern design with floor-to-ceiling windows. Staten, who is partnering with “cargotecture” firm Glass Haus Living, will draw on her recent experience working at the Sheraton Indianapolis City Centre to make Tiny Urban Escapes guests feel at home. A 378-room property with two restaurants and a Starbucks, that property may sound like the opposite of a 160-square-foot box that used to carry freight, but Staten believes that today’s guests are all looking for “a completely difference experience.”

Serving as the assistant controller at the Sheraton since August, Staten is also putting her decade of experience in higher education in the admissions department at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis to use in her multiple hospitality roles. “You don’t typically think of hospitality connecting to the collegiate world,” Staten said, “but my role focused on making sure that every student who passed through the office was taken care of and felt welcome to be there.”

Designed to Deliver Experiences and Build Relationships

That same level of attentiveness is part of the Tiny Urban Escapes business model. Staten said that she is currently working on arranging 24-hour concierge services, and there are plans for personalized experiences for guests. For example, an alfresco dining package offers a five-course outdoor culinary experience with local culinary stars, and Staten is partnering with local yoga centers for wellness escapes with massages, energy healing, and other holistic activities. (You can get a psychic reading, too.)

“I’m most excited to see how these spaces can encourage and promote healthy relationships,” Staten said. “We’ll have bikes for each cabin, and an old record player for music in each of them. We’re in the city, so we’ll still have access to Wi-Fi, but I’m hoping these can help create a space where people can unplug and disconnect.”

In the era of smartphone addiction, that kind of space sounds like a break that would benefit many of us. For now, Staten doesn’t have immediate plans to ship her luxury escape pods anywhere else. “I love my hometown,” Staten said. “I’m so impressed with all the growth and development here, and I want to start in Indy to see how well we can do here before looking at other areas of the country.”

If people do jump onboard the shipping container bandwagon, it seems like Staten will have one clear advantage on her side when devising expansion plans: construction costs. According to Aadhan, a company that manufactures buildings out of shipping containers, there are hundreds of thousands of containers currently sitting unused in shipping yards around the world. If those locations are too far away, fear not. There are currently more than 2,000 results for shipping containers on eBay.

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