What is the most unusual place you have ever stayed in? Maybe it was a treehouse in the jungle - or could it have been a spaceship, or even a giant potato in the middle of Idaho?
While travellers around the world have seen their holiday plans hindered by the coronavirus outbreak, online home-sharing giant Airbnb is giving people something to dream about, offering US$1 million (S$1.4 million) to anyone wanting to build a unique home to share on its platform.
Its "Unique Airbnb Fund" is a US$1 million programme designed to find and help finance the most unconventional and unusual liveable spaces on the planet. Open now for proposals at airbnb.com/uniquefund through April 16, a panel of judges will select 10 winners by mid-May.
Among the judges are actor Billy Porter, architecture firm MVRDV, and Airbnb "superhost" Kristie Wolfe who runs the Big Idaho Potato in Boise, Idaho, a US state famous for growing potatoes.
A total of 10 people will get US$100,000 each to build the most unconventional Airbnb they can dream up. Proposals - which can be upgrades and existing creative projects that need funding, as well as all-new, start-from-scratch ideas - will be judged on their creativity, feasibility, sustainability and social good.
Is this all a distraction tactic? Maybe so. Having seen its hosts' bookings decimated since the outbreak as travellers delay or change their plans, San Francisco-based Airbnb - currently preparing for an initial public offering - has come under fire in recent weeks for problems with cancellations.
Airbnb has data behind its latest stunt. Its recent report into travel trends, based on bookings in 2019, showed that bookings for miniature, simplistic and efficient spaces like shepherd's huts and tiny homes were up 112 per cent and 85 per cent from 2019 to 2020, respectively.
"The Unique Airbnb Fund is a great initiative that makes hospitality exciting. It will empower people to create new spaces with daring, imaginative and fantastic architecture," said Fokke Moerel, a partner at MVRDV. "Personal wunderkammers (a wonder room, or cabinet of curiosities) will be created for guests to appreciate and be inspired by."
Based in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, MVRDV recently completed a project in Tainan, Taiwan that transformed the remains of a 1980s shopping centre into an urban lagoon for swimming. MVRDV also recently collaborated with Airbus on how to incorporate into cities the "vertiports" needed for a future of flying electric vehicles.
"The only thing better than pushing the boundaries of style, is empowering others to do the same," said Billy Porter of the Unique Airbnb Fund.
"I'm thrilled to join Airbnb in this global search for the most outrageous, spectacular home ideas ever. I cannot wait to see these concepts developed by design lovers from around the world first-hand."
As part of publicity for the Unique Airbnb Fund, Airbnb highlighted some of the unconventional and unusual properties it has on its books that prospective applicants to the fund could draw inspiration from, including some from Asia.
1 - BALI, INDONESIA: CAMAYA BALI SUBOYA BAMBOO HOUSE
Perched above rice terraces near Selat, this house made from bamboo sleeps four and comes complete with hammocks, open-air showers and a view of the peak of Mount Agung in the distance.
2 - BOISE, IDAHO: BIG IDAHO POTATO HOTEL
Once part of the Big Idaho Potato Tour, this kitsch accommodation houses a custom-built bed, power outlets, a mini fridge and old records to play. Next door is an old silo that is been turned into a spa.
3 - MARGATE CITY, NEW JERSEY: AN ELEPHANT-SIZED STAY ON THE JERSEY SHORE
A 138-year-old wooden elephant that is the oldest roadside attraction in America - and now a National Historic Landmark - stands five miles from Atlantic City. It sleeps two.
4 - NELSON, NEW ZEALAND: THE BOOT
Straight out of a fairy tale storybook, The Boot has large open fireplaces, a queen-sized bed, a shower built for two and a private courtyard. It's on the stunning Tasman Coast of New Zealand's South Island.
5 - REDBERTH, WALES, UK: UFO "FUTURO STYLED FLYING SAUCER"
The out-of-this-world choice sleeps four, and comes complete with a remote-controlled hatch and a monitor for playing retro computer games like Space Invaders. There is even an emergency escape hatch. It is in South Pembrokeshire in Wales.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.