If you’re looking to travel abroad — and especially if you’re looking to work while doing so — it might be tough to convince yourself you can find a cool boutique hotel that caters to a lot of different price points, as well as surround yourself with people that will help you feel like you should still get your work done.
That’s the goal of Selina, an emerging co-working and traveling hospitality service that opens up campuses geared toward fitting those niches across Central America. What started as originally just a real estate company has now turned into a venture-funded startup called Selina, which goes around the world creating a different kind of hotel product out of renovated older properties. Instead of just renting out a room in an Airbnb or paying for a hotel room in a boutique hotel, or some co-working space, Selina aims to be a more streamlined way to get that mixture of a community experience, a boutique hotel feel, and the ease of getting a consistent experience across multiple different properties. The company said today it’s raised $95 million from Abraaj Group and WeWork founder Adam Neumann.
“There are lifestyle hotels, surf camps, co-working places, hostels, and all those kinds of properties, Yoav Gery, Selina’s president, said. “A lot of companies talk the same talk. What was different about us and what we were telling the world is we were doing something different in the hospitality world. We’re creating a much more holistic program for the traveler. It’s not just a hotel, or for co-working. It’s everything that the traveler would want. And we hope the speed at which we’re doing it is also unique. Most hotels couldn’t get a product and convert it in 3 or 4 months into a new brand.”
You can think of Selina almost as a kind of ramped-up hostel — where you’re getting people of all different backgrounds into one spot to meet each other and get a feel for the area. But Selina still does serve different price points, from the bunk room set-up at a common hostel for under $30 a night to a more traditional private room that you’d find in an Airbnb or hotel for a higher price. The whole point, Gery said, is that customers shouldn’t be spending most of their time in their rooms.
The company currently has 22 locations that range a variety of locales, whether that’s beach areas or metropolitan ones. It plans to open a new location in Miami this year as it starts to expand beyond Central America, looking to structure it around frequent travelers looking to meet other like-minded individuals that might be looking to either explore a new area or find a co-working spot while traveling.
Selina started in Central America and has since begun expanding throughout those countries, and the company hopes to begin expanding into the United States and Europe this year as it continues to make inroads into Latin America. Selina looks to hire people that have the specific experience working with those regions when it comes to taxes and regulations, and one of the benefits it has is that it is usually repurposing old real estate. That means, in theory, most things should already be up to code for a hospitality project, Gery said.
“We are the first company to capitalize on this lifestyle shift for travelers and the way people are working,” Selina VP of strategy Brynne McNulty Rojas said. “People are eager to see the way we’re offering all these different business lines to make people feel at home, whether or not they’re on vacation or working. We do the market research, and exactly the target beds we want, that’s what gave people comfort — that we were going to be able to achieve the scale we were projecting. We wanted to focus on having that Selina DNA and that simplicity of experience and transactions and making it a nice, tech-first way of traveling and living and working.”
Part of the process is finding those old areas to renovate, but Selina hopes to also build out a strategy where it knows the exact needs for each of those properties — and how to properly staff them. The company hopes to be able to operate efficiently with a hospitality staff of between 30 or 40, though that could vary from property to property depending on the location. After all, an experience in Brooklyn is probably going to look radically different from one on the coast of Belize.
Then there’s the data aspect of it, where Selina is able — like any emerging hospitality service such as Airbnb, for example — to collect the right information from potential customers. But while Airbnb might be centered around that individual experience, Rojas said it wants to use data from potential visitors to improve the more community-oriented experience at Selina. In the end, it’s about having that campus-oriented feel to it rather than just renting someone’s home on the beach, she said.
The challenge, of course, is going to be going up against emerging hospitality services — like Airbnb, of course, which could work with a host to create a similar experience through a platform-oriented approach. But the company hopes it’ll have that vibe of a unified hotel chain experience in addition to being able to scale it up at the rate of a startup and be able to show investors that its ability to rapidly create new properties is what will make it be successful.