Standing out from the crowd in a prime destination is a challenge many hotels face. But breaking entirely new ground? Now that’s a different story. Houston-based space tech company, Orion Span recently announced plans to open the world’s first space hotel. But what does it take to shine bright?
by Tracey Davies, Click. Travel Writer
In four years time, you could be waking up amongst the stars in the first hotel in space when Aurora Station launches into orbit in 2022. “We developed Aurora Station to provide a turnkey destination in space,” said Frank Bunger, the CEO and founder of Orion Span at the Space 2.0 Summit in San Jose, California in April. “Orion Span has taken what was historically a 24-month training regiment to prepare travellers to visit a space station and streamlined it to three months at a fraction of the cost. Our goal is to make space accessible to all.”
Well, accessible to those with $9.5m to spare. Located 200 miles above earth, six guests at a time will see 16 sunrises a day as the new space station orbits earth every 90 minutes, experience zero gravity and live-stream their adventures to friends and family back home during their 12-night stay.
Naturally, the news caught the attention of the world’s travel press, who wait with baited breath to see it take off. However, hotels breaking into an untapped market is not a new phenomenon. In 1989, Swedish entrepreneur Yngve Bergqvist built the world’s first ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi, 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Bergqvist had already developed a successful rafting, canoeing and fishing scene around the region’s Torne River, which drew several thousand tourists to the remote region each summer, and was keen to develop Jukkasjärvi as a winter destination too. On holiday in Japan, the entrepreneur was inspired by Japanese ice sculpting and returned home to build a 250-square-metre igloo out of ice carved from the Torne River. The resulting ARTic Hall was a stunning art gallery and ice bar. One night, a group of guests equipped with arctic sleeping bags and reindeer skins asked to sleep in the ice gallery, and the world’s first ICEHOTEL was born.
Your unique idea must represent clear value proposition and augment the guest’s experience – Gaurav Chawla, University of South Wales
Capsule hotels were another big success. Designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, who came up with the idea of fitting out a building with tiny capsule-size rooms as a solution for tipsy businessmen needing a place to sleep at night. The basic hotel offered low-price, convenient accommodation when it opened in Osaka’s business district in 1979 and became an instant game-changer in the Japanese hotel market. Now, almost 40 years later, capsule hotels can be found not only all across Japan, but in China, Mexico and Reykjavik.
“The hospitality industry is very competitive,” says Gaurav Chawla, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Hotel Management at the University of South Wales. “Having a novel concept – such as a smartphone-controlled room or a carbon neutral hotel – can certainly help as it will help you to differentiate the business and generate initial interest. Your unique idea must represent clear value proposition and augment the guest’s experience.”
Making bold decisions
But as the Latin proverb suggests, fortune favours the brave. Successful businessman Mike Clare, CEO of Clarenco, thought it was a great idea to transform a Victorian sea fort in the Solent into a luxury hotel. Spitbank Fort and No Man’s Fort are a pair of Napoleonic circular sea defences situated a mile offshore from Portsmouth Harbour. Spitbank Fort opened in 2012 with nine bedrooms, three private dining rooms and a terrace with a pair of hot tubs, followed by No Man’s Fort in 2015, a larger 23-suite property with five bars, formal dining and a cabaret club. Walk-ins are rare in the £800-a-night pad, as both forts are a 15-minute ride from Portsmouth Harbour.
However, the brave are not always rewarded with untold riches. For every ground-breaking idea that succeeds there are many that hit the skids to become the Betamax of the hotel industry, such as the Golden Arch hotels by global burger chain, McDonald’s.
Launched in 2001, the burger-themed properties were the brainchild of Urs Hammer, the chairman and CEO of McDonald’s Switzerland. The first Golden Arch hotel opened just outside Zurich Airport in 2001, quickly followed by a second property in nearby Lully. Sadly, the mid-range hotels didn’t last more than a couple of years before being quietly phased out.
Whether the new space hotel will actually come to fruition or not, these pioneers are doing something completely different and that’s a brave new world to be in.
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Tracey Davies is a freelance travel writer and journalistMore by Tracey Davies
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