SINGAPORE, Jan 18 — When he had the idea to build and design hotel rooms housed in shipping containers, Seah Liang Chiang envisioned them to be on a remote beach, park or island.
“I want to give Singaporeans the opportunity to live right on the beach. When you wake up, I want you to hear the lapping of waves coming in just 5m away,” the 55-year-old Malaysian, who is married with one daughter, said.
His dream may not be too far out, because on Friday (Jan 17), Singapore’s first-ever pair of shipping-container hotel rooms were launched at a place not many people would expect them to be.
They are located at industrial landlord JTC Corporation’s startup cluster, Launchpad @ One-north near Buona Vista. And the long-term plan is to move them closer to the beaches in future.
From today onwards, the public may book a night at one of these 300-sqf cabins — slightly smaller than the space of two carpark lots — for between S$150 and S$200 via the Shipping-Container Hotel’s website or on Airbnb.
Each container can house up to four persons, and is complete with air-conditioning, two queen-size beds, a bathroom, a kitchen and dining area, a TV, a sofa and Wi-Fi.
Seah, owner and founder of Shipping-Container Hotel, said that one container costs S$100,000 to repurpose and fix up.
There is no room service or daily housekeeping, and guests will be given a 24-hour contact number to call should they need anything. The containers will be cleaned up by Seah himself after each stay.
The entrepreneur said that the cabins are a unique alternative to booking a hotel for business travellers in the area, and for nearby office employees working late at night to rest.
“There’s a demand for accommodation here, because you cannot sleep in your office at JTC Launchpad overnight. It’s a JTC ruling,” he said.
To get Shipping-Container Hotel off the ground, Seah had to work with around 10 government agencies such as the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the Singapore Civil Defence Force, through the First Mover Framework by the Ministry for Trade and Industry’s Pro-Enterprise Panel.
Chee Hong Tat, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, who was present at Friday’s launch, said that the First Mover Framework aims to give businesses a safe space to explore new concepts and innovative ideas.
“This allows us to solve the chicken-and-egg problem, where you don’t have a track record, you go to a company, and the company asks you if you have done this before.”
Chee added: “The (Pro-Enterprise Panel’s) role is to serve as a connector between the business owner and the rest of the government agencies, because sometimes, there can be so many agencies involved.”
At first, Seah thought that his concept was such a “crazy idea”, the Pro-Enterprise Panel would not work with him. However, in the end, all the agencies gave their approval.
“If even one of them said no, I cannot be operating here,” he said.
He chose JTC Launchpad as the location for his hotels because the area is known as a testbed for new ideas and startup enterprises.
“If I fail here, it’s okay, because ideas fail here all the time,” he said.
A few customers and friends have already expressed interest in booking the converted cabins, Seah said.
Kong Chong Phang, 41, a business owner and a friend of Seah, said that he is keen on having his family of six stay there for their annual staycation.
The small container would provide an intimate setting for him and his wife to spend quality time with their children, he said.
“I’m interested in it because of the novelty. It’s a new idea, and we’ve never stayed in a container before.”
Asked to comment on this new project, Wong King Yin, a lecturer specialising in tourism at the Nanyang Technological University, said that relying on novelty alone might spell danger for businesses such as Shipping-Container Hotel.
“As time goes by, this sense of novelty will be gone, and visitors may not find it unique and worth visiting anymore. The hotels will need to incorporate other elements to keep attracting visitors,” she said.
For example, they could pop up at unexpected locations, or more container hotels could be built closely together in a creative way that would make an “Instagram-worthy architecture”, she said.
“Since the cost of developing a shipping-container hotel is lower, it can become profitable more easily. But this is the case only when the hotel can deliver unique value to the visitors,” she added.
In keeping with his dream, Seah said that he does intend to keep the hotel mobile, shifting the containers every few years to other locations in Singapore, such as Coney Island and Sentosa Beach, when they move out from JTC Launchpad. He also hopes to add more containers.
Shipping-Container Hotel’s year-long lease at JTC Launchpad ends in December this year, after which it may be renewed again for a total of two years. — TODAY